Each Holocaust survivor has a unique and individual story. Each survived against all odds, through a combination of luck, determination, and resilience. Every one of these stories is a testimony not only of those who were left alive, but also of those who were killed. Some survived because they were fortunate to be admitted to New Zealand before the war and could escape the atrocities, others survived concentration camps, labour camps, ghettos, yet others were saved by gentiles at great risks to their own lives. The survivors came from Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and all corners of Europe. The losses of homes, families, a whole world, a culture, are all integral parts of these stories, but they also tell of regeneration, starting a new life in a new country, adjustment, accommodation, assimilation.
These survivors all ended up in New Zealand one way or another and made their contribution to life in this country. Stories also include accounts by New Zealanders who witnessed the Holocaust and stories of gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews.
In Jewish tradition the command to remember, Zachor is absolute, but this memory must be accompanied by action of moral and ethical intent. These stories provide a human perspective to the experience of victims. They make the unimaginable tangible. It is up to the reader to draw moral conclusions about a historical event that almost defies understanding.
Hanka Pressburg (1920-2011) was born in Czechoslovakia. She survived nearly four years in Nazi concentration camps, but her newly-wedded husband, Fricek Weil, her brother and parents were murdered. She was liberated from Bergen-Belsen by the British at the end of the war. She returned to Prague, and in 1947, married George Pressburg and moved to New Zealand to start a new life.
Clare Galambos (1923 – 2014) was a young violin student in Budapest at the Fodor music academy in March 1944. Jailed a few days after the German occupation, she was later transported from the Szombathely ghetto to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After five weeks she and her aunt were among the thousand Hungarian women selected for slave labour at a munitions factory. They returned to Hungary after the war, and in 1948 they both left Hungary for New Zealand, where Clare joined the then fledgling National Orchestra and played on with the NZSO for 32 years.
Vera Egermayer (1940 - ) was born in Prague. When Auschwitz was liberated, Egermayer was in a children's home in Prague, because her parents had been interned. Though the war was turning against Germany, systems to round up and exterminate Jews still operated. She was four years old when she was transported by train to Terezin, without her parents. Egermayer's parents survived the war and the family immigrated to Wellington in 1949. As a child survivor of the Holocaust, she has given talks around the world. She was the New Zealand consul in Prague for 18 years.
Bob Narev (1935 - ) and his parents were arrested and sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, in August 1942, when he was seven years old. Bob’s father died in Theresienstadt; he and his mother, Gertrud, remained there for two-and-a-half hungry years until February 1945, after which they were sent to Switzerland. The rest of their immediate family perished in the Holocaust. Bob and Gertrud immigrated to New Zealand in 1947. He went on to study law and complete a degree. Bob is a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit and serves on a number of Holocaust charitable trusts. He and his wife Freda, also a survivor, are actively involved in Holocaust education.
Eugene Hirst, known to his friends as Gene, was born in Budapest. He was the youngest of four children of Edward Hirschberger and Franciska (neé Stahler). Before the Second World War he lived in Czechoslovakia working as a dental technician in the University Hospital Clinic in Prague.
Max Rosenfeld (1905-1989), born in Czechoslovakia, was a registered architect and, in later years, a member of the N.Z. Institute of Architects. In 1939, he and his wife and young child managed to procure exit papers and a New Zealand visa, and they left Europe just before the war broke out. They settled in Auckland, and he later published several books, among them A Mere Twenty Years, The Story of the Czech Republic and The New Zealand House, which ran into 13 editions.
In 1937 my father, his brother, their parents and their maternal grandparents escaped from Nazi Germany, just as the ports were closing to civilian travel. This is not their story as they had a family that survived to remember them. This is the story of the other Ungers, the family that it has taken us 70 years to piece together most of the information on their fate.
Sol Filler, (1929-1999) was born in Poland. He survived harrowing persecution in his home town, and three years in Auschwitz-Birkenau labour camp, then spent another four years in a displaced persons camp in Germany post-war. Seventy-four members of his family were killed under the Nazi regime. After the war he moved to Sydney, where he met his future wife Ruth, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany whosefamily arrived in New Zealand in June, 1938, on board the SS Remuera.
Karl Wolfskehl (1869-1948) was a German Jewish poet, author and intellectual. He was in his 70th year when he arrived in New Zealand, a war refugee forced to start a new life at a time when most people can retire comfortably. Wolfskehl found it difficult to acclimatise to the relatively less developed cultural and intellectual environment in Auckland and yet he continued to write and to write in German, eventually producing some of his best work here.Upon his death in June 1948 he had arranged for his grave inscription to read “exul poeta” to signify his Jewish, Roman, and German roots.
Marie Vandewart Blaschke (1911-2006 ) was born to a music-loving Jewish family in Berlin, and she became an accomplished cellist at a young age. When the Nazis rose to power, she, like all Jewish musicians, was only allowed to perform in Jewish orchestras. She became engaged to the social worker Alfons Blaschke who, although not Jewish, was persecuted by the Nazis because of his political beliefs as a pacifist. The couple was lucky to find a farmer in Hawkes Bay who was prepared to sponsor them. Marie arrived in New Zealand in and in 1941 she received news via the Red Cross of the death of her parents in the Holocaust. She and her husband settled in Auckland in 1977, where she took up a post as a cello teacher at the university.
The summer of 1944 was a time of storm. At the time the shattered and demoralised German armies were retreating on all fronts, two grisly performances of Verdi’s Requiem Mass were performed at the concentration camp for Jews in Terezin, near Prague. The artists, the choir, the orchestra and the conductor were Jews from Central Europe performing before an audience of inmates of the camp.
It was Friday 10 November 1938 when I made my way to the London hotel to join fellow Jews to travel by sea to Canada, overland and then to New Zealand and Australia.Posters of the afternoon papers shouted, ‘Synagogues burning’ and ‘Pogrom in progress’. Thus started my emigration to New Zealand. It had begun in Berlin about Pesach (Passover) when my entry permit to New Zealand had arrived. Full of joy, my parents and I set out to book a passage in perhaps a couple of months’ time, but after going from shipping office to shipping office, it was plain that November would be the earliest booking with Canadian Pacific Railways.