The Jew New Zealand saved

23:10, Sep 04 2012
Anne Frank
HISTORIC: Anne Frank was one of the most famous victims of the Holocaust.

She was a 15-year-old girl in Amsterdam, forced to live in virtual silence to try and stay alive. He was almost 10 years older, an educated lawyer from Germany who found safety and refuge in New Zealand. Both kept a diary.

She was Anne Frank, the young Jewish woman who spent more than two years hidden in a small annex with her family before they were betrayed, arrested and sent to Auschwitz during WWII. Her diary has been translated into 70 languages and has been cherished around the world.

He was Ergon Schoenberger, a German-born jew who settled in New Zealand just as WWII was beginning.  

Now, the diary he kept as war broke out is joining her legacy as part of the Anne Frank: A History For Today exhibition opening today at the Auckland Museum.

The exhibition, which was created by Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, includes photographs of the Frank family's time in hiding, as well as examples of how others were persecuted both by political decisions and by the actions of individuals during WWII.  

After two years travelling around the country, the exhibition will move to Australia when it closes in Auckland.

Schoenberger's diary has been translated from German by the museum and the story of his journey to New Zealand, the discovery of what was unfolding in his home country, and the news of his mother and sisters' deaths in Auschwitz, will be told in a 24-part online series on the Auckland Museum website as well as in the exhibition itself.

Auckland Museum exhibition developer Janneen Love says the diary and other new content that will accompany the Anne Frank exhibition helps link the story of Frank with New Zealand.

"Like Anne's diary, Egon's diary and the letters from his family tell a very personal story amid the much larger story of persecution and loss in WWII," she says.

"It's super important for people who aren't familiar with the story - I'm thinking of my own child and her mates - that this history isn't forgotten...for us to learn about tolerance and respect for other people.

"It's a pretty significant piece of history, and we've been lucky to be able to share it and also share the family's story at the same time."

Scheonberger's daughter Michele Schoenberger Orgad, who doesn't speak German, says reading the transcription for the first time was emotional.  

"It was a very, very moving experience. I went through it and it was just like hearing my father's voice again, even though he hadn't talked much about it. He'd closed off that part of his life. He'd built this wall around what happened between 1938 and 1947 and that part of his life was very separated.  

"He only talked about 'no, this country gave me my life. New Zealand is the country I owe my gratitude and my debt'."

So what would the man, who spoke so rarely about that part of his life, think about his private words becoming a public lesson?

"I think he would be thrilled. I hope he would be thrilled," says Schoenberger Orgad.  

"Thrilled that we can keep on remembering the past and talk about it; to pass it on from generation to generation."


WHERE: Auckland Museum

WHEN: Until 22 October.

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