Collections to inspire

A new direction for the museum, Urbanlife is a project that aims to support Auckland youth by providing inspiration for artistic expression in a range of different media.

We shared our pictorial collections with six different youth groups from around Auckland city. We asked them to explore six major issues facing our communities – Education, Employment, Environment, Housing, Economic Wellbeing and Culture.

Join Shaun Higgins, Auckland Museum’s pictorial librarian, as he talks about the process of introducing these youth groups to our collections.

ENVIRONMENT

After a morning at Orakei marae, a group of Ngati Whatua youth came to see the collections with their tutor Darryl Thomson. Their brief was to create a mural response to the local environment, particularly through the eyes of Tangata Whenua. I started the research visit with a personal favourite, a photograph taken by Una Garlick looking out to Rangitoto from the then open Orakei hillside with two tī (or cabbage trees).

We then moved on to the Banks Florilegium, a beautiful series of botanical prints taken from plates produced by Banks and Solander during Cook’s 18th century voyage in the Pacific. The group was interested in finding examples of specimens relating to familiar plants.

Another concept which we explored was the treatment of Maori as part of the environment. Early photography such the work of Arthur Isles presents a number of unidentified Maori sitters in styles which can be contrasted against typical Victorian portraiture.

Garlick, Una. (1920s) Rangitoto. Auckland Museum call no. DU436.1211 G233.

Garlick, Una. (1920s) Rangitoto. Auckland Museum call no. DU436.1211 G233.

Parkinson, Sydney (1770) Entella Arborescens. Auckland Museum call no. Print B218 pl418.

Parkinson, Sydney (1770) Entella Arborescens. Auckland Museum call no. Print B218 pl418.

ECONOMIC WELLBEING

In size and name, this group was MASSIVE. Guided by Massive Company’s Sam Scott, the group took up the challenge of examining our economic wellbeing and converting these concepts into theatrical themes and characters.

They visited the collections in two waves, taking notes and looking into several photographer’s work and stories in search of roles. The first photographer that attracted their attention was Margaret Matilda White. Her late 19th century work focuses on subjects such as the Avondale Asylum, looking at the nurses and orderlies that worked there in a playful style, casting them and the grounds of the hospital in a completely different light. We discussed how a woman trying to become a photographer would have struggled in a male dominated society. White found freedom in areas that others avoided and showed us glimpses into everyday life. Another series by White looks at the miners in Karangahake Gorge (sadly only briefly as she died not long after from tetanus).

The other photographer we looked at was Una Garlick, who documented the famous ‘last pioneer’ of Remuera in the 1930s. Garlick was part of the pictorialist movement, using soft focus and a range of finishes to show her view of the world.

“]White, Margaret Matilda. (1890s) [Group of female assistants, Auckland Mental Hospital]. Auckland Museum neg. B3486.

White, Margaret Matilda. (1890s) [Auckland Mental Hospital. Auckland Museum neg. B3486."

Garlick, Una. (1920s) "The Pioneer". Auckland Museum call no. TR650 G233.

Garlick, Una. (1920s) "The Pioneer". Auckland Museum call no. TR650 G233.

EDUCATION

Working with photographer Te Rawhitiroa Bosch and participants from the Te Korowai programme a small group of young Maori men set out to cover the topic of Education and the opportunities and barriers it presents for them in a documentary style of photography. Image research focused on schools and gangs.

The late documentary photographer Robin Morrison covered the latter in black and white with images of the ‘Stormtroopers’ and ‘Highway 61’. The style of photography seen in this collection is just as important as the subject, as it offers insights into the practice of documentary through the still image.

The group were also inspired  by the Wildlife exhibition currently on show at the museum, with a first-hand look at how photographers compose their images and think about the environment around them. They discovered how some leave the subject to chance, while others deliberately go hunting, looking for just the right moment with just the right light.

“] Morrison, Robin. (1970s) [Highway 61 house]. Auckland Museum neg. RMN2-1.

Morrison, Robin. (1970s) [Highway 61 house. Auckland Museum neg. RMN2-1.

CULTURE

The last research visit was a group of Polynesian youth called Navigating Spaces and led by Grace Taylor of the South Auckland Poets Collective. The theme that this group will express through Spoken Word Poetry is culture, and identity, and their research visit paid special attention to migration in the Pacific.

Before opening up the collections I paused to admire the closed tapa album covers. Inside we explored photographs from Samoa during the 19th century. Another album looked at the early 20th century in contrast and finally the group was drawn to the work of Noelle Sandwith, who painted in Tonga during the 1950s. Two of her paintings had particularly strong reactions; one of life on board a ship full of people travelling, perhaps eventually to New Zealand, and a scene of a group of women inside a fale, titled The “bongibongi”. This one had a silence to it, as if the viewer felt compelled to listen to them.

Many of the works reminded us of the traditions and lifestyles that are still very much part of who we are.

Sandwith, Noelle. (ca. 1954) Sailing to Vava'u aboard the Tongan Government ketch Aoniu. Auckland Museum call no. PC51(1).

Sandwith, Noelle. (ca. 1954) Sailing to Vava'u aboard the Tongan Government ketch Aoniu. Auckland Museum call no. PC51(1).

Sandwith, Noelle. (1954) The "bongibongi". Auckland Museum call no. PA36(6).

Sandwith, Noelle. (1954) The "bongibongi". Auckland Museum call no. PA36(6).

HOUSING

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what sound does it make? ‘I am GI youth’ were invited to view images of housing from the collection as inspiration for the creation of a soundscape guided by Hip Hop producer Anonymouz.

I chose to immerse the group in our negative collection using a loupe (magnifier) to view the images on a lightbox. I call this the spacewalk experience as you really feel like you are there in the picture.

The New Zealand Herald and Sparrow Industrial Photography collections provide examples of early 50s and 60s state housing in Auckland. The aerial shots from The New Zealand Herald show large sprawling areas of housing following two or three regularly repeated patterns. On the ground again, Sparrow offers street scenes of the newly opened areas. The group joked that it looked like a tv commercial, which is probably not far from the truth.

To contrast the black-and-white-world presented from the outside, we looked at Mark Adam’s striking photograph of Samoan tattooist Tufuga Ta Tatau at work in a Glenn Innes state house.

N.Z. Herald. (1950s) State housing. Auckland Museum neg. H1048.

N.Z. Herald. (1950s) State housing. Auckland Museum neg. H1048.

Adams, Mark. (1982) Farringdon Street, Glenn Innes, Auckland. Auckland Museum call no. TR650 A215.

Adams, Mark. (1982) Farringdon Street, Glenn Innes, Auckland. Auckland Museum call no. TR650 A215.

EMPLOYMENT

Following hot on the heels of our Identi-Tee exhibition, we introduced the Youthline Central Advisory Group to the world of screen printing under the guidance of Siliga David Setoga.

We examined posters and photograph collections as inspiration for slogans, words and imagery to address youth employment, that can be translated onto media such as t-shirts. Newspaper images from the Weekly News covering decades of workers helped provide a feel for issues of the 1920s-1950s, while some of Robin Morrison’s photography such as the Ponsonby Road series gave a glimpse at the more recent past and the diverse range of occupations people had adopted. This 1917 example from our poster collection shows a clever mixed message.

Christy, Howard Chandler. (1917) I want you for the Navy. Auckland Museum call no. PT(id6835).

Christy, Howard Chandler. (1917) I want you for the Navy. Auckland Museum call no. PT(id6835).

Morrison, Robin. (1977) Ponsonby Businesses, Tony Burrows. Auckland Museum call no. CAL213-Jan.

Morrison, Robin. (1977) Ponsonby Businesses, Tony Burrows. Auckland Museum call no. CAL213-Jan.

Egon’s story: Singapore, the Gibraltar of the East

This blog is part 13 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.

When Egon landed in Singapore, this lively outpost of the East was teeming with traders. But in February 1942 the city was invaded by the Japanese, heralding a dark period for the Chinese population and captured allied troops. The British military base in Singapore was considered an impregnable fortress, but it took just seven days for the Japanese troops to bring it down during the battle of 1942. It went down in history as the largest surrender of British-led military personnel, with more than 80,000 allied troops made prisoners of war. The Japanese occupation lasted until 1945, and the Kempeitai or Japanese military police committed numerous atrocities against the citizens. They introduced the system of Sook Ching, or “purge through purification”, and its insidious task was to get rid of those deemed anti-Japanese. The Sook Ching Massacre claimed the lives of between 25,000 and 50,000 ethnic Chinese in Singapore and Malaya.

Monday 21 August, 1939

Today I travel with the railway train, which is also fast, comfortable and clean, to Medan, the capital of the district of Deli. Very beautiful shopping street with European and Chinese stores; Sultan’s palace with garden and mosque. The filth in the Chinese quarter is already less disturbing than in Pettah (Colombo). Midday at 13 o’clock sharp is the departure for Singapore. Now we can constantly see islands left and right.

Tuesday 22 August, 1939

At around 11 o’clock, the coast emerges and then we have a wonderful trip into the harbour toward Singapore. Here there is again much noise and a great deal of harbour traffic. Here I have my first trip in a rickshaw. Even this vehicle initially requires getting used to. It seems very strange to me that a person is hitched in the front of this small two-wheeled cart and is now driving me around at a run. In addition, in the blazing sun the people are wearing black kimonos and the typical Chinese straw hats. On the quay the traders have spread out their goods and are now selling at horrendously cheap prices, since Singapore, too, is a free port. Also, the people here do not pay any taxes. English and American cigarettes are cheapest here. The city is very expansively built. I see the Chinatown with its huge amount of traffic, its large and small stores. The commercial city has wonderful buildings and many European and American firms maintain agencies here. Because of the short length of time, I do not see anything of the European residential quarter. It must be wonderfully situated. The Botanical Garden must also be a worthwhile sight of Singapore.

Previous blog: Arrival in Sabang, Indonesia

Next blog: The flight to France

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.

Egon’s story: Arrival in Sabang, Indonesia

This blog is part 12 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.
At the time of Egon’s arrival, Indonesia has endured three and half centuries of Dutch colonalism. It will be another six years before this archipelago of around 17,508 islands gains independence. The previous year, the Banda Sea region was rocked by a 8.5 magnitude earthquake which caused tsunamis but amazingly no recorded loss of lives. The Imperial Japanese forces invaded Sumatra in early 1942, taking it under their control.  In 1944, a Japanese base on Sabang was the target of a dawn attack by the Allied Naval Forces. Here is what Egon records on his arrival in Sabang a month before WWII begins…
 

Sabang

Sunday 20 August
“Sabang is a free port; therefore everyone leaves the ship in order to buy perfume, cigarettes and shirts. No passport formalities, something that we are not at all used to. Sabang is a village with a Javanese and Chinese population (the latter control trade). A small Dutch colony lives in tidy bungalows on a hill over the harbour. In the Societeit (club) I wait out a tropical downpour, brief but intense. A walk to Anak Laut in wonderful tropical vegetation is a small adventure. At twelve o’clock sharp, [the ship] moves on again. The passage is less monotonous since we are now entering into the Strait of Malacca and are travelling along [the coast of] Sumatra.

Previous blog: First encounter with Oriental world

Next blog:Singapore, the Gibraltar of the East

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.

Egon’s story: First encounter with Oriental world

This blog is part 11 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's diary entry 17 August 1939 (translated). Full entry continues in post below

Egon sights the brown sails of the Indian fishing boats and begins preparations for a day exploring the city of Colombo. It will be his first encounter with “the Oriential world” and at the end he is moved to write a long entry in his diary:

“At around 10 o’clock we see the first Indian fishing boats. They are very primitive outrigger boats with large brown sails. The ocean has completely settled down.

Sailors from Colombo, Ceylon, from the series "Our Trade with the East', 1930, by Kenneth Shoesmith.

Shortly after 11 o’clock the ship stops in front of the entry to the harbour of Colombo. We are there an hour too early. After the usual formalities people can go ashore with a stamped passport, that is, the ship is lying in the roadstead and people are transferred with motorboats.

The first impression — which in any event continues to persist until departure — cannot or can only with difficulty be described to someone who only knows the Oriental world from books. For most people who, like me, are not making this journey for their pleasure, it is the same; they are overwhelmed and need days in order to digest everything. I gain a good overall impression because I take a car trip through the city and the nearby surroundings to Mount Lavinia.

At first the journey goes through the harbour quarter, then through indigenous quarters like Pettah.

The roads are very well maintained. But on both sides stand low houses with arcades in which vibrant life dominates. One sees here all sorts of races. Firstly the Singhalesians, large angular figures with long hair that covers the nape [of the neck], then other Indians from the north with the sign of their caste, Arabs, Negros, and a large contingent of Chinese. A large part of all these people sits around, some also lie somewhere in the shade of a pillar or a tree and sleep. On the trip we see the old church from the time of the Dutch (first owners of the island), then we are also led to a Hindu temple, which does not offer any worthy sights, however.

Then we drive into the European quarter. Wonderful parks – Cinnamon Gardens, Victoria Park – then the bungalows of the government officials. One-storey houses with large high rooms (air ventilation) with beautiful gardens and numerous servants. A car is indispensablen Colombo since the distances are large but the tram or bus connections are insufficient.

In Mount Lavinia, approximately 11 km away from Colombo, live the upper ten thousand in wonderful bungalows at prices that are equally beautiful [trans. note – i.e., expensive]. The rents are high, but the Europeans also earn well. In addition, standing here is a world famous hotel with a fabulous view. On the evening before returning to the ship, I still take a quick look at the European quarter with its department stores, the GPO, and the house of the governor. Then the return trip to Marnix.”

Previous blog: Finding work in New Zealand

Next blog: Egon travels deeper into Asia 

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.

Egon’s story: Finding work in New Zealand

This blog is part 10 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's diary entry 16 August 1939 (translated). Click for full version

The Marnix approaches Colombo amid growing excitement at making landfall in an exotic port. Egon is almost halfway to New Zealand.

Before he left for New Zealand Egon’s uncle Eugen tried to find work for him in the wine industry here. He enquired of the British wine shippers Grierson, Oldham and Co whether they knew anyone in New Zealand that could help him, but they had no real contacts. It would be several decades yet before New Zealand developed a thriving wine industry.

Letter of introduction from Barclay Perkins

Egon also carried with him a letter of introduction to a Henry Kitson of Christchurch from the royal brewers Barclay Perkins & Co. They wrote the introduction at the request of Tattinger champagne maker Paul Eveque, who had assisted the rest of Egon’s family to escape into France.

In the end it was a letter of recommendation to a Dr Dreifuss in Auckland that saw Egon land a job on a farm in Huntly. The difference between his old life as a student in the picturesque cities of Europe (and an upbringing steeped in high culture) and that of his new one in the backblocks of the Waikato were huge. But Egon hardly flinched. He knew something terrible was coming to Europe and was therefore just grateful to have escaped.

But the relief of finding safety must have been tempered by enormous concern when the Germans invaded France in 1940. His mother and sister were arrested and he lost contact with them. In an attempt to find out where they were Egon put an advert in the international German Jewish newspaper Aufbau. He received a reply in January 1941 from a man in America who had been with them in Camp de Gurs concentration camp in southern France.

Doris Schoenberger in the mid to late 1930s

Finally, the first letter from his mother and sister, written from the camp arrived in his letterbox. They were alive but Egon would have known how perilous Johanna and Doris’ situation still was.

Egon would eventually retrieve some of the trappings from the family’s cultured life when he was reunited with the family silver, but that is a story in itself and one for another blogpost.

Previous blogpost: Modern day Mainz gets involved

Next blogpost: Egon explores Colombo

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.

Painter with light

Anyone interested in photography, and New Zealand photography in particular, should come to the Museum on Saturday for our latest expert session, Nature in Focus.

The subject is Olaf Peterson (1915-1994), a photographer of extraordinary skill who produced some truly beautiful and breathtaking images. Pictorial curator Gordon Maitland and Pictorial librarian Shaun Higgins will be showing Olaf’s pictures and talking about his work and his collection held here at Auckland Museum.

A Petersen photograph of pelicans at Auckland Zoo

Olaf (pronounced Ulla) is one of the photographers featured in the NZ-life exhibition currently showing in the Museum’s Exhibition Hall. Though he was well-known and highly respected by his fellow photographers, he is still not widely recognised as one of New Zealand’s great photographers.

In preparation for the talk Shaun is going through the extensive Petersen collection, which was gifted to the Museum by Olaf’s family, to find pictures that haven’t been seen in public for more than 40 years.

I asked Shaun what makes Olaf’s images so profoundly lovely. Shaun pointed out the dream-like quality of many of images, the way they have a familiar otherness about them.

“Olaf was really, really good at capturing light in quite surreal ways that is almost magical.”

Olaf’s bread and butter was wedding and portrait photography, but nature photography was his passion. He was particularly fond of photographing Auckland’s west coast, not far from his home in Swanson. He also used to accompany the Auckland University Field Club on trips around the country, from Stewart Island to the islands off the Northland coast.

Some of his most striking images capture the patterns of sand on the west coast beaches of Muriwai and Bethells. As Olaf told the Listener magazine in 1980: “To the casual eye sand is pretty monotonous stuff. But when you become interested in photography you find that sand can lend itself to more fascinating effects than just about any other material. Of course, you need to be able to see what is there.”

One of Petersen's Muriwai photos displaying his incredible eye for photographing patterns in the sand

According to Petersen good nature photography was “a matter of patience and playing the waiting game.” He once followed a seagull chick up and down Muriwai beach until it walked over the precise sand pattern he wanted.

One of the many comments of praise he received from those who judged his work in competitions was one who looked at one of is photographs and then “stared at it for ages with mouth open and popping eyes.”

Shaun and Gordon will be talking about Olaf Petersen on Saturday 22 September at 2pm in the Camera Lounge in the NZ-Life exhibition.

Egon’s story: Modern day Mainz gets involved

This blog is part nine 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's diary entry for 14 & 15 August 1939 (translated). Click for full version

With nothing but sea on the horizon Egon and his fellow passengers turn to the time honoured distractions of gossiping and telling jokes. There is no news from Europe to speak of and the Marnix is still two days out from making port in Ceylon.

Growing up in Mainz, Egon had three aunts and one uncle and the Schoenberger name was known throughout the town’s cobbled streets. By the end of 1942 the elder Schoenbergers were all either dead or had fled the Nazi terror. But the Schoenbergers have not been forgotten by the people of Mainz.

Since we began telling Egon’s story through these blogs there has been a remarkable connection with his old home town.

First, John Burland, a New Zealander living in Mainz, was alerted to the story and he began to do a little research into Egon’s life. On his Mainz Daily Photo blog, John posted what he initially had found out and has since been trying to photograph the streets where Egon’s family lived.

Jeanne Schoenberger, museum director Roy Clare (both standing) and blog writers Kirsten MacFarlane and Greg Meylan looking through Egon's papers

Then a local historian in Mainz, Markus Wuerz, made contact with the Museum. His historical society had produced a short history of the Schoenbergers and was researching the history of the family champagne factory, as well as a wider history of families buried in the Jewish cemetery.

We put John and Markus in touch and John agreed to translate Markus’ short family history for us. Among the other things it reveals is that during the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938 Egon’s uncle Eugen had his home destroyed. Eugen himself escaped harm by sheltering in the apartment of his chauffeur, but two hours later a Nazi party member and a storm trooper tracked him down. They presented him with a prepared sales agreement for the family’s property and investments and asked that he put his signature on it. When Eugen inquired what would happen if he did not sign it, he was told: ‘Then you’ll be dead within five minutes’.

Meanwhile, further facets of the family story are coming to light from Egon’s papers. Yesterday Egon’s eldest daughter, Jeanne Schoenberger, was in the Museum reading some of the material written in French and German. We will share what she uncovers in a future blog post, so stay tuned.

Previous blog: The New Zealand connection

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.

Egon’s story: The New Zealand connection

This blog is part eight 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's diary for 13 August 1939 (translated). Click for full version.

The near gale-force winds have whipped up the ocean and the Marnix is pitching and rolling.  Egon braves the weather to take a stroll along the deck and is soaked by a rogue wave crashing over the ship’s railing.  The unrelenting weather has forced sea-sick passengers back into their cabins and emptied the dining room.  As the ship sails towards Colombo, Egon predicts the weather will remain inclement.  The mood in Europe is gloomy too, as the threat of war escalates.   

Dr Michele Schoenberger-Orgad and daughter Sehai Orgad

Egon’s daughter Dr Michele Schoenberger-Orgad says her father’s skills as a winemaker were evident, and he was proud to share stories of the family champagne business, but rarely spoke of the painful memories.  

“It was like he was building a huge wall around that period,” says Michele. Those secrets were contained in a box sequestered away in his Waikato home. It contained held a treasure trove of papers dating back to 1892 and as recent as 1960. There were passports, family photographs, business documents and extraordinary letters sent by his sister and mother from concentration camps – and the diary of his passage to New Zealand.

There were also the fragments of a privileged life – tickets for the 1934 matinee at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and travel brochures to exotic locations.  Most of the correspondence is in German, and the letters are handwritten in a cursive German script, distinguished by conjoined characters.  For those living in the digital age this style of writing is completely illegible. 

A letter to Egon from his mother showing her cursive handwriting (click for full version)

After Egon’s death in 1978, the box remained with Michele, until 2002 when she donated the material to Auckland Memorial Museum.  Michele, who is a senior lecturer in the Department of Management and Communications at The University of Waikato, could understand some of the contents but the letters and diary remained a mystery.  The material was sorted and collated by the Rose Young, the museum’s history curator and then stored away.   How the story came to public attention 10 years later has an element of serendipity.  The Museum was staging an exhibition about the diary of Anne Frank and exhibition developer Janneen Love was looking for a New Zealand angle on the Holocaust story. She turned to Martin Collett, our manuscripts librarian, who retrieved the box containing Egon’s documents. With the help of German-speaking colleague, Celine Achermann, they worked through the documents.

“History was unfolding before our eyes. We knew then that we had to tell his story,” says Love.

While looking through the documents in the library with Egon’s daughter Michele, Love realised the majority of the documents written in the cursive German script would require translation. At the nearby table, Michelle Elvy   overheard the conversation and offered the services of her husband Bernard Heise – who just happened to be a specialist in deciphering this complex handwriting.  For the first time, Michele and her daughter Sehai Orgad could read Egon’s diary.

Previous blog: Worship is held on board

Next blog: Egon’s story attracts attention in modern Mainz

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.

 

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 posts 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.

Egon's diary entry 12 August 1939 (translated). (Click for full version)

Cape Guardafui and the Gulf of Aden

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.

The medical certificate showing Egon was fit to travel on the Marnix. It declares he is not "suffering favus, framboesia or yaws". Click to read full version

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: Egon’s New Zealand family

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.

Egon’s story: The innocents of war

This blog is part six 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 posts 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.   

Egon's diary entry 11 August 1939 (translated)

It’s 10.30am and temperatures have already soared to unbearable levels, as the Marnix wallows in the middle of the Red Sea. The captain has called for the ship to come to a standstill in preparation for a burial at sea. During the night, a nine-month-old baby has died and Egon and his fellow passengers have gathered on deck to pay their respects.

In a few weeks, England and France will be at war with Germany, and the slaughter of so many innocents will ensue. Among the mourners are tourists and others like Egon who are fleeing the impending Nazi scourge, but for now they are desperate to escape the 40-degree Celsius heat as the ship surges onward to the Gulf of Aden.

A letter from Egon's mother written in Camp de Gurs concentration camp in 1941. It begins, like all her letters: Meine Lieben (My Dear).

A week into his seven-week passage to New Zealand, Egon has heard no news of his family. For now, they seek refuge in Reims, France with the aid of Paul Eveque from the firm Champagne Taittinger. According to records held at the Center for Jewish History Archives, the family were only able to flee to France upon payment of the Jewish Contribution and Reichs Flight Tax of RM 700,000 (the equivalent of US$2.4m today).When Germany invades France in 1940, Johanna and Doris will be deported to Camp de Gurs concentration camp and communication will be through letters sent courtesy of the Red Cross. 

Many families were divided by war, and children were especially vulnerable in the era of the Holocaust. The United States Holocaust Museum gives a harrowing account of the treatment of children under the Nazi regime.

In accordance with their brutal ideological views, the Nazis and their collaborators killed as many as 1.5 million children, including over a million Jewish children and tens of thousands of Romani (Gypsy) children, German children with physical and mental disabilities, and children from Poland and Soviet Union.

Two young brothers photgraphed a month before they were deported to the Majdanek camp. Kovno, Lithuania, February 1944. Image from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

If you were a teenager and fit for labour, your chances of survival were greater. Many children were simply exterminated on arrival at the killing centres or left to deteriorate through ill-treatment in the ghettos and camps. Some were subjected to atrocious medical experiments, and at Auschwitz concentration camp many feared the notorious physician Josef Mengele (The Angel of Death). Among the 2,819 prisoners liberated from Auschwitz, there were 180 children; 52 of them were under 8 years of age. The infants who survived were identified by numbers on their forearms.

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Next blog: The Minyan worship is held on deck 

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.