Choose life, by Arnold Erlanger, AM.
Book review by Ernest Kallmann published in STAMMBAUM- The Journal of German-Jewish Genealogical Research, Issue 23/Summer 2003.
Arnold Erlanger writes the story of his own life, starting as a modest, obedient, faithful Jewish boy in a small town mainly untouched by Nazi wrongdoings until 1935-36. As his older sister and her husband emigrate to Palestine in 1936, he decides to prepare his own aliyah and joins a Ha’hshara training center. There, young Jewish boys and girls receive instruction and practice in agricultural techniques, which at the time were most needed for immigrants to Palestine.
After the Night of Broken Glass, 9-10 November 1938, he is arrested like most Jewish males and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. He is released after some weeks, on the condition of leaving Germany in a short time. He receives a temporary visa for Holland, where he joins another Ha’hshara center near Enschede. There he lives a farmer’s life, though WW II has begun in September 1939, and even the unexpected German invasion in May 1940 apparently brings no change until August 1942. There begins his awful voyage towards the Nazi final solution.
The list of camps to which Arnold Erlanger is taken follows : Ruurlo (De Zomp Labour Camp, Holland), Ommen (Erika Camp, Holland), Westerbork (Holland), Auschwitz (Buna-Monovitz, Poland), Flossenb?rg Germany). On April 20, 1945, the Flossenb?rg inmates are taken on foot southward, destination Mauthausen, Austria. This march of some 250 kilometers fortunately ends after only some 60 km, when the prisoners are liberated by American forces.
Arnold never deviates from his faith and credits the Lord for any and all “miracles” that save his life. For instance, his skill in welding, acquired in the Ha’hshara center, provides a job in Buna-Monovitz, the chemical works where Primo Levi also was. Of the 250 pages of his biography, only 26 deal with his life in the concentration camps.
Arnold then returns to Holland, where he intends to settle. He marries Zet (Rosetta), the widow of a Dutch Jew, deported and never returned, with two little girls and they both reconstruct a family. There is not a single chapter where Arnold does not credit his beloved Zet with contributing to his own achievements. Starting from scratch, Arnold builds up a business and a status. But sad memories eventually make life in Holland as well as Germany unbearable. The family, with total assets of 50 pounds, eventually emigrates to Australia, where a cousin of Arnold’s lives.
There Arnold settles, learns the local English language, builds up his business step by step, by trial and error. He remains involved with the local Jewish Community, volunteers in various activities and finally becomes an honored personality in Australia. The “A M” which he proudly attaches to his name means that he has been appointed as a member of the Order of Australia by H.M. the Queen.
I have been deeply moved by this book, a lesson in humanity: here is a basically kind man, close to his relatives, a brother to his ‘haverim (the men and women he has encountered in the Ha’hshara centers), an observant and faithful Jew always ready to assist the community, in short a man with a positive approach of life, a mensch. His book’s title is well chosen.
Choose Life, by Arnold Erlanger, The “Write your story” collection, Makor Jewish Community Library, 2003
306 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield South, Victoria 3162, Australia