Egon’s story: A last handshake and a kiss and then they left

This blog is part 21 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 7 September 1939 (translated). Click for full version

On 6 August 1942 Johanna and Doris Schoenberger were deported from Camp de Gurs along with 1100 others.
In his letters, Dr Bacharach (who had become deeply attached to the Schoenberger women during their time together in the camp) described them climbing into the wagon with their heads held high,  “a last handshake and a kiss and then they left.”

A few days later Dr Bacharach was also deported. But a few hours into the journey the trains stopped and he was  taken off and returned to the camp, for reasons he never understood.

Sometime in the months that followed Dr Bacharach escaped from the camp, making his way across the Pyrenees to Spain and then on to Casablanca, where he wrote a despondent letter to Eugen and Edith Schoenberger in America.

Camp de Gurs

“It is difficult to understand how deep a person can fall if they have to go through that dreadful emptiness but somehow, miraculously stay alive. If it were not for Doris and Madame Schoenberger I would probably have already had a break down, like many others, for the lack of wanting to be alive.

“I have seen many 1000s of people in varying different situations and crises but rarely people like Doris and her mother, how they stuck together and bore those situations and could keep on going and have such a normal friendly relationship between mother and daughter.”

Before she left the camp Doris entrusted Dr Bacharach with a box of clothes, her dowry box full of linen and some items of jewellery she had smuggled out of Germany and was now concerned to be found with.

When Dr Bacharach escaped he was only able to take the jewellery with him. After several days travelling through the Pyrenees mountains he and his companion were held to ransom by their guides. For five days they survived on less than a loaf of bread before eventually parting with the jewellery and being shown the way to safety.

From Morocco, Dr Bacharach travelled to Britain were he joined the army.

He wrote to Eugen and Edith that if  Doris was still alive and they found her first: “Please only tell her that I love her, how much I love her. Not even I would be capable of telling her, some things you cannot express in words.”

October 29, 2012

Posted by:

Niko Meredith

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All, Learning, Urbanlife

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IamGI give voice to their community through the Urbanlife Soundscape

Niko Meredith gives us an insight on IamGI’s journey as they explore both positive and negative aspects of housing redevelopment plans in their neighbourhood of Glen Innes, Auckland. GI youth have collaborated with Auckland Museum and music producer Anonymouz to create a unique soundscape that gives voice to the community from an urban youth perspective.

The Tamaki transformation project was supposed to the beginning of the urban renewal of the Tamaki area, and with it a promise of a brighter future for everyone. This optimism soon turned to anger following the discovery of the removal of state homes. Due to the lack of community consultation and the rapid ‘execution’ of the removals, the community took action.

GI community and supporters stand up and fight back.

GI is not for sale!

When we visited the Museum we found out about the urbanization of New Zealand. We learnt that increasing building costs led to the National government lowering state housing standards in the 1950’s. This eventually created the ‘ghetto communities’ (Glen Innes & South Auckland) which the government wanted to avoid. The pictorial archives of state housing in Glen Innes during the 1950s also illustrated that gentrification is not a new concept.

Practicing with the recording equipment before we explore the sounds and voices of GI.

Looking through the Museum’s pictorial archives.

Here’s a group shot of us during one of our visits to the Auckland Museum.

Armed with recording equipment we set out to capture the essence and soul of Glen Innes. Through our recordings we soon realized how close-knit our community is. Glen Innes is a place where people take pride in belonging to the community.

While interviewing local residents about the housing situation I was surprised at how ill informed and unaware they were of what is going on in their own backyards.

We revealed the diverse and contrasting opinions about the complicated housing situation in Glen Innes.

Thanks to the Meke Waka bus we got to head out together to explore our hood.

Exploring nature sounds at Point England Reserve.

Recording local residents in GI.

A few of the boys recording more sounds.

Everybody knows Taniwha Street!

The sad reality of many empty properties in Glen Innes. Houses are vanishing fast along with the families that once occupied these homes, only memories remain.

Gifted Hip Hop producer Matt Salapu (Anonymouz) took on the task of channeling our thoughts and opinions in a creative way through sound. During the workshop we were fortunate enough to have local guest speakers such as Thom Nepia (from the legendary Herbs) and Nelza and Outloc (from Hu Run It Productions). With the sounds we captured from the community we fine tuned the direction of the project and began piecing together the community’s voice through a youth perspective.

Special Thanks to the Museum staff and PACIFICA Women’s Tamaki branch who provided food during the workshops.

Our first day at the beautiful Ruapotaka Marae.

Icebreaker.

Breaking for lunch before we get back into it.

Matt introduces Thom Nepia from Herbs who gave us inspirational words of wisdom.

Discovering the technical side of recording sound.

Learning how to play pacific instruments with the master Ma’ara.

After months of hard work on the soundscape the project is finally taking form. This is one the most exciting projects I’ve been apart of. What’s even more exciting is this project will be showcased at the Museum capturing historical issues at a national and local level.

This has been a unique opportunity for us to have a voice and platform for social issues that affect communities facing change. The soundscape captures a snapshot of the impact of urban development in Tamaki. What I have learnt is that change is certain but we can influence the outcome.

Group shot at Ruapotaka Marae.

October 25, 2012

Posted by:

Kirsten MacFarlane

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All, Egon’s Diary

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Egon’s Diary: Coming of age in Camp de Gurs

This blog is part 20 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.

(Diary entry 5-6 September continues) After a long wait at passport inspection and much discussion, they do not let us go ashore here either. We therefore have to content ourselves with watching the two-hundred native dock workers who are unloading approximately five-hundred tonnes of rice and corned beef. Some people are already getting morally (that is, in advance) seasick because the ship is becoming so light.

Johanna's letter from Camp de Gurs is chatty and upbeat

The Schoenberger-Orgad family gathering at the Museum library a few days ago, filled yet another significant gap in the family history.  It was the first time that Michèle, Sehai and Milan had seen the English translation of a letter from Johanna and Doris, written while they were interned in Camp de Gurs.  Due to a scarcity of paper, Johanna wrote on one side and Doris used every available space on the other.  Dated 12/3/1941, the letter is confirmation that they had been in the camp for more than a year, and had recently endured a harsh winter. Both mother and daughter begin with an affectionate salutation: ‘My Dears, Thank you very much.”  But there is no reference to the recipients of their letter.  A few paragraphs later,  there is a mention of Rosa, Eugene’s sister. We are convinced that the letter is addressed to Egon’s uncle and aunt, Eugene and Edith.

Sehai reads aloud a passage from Johanna’s letter –  her great grandmother’s description of Doris’ 21st birthday celebrations.

“We are doing consistently well, thank God; we spent the eventful day of my child’s coming of age quite pleasantly in the M Infirmary. Doris was presented – commensurate with the times – with all kinds of edibles and in the evening her colleagues prepared a good cold evening dinner, which was also attended by the chief physician and our block female physician. “

Doris Schoenberger

Doris' letter talks of champagne celebrations on her 21st birthday

Doris, who worked as a nurse in the camp’s medical centre, was excited about her birthday celebrations.

“My colleagues, the block bosses, and also less significant people were warm to me, and a bottle of sparkling wine was even conjured up.”

It is impossible not to be moved by a mother and daughter’s courageous attempts to draw a veil over the reality of life in this miserable camp.  Johanna and Doris would have lived in a small, windowless wood cabin, sometimes sharing it with up to 60 people. It’s likely they would have slept on the ground on sacks of straw.  Camp food, when it was available, was substandard. There was no sanitation,  running water, or plumbing.  It rained frequently in this region, and the clay grounds of the camp quickly turned into a muddy slough.  During the winter of 1940-41 alone, 800 prisoners died.

Could Johanna and Doris have felt any bitterness towards Eugene, for getting his wife Edith out of the camp? If Captain J Bacharach’s descriptions of the pair as spirited and courageous (“they were carved from the most previous wood”) are true, then it is likely there was no acrimony.  I think they were acutely aware of their dire situation.

Johanna writes: “We must continue, in large part, to let the times – that is, the political situation – decide our fate.”

Yet Doris – this beautiful young woman celebrating her 21st birthday in such miserable surroundings –  remains so optimistic  about the future.

“I do not see salvation in the USA, because even there it is so insanely difficult that I find myself less and less unfortunate having to sit up here. The question is just how much time one will still lose because of this. I just make an effort to find something cheerful every day, and actually also have still maintained my sense of humour,”

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 Diary: Family reunited

This blog is part  19 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.

Monday 4 September (continues): The airplanes carry approximately three tons of material on each flight. In the countryside there was not very much to see, said the countryside excursionists. Three new passengers come on board, among them a Swiss geologist Prof. Dr. Arnold Heim, who undertook a research trip here in New Guinea. Prof. Heim is the author of the book Throne of the Gods, a report about his Himalaya expedition in 1936. He is glad that he can once again speak Swiss-German.

(from l-r) Kirsten MacFarlane, Sehai Orgad, Milan Orgad, Michèle Schoenberger-Orgad and Janneen Love

This morning, there was another gathering of the Schoenberger-Orgad family at Auckland Museum. Three generations of the family sat round the table in the library; Egon’s daughter Michèle, his granddaughter Sehai Orgad and grandson Milan Orgad. Of course Egon was there in spirit only, in the form of his diary which lay in the middle of the table. In the weekend, museum staff de-installed the Anne Frank exhibition, and after six weeks on display, Egon’s diary was transferred back to the manuscript collections, where it will remain forever accessible to the public.   

It was a story that first came to public attention through a trace of serendipity and much diligence on the part of exhibition developer Janneen Love, and writers Kirsten MacFarlane and Greg Meylan.  It was the family though who were so generous in sharing their personal history. Egon’s diary and the many documents contained in the manuscript collections, revealed a story arc almost Shakespearean, with its requisite tragedies and shameful injustices. There were also unexpected pockets of joy for the descendants.

“I’ve had calls from people I have not seen or heard for many years, and each and every one had a memory to share. It brought my father back to me and gave me the most amazing opportunity for remembrance and memorial,” says Michèle.

This was the first time her son Milan had seen the diary. He had just arrived back in the country after a 24-hour flight from New York. His sister and mother picked him up from Auckland Airport and they drove straight here. Tomorrow he will fly out to Melbourne, to resume his job as policy advisor to the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency (ANZPAA).

We take for granted the ease of modern travel.  Have passport, will fly across oceans and continents. Seventy three years ago – almost to the day – Milan’s grandfather had arrived by boat in Salamaua. As he observes in his diary entry of Monday 4 September, the consequences of war were that passengers with German passports couldn’t go ashore. Instead of exploring this foreign place with his fellow passengers, he was restricted to watching the cargo movements.  Already, he was an alien in a new land.    

Arthur Schoenberger with his son Egon

Michèle says the Museum did a mitzvah (good deed) for keeping the past alive.  These stories will now be passed to generations. The story of the Jewish holocaust should never be forgotten.  Neither should the memory of the pioneers of Auckland. Last week 20 of their graves were desecrated at Auckland’s Grafton Cemetery.  The vandals targeted the Jewish headstones, spraying them with anti-semitic graffiti and swastikas.  The Israeli Embassy in Wellington called it a vile attack.

“Sixty seven years after the liberation of the Jewish people from the death camps and ghettoes of Europe, expressions of blind hatred for Jews and for the sole Jewish state resurface.”

October 16, 2012

Posted by:

Greg Meylan

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All, Egon’s Diary

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Egon’s story: The letters of Dr Bacharach

This blog is part 18 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.

It has taken 18 blogposts to reach the letters of Captain Bacharch, a man whose beautiful handwriting has been verbally translated by the Museum’s Swiss born project manager, Celine Achermann. None of us knew what these letters contained until Egon’s daughter Jeanne visited the Museum about a week after the blogposts began. With a working knowledge of German she recognised his letters told the story of Egon’s sister and mother, Doris and Johanna, in Camp de Gurs.

A portion of a letter showing the fine handwriting of Capt J Bacharach. This one was written after the war.

Last Friday afternoon Celine read to me the fifth letter in his correspondence, which turns out to be the first he wrote. It was sent to Eugen and Edith (the latter of whom had also been interned at the camp, before Eugen got her out).

It is only at the end of the letter that we learn that Captain J Bacharach was a Latvian doctor who had fought in the Spanish Civil War. When the republicans lost to Franco’s fascists he fled to France where he and many other refugees were housed in the specially built Camp de Gurs. When the Second World War broke out, the camp also became home to about 4000 German Jews whom the French authorities arrested as enemy aliens.

Doris, who had trained to be a nurse before the war, met Dr Bacharach working in the camp’s medical centre. Conditions were poor. There were regular outbreaks of typhoid fever and dysentery and 800 people died of contagious diseases during 1940 and 1941.

Captain Bacharach described Doris and Johanna and his letter: “The good relationship between mother and daughter was astounding to witness. The mother is smart, adaptable, young and fresh minded and very understanding of her daughter. Doris, despite her youth, is very mature, experienced, strong and a wise person, and very conscious of what is going on. “

He wrote they were never demoralised, were bold and courageous but also realistic about the future. They were “full of life amid the daily grey”.

“In these difficult life situations you notice the real value of a person, the wood out of which they are carved, and those two are definitely carved from the most precious wood…. Their hut always had a warm homely glow of humour and femininity. There was always something happening, little or big.”

He said they were glad to know that Egon was safe in New Zealand, and were not too worried about his well-being as they knew he was strong, like they were.

WAR IS DECLARED

As Egon sails towards Salamua on Sunday 3rd September 1939, the passengers hear the shocking news that war has broken out in Europe.

Next blog: Transport from Camp du Gurs

- a big thanks to Celine Achermann for her translation!

October 11, 2012

Posted by:

Greg Meylan

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All, Egon’s Diary

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Egon’s story: The search continues

This blog is part 17 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.

Diary entry 1 September, 1939 (translated). Click for full version

Egon arrives in Port Moresby. Europe is days away from war.

In 1945, when the war had finished and Egon had not heard from his mother and sister for three years, his uncle Eugen recieved a letter from Rio de Janeiro asking after them.

Dear Mr. Schoenberger,
I don’t know if you remember me because it has been about 7 years that I saw you for the last time in Mainz. Before my marriage, my maiden name used to be Ruth Mayer and your niece Doris and I were very good friends.

Letter from Ruth Schild: "Everything is so dreadful"

Some time ago I read your ad in the AUFBAU, inquiring after the whereabouts of Doris and her mother, and that’s why I am taking the liberty today to write to you.

In case you should get any news about Doris and her mother, would you be kind enough to let me know, because I also want to get in touch with her again and try to help them, if this is in my power. Let’s hope that they are safe somewhere.

I also got definite news now that my father died in Theresienstadt already in 1942 or 1943. Everything is so dreadful and we, who were fortunate enough to escape, have to be thankful for that every day.

My brother Martin with his wife and son are living in Rio too and he sends his best regards to you. I got married in 1941 to a friend of my brother and we are living quietly and happily together, working hard but enjoying a peaceful life as a whole.

I do hope that you and your wife are well. Please write to me as soon as you hear something, won’t you ?

Thanking you in anticipation, and with very best regards, I remain,

Yours sincerely,

Ruth Schild

Next blog: The letters of Dr Bacharach

Hiapo Niue – Niue Bark Cloth

Throughout Vagahau Niue or Niue language week (8-12 October 2012) we celebrate and embrace the language and culture of Niue by highlighting vibrant Niue objects in our collection.
Niue is an island country situated in the southern Pacific Ocean. It has a unique free-association relationship with New Zealand. Hiapo is the Niuean word for bark cloth obtained from the inner bark of various trees – paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) being the main one.
This piece is dated at around 1886 and features intricate freehand patterns painted in fine black lines. Designs incorporate plant forms, abstract iconography and small motifs painted onto beaten bark cloth. Niue used to have a strong tradition in bark cloth manufacture but over time this has diminished. Inscriptions on the border read Laifone mai puka. Te mu ki tai. I kipa Lulai.
You can see this hiapo in our Pacific Masterpieces gallery, on the ground floor.

A freehand painted hiapo. Inscriptions on the border read Laifone mai puka.

A freehand painted hiapo. Inscriptions on the border read Laifone mai puka.

October 8, 2012

Posted by:

Greg Meylan

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All, Egon’s Diary

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Egon’s story: The search for Doris and Johanna

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's Diary 26-31 August (translated). Click for full version

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. Click for full version

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

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: A change of ship

This blog is part 15 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 25 August (translated). Click for full version

Egon leaves the Marnix and takes up berth in the more cramped quarters of the Tasman for the final leg of his journey to New Zealand. He finds himself sharing with an elderly man who makes annoying noises and a disagreeable Austrian attorney, but the New Zealanders on board are more friendly than the Dutch on the Marnix and that bodes well for life in what will soon be his new home.

As Egon sailed towards safety, his mother, sister, uncle and his uncle’s wife were still in a precarious position in France. Their plan to find refuge in Britain evaporated when the Germans invaded in May 1940. The Schoenbergers left Reims as the Germans approached but shortly after the fall of France the French police, acting in collaboration with the Nazis, rounded-up the Jews. The Schoenberger women were interned at Camp de Gurs, but Eugen managed to avoid arrest.

Telegram from Johanna Schoenberger to her brother-in-law from Camp de Gurs.

Egon lost contact with his family during this period but to his great relief a letter from his mother finally arrived in Hamilton. Johanna’s words to her son filled every available space on the page.

Eugen Schoenberger succeeded in getting his wife Edith out of the camp but Johanna and Doris were left behind. Edith and Eugen escaped via Spain and Portugal and arrived in the United States in 1941.

As letters arrived to Egon, his mother was able to send a telegram now and then to her brother-in-law Eugen in California, these simply said: Bonne Sante (Good health).

The letters kept coming for another year.

Next blog: The search for Johanna and Doris

October 4, 2012

Posted by:

Greg Meylan

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All

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Compulsory and irreproachable idleness

In the spirit of understanding Sloth, the latest of the seven deadly sins to be explored in our 2012 series of Late at the Museum, I thought literary-minded blog readers would enjoy some quotes about idleness, the first from War and Peace.
(And what could be easier than putting up a quote and calling it a blogpost?)  

Tolstoy at age 20, 1848

“The Bible legend tells us that the absence of labor – idleness – was a condition of the first man’s blessedness before the Fall. Fallen man has retained a love of idleness, but the curse weighs on the race not only because we have to seek our bread in the sweat of our brows, but because our moral nature is such that we cannot be both idle and at ease. An inner voice tells us we are in the wrong if we are idle. 

“If man could find a state in which he felt that though idle he was fulfilling his duty, he would have found one of the conditions of man’s primitive blessedness. And such a state of obligatory and irreproachable idleness is the lot of a whole class – the military. The chief attraction of military service has consisted and will consist in this compulsory and irreproachable idleness.” 

- Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, book seven, chapter 1  

If you’re not feeling too tired, worn out or bone idle, then come along to Late at the Museum tonight for an exploration of Sloth. As well as smart talk and great music you can follow a trail that uncovers some sloth related objects in the Museum, including a Shabti figure from ancient Egypt that was buried alongside its master or mistress in order to do their manual labour in the afterlife. 

And now there’s time for just one more quote: 

“I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. Everyone knows the story of the traveler in Naples who saw twelve beggars lying in the sun (it was before the days of Mussolini), and offered a lira to the laziest of them. Eleven of them jumped up to claim it, so he gave it to the twelfth. this traveler was on the right lines. But in countries which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness is more difficult, and a great public propaganda will be required to inaugurate it” 

- Betrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness 

Find out more about our night of Sloth here.