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Egon’s story: The search for Doris and Johanna

Egon’s story: The search for Doris and Johanna

Friday, 12 October 2012

This blog is part 16 of the story of 24-year-old Jew Egon Schoenberger and his flight from the Nazi Holocaust of World War II to New Zealand. Egon’s story has been adapted by Museum writers Greg Meylan and Kirsten MacFarlane, using archive material submitted to Auckland Museum by Egon’s New Zealand family. There will be 24 posts in total.

Egon\u0027s Diary 26-31 August (translated).

Egon's Diary 26-31 August (translated).

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

The mostly New Zealand passengers on the Tasman pass the time with on-board games. Their eagerness to partake in distractions leads Egon to ponder the difference between his own journey of escape and theirs for pleasure. There is little in the way of talk about the impending war.

Among Egon’s papers held at Auckland Museum are a bundle of letters which document the back and forth searching by Egon, and his uncle Eugen (who was safely in America with his young bride Edith), for word of what had become of Egon’s mother and sister. Communication from Johanna and Doris Schoenberger in Camp de Gurs ceased again in 1942.

In the lengthening silence that followed, the chambers of Egon’s heart must have filled with hope and emptied in fear. In the middle of 1943, a man called Ernst Berliner wrote Egon a letter than contains a quiet but desperate concern:

Letter from Ernst Berliner, June 1943.

Letter from Ernst Berliner, June 1943.

Schoenberger, Egon. Papers 1892-1960s. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library. MS-2002-74.

Dear Mr Schoenberger,

I am writing to you to ask if you have heard any news from Mrs and Doris Schoenberger. Some time ago I received a letter from an unknown person saying that both have been sent to Poland. I am sure you have been informed likewise, and wonder if you know more about it than I do.
Maybe they were able to get in touch with my mother who is in Poland and whose address Doris had; I myself, however, have not heard from my mother since Pearl Harbour.
Should you have any news, please, do let me know.
Best regards, sincerely yours,
Ernst Berliner.

Throughout the war in and the years immediately after, letters like these criss-crossed the globe as Jewish mothers, sons, fathers, siblings, daughters, friends and spouses searched for a scrap of reassurance their loved ones were somewhere alive.

Previous blog: A change of ship

Next blog: The search continues

Throughout this series of 24 blog posts we’d love to hear from you. If you have any questions, would like to learn more about any aspects of Egon’s story or share your thoughts please use the comment box. We’ll do our very best to respond and answer your questions. And thank you to everyone who has commented so far.

  • Post by: Greg Meylan

    Greg Meylan is a Geneva-based freelance writer and editor. He spent six years as a part-time writer and editor for Auckland Museum’s Exhibition team, and was previously a journalist for The Irish Times and Sunday Star Times in New Zealand. His special interests are writing for web and mobile devices.