Egon’s story: Worship is held on board
This blog is part seven of the story of 24-year-old Jew Egon Schoenberger and his flight from the Nazi Holocaust of World War II to New Zealand. There will be 24 blogs in total. 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.
The first faint swells from the Indian Ocean travel up the Gulf of Aden and fall beneath the hull of the Marnix as the Jewish passengers are invited to a religious service to mark the sabbath. Egon waits half an hour before the required quorum of ten men arrive (there are more than 200 Jews on board), but the service is well performed and by midnight the ship is rolling across the open sea.
After settling in New Zealand, Egon was one of only a handful of Jewish men living in Hamilton. He was often called upon to make up the Minyan (the minimum of ten men required to hold a public worship) and to recite the sidra from the Torah (he had the highly valued ability to read Hebrew, even though he did not speak it).
Jewish worship like the one held on board the Marnix had been taking place in Europe for more than 2000 years. In the early medieval period Jews occupied a special place in European life and were given protection by the local and regional rulers for their financial, medical and administrative skills.
But with the rise of the Holy Roman Empire Jews became restricted in their freedoms and rights. During the Crusades entire Jewish communities were killed in Germany and in the following centuries Jewish communities were expelled from England, France and Austria. Many found refuge in Poland. By the 18th and 19th centuries most Jewish communities lived under severe restrictions on their movement and employment, with many confined to the occupations of trading and money lending.
In the 1930s, 9.5 million Jews lived in Europe, over half the world’s total Jewish population. Most were in Eastern Europe, with 6.5 million Jews living in Poland and Russia and almost a million in Romania. By 1950 only 3.5 million Jews lived in Europe. The Holocaust had profoundly changed the shape of the continent.
Despite some cultural difficulties in settling, Egon was grateful for the rest of his life for being accepted into New Zealand. Upon arrival he never spoke German again and disliked his family in New Zealand buying anything made in Germany, not even a pencil.
Previous blog: The innocents of war
Next blog: The New Zealand connection
Post by: Kirsten MacFarlane
Kirsten MacFarlane is a part-time editor and writer for Auckland Museum. She also edits and writes feature articles for various publications.