Title: Choose Life
Author: Arnold Erlanger
Publisher: Makor Jewish Community Library
Place of publication: Melbourne
Year of Publication: 2003
Location of Book: Rare Books Collection, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Germany: Ichenhausen, Halberstadt, Buchenwald, Floessenberg, Holland: Enschede, Ruurlo, Erika, Westerbork, Winterswijk, Poland: Auschwitz, Monowitz
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative
Choose Life is the life story of Arnold Erlanger, a rich story spanning eight decades. Pages 7-34 portray Arnold’s childhood in Ichenhausen. Pages 35-64 depict his experiences on Hachshara in Halberstadt and Enschede, as well as a brief stay in Buchenwald. Pages 65-87 tell of his time in the Erika, Westerbork and Auschwitz camps, while pages 88-123 describe the rebuilding of Arnold’s life in Holland following his liberation. The remainder of the book, pages 124-251, tells of Arnold’s tremendous achievements in Australia, as well as a number of trips back to Europe. Arnold wrote the book in his eighties as part of the Makor Library’s “Write Your Story” Collection. It was published by Makor in 2003.
Arnold Erlanger was born in 1916 in Ichenhausen, Germany, to a family which had lived in Germany since the 1600’s. His family was religiously observant and Arnold lived a rich Jewish life, attending a Jewish school and fondly recalling festivals celebrated together. In 1937 he went to the Hachshara of the Noar Agudati in Halberstadt, a Zionist youth program designed to train young Jews in professions that would be useful in Palestine. As the prayer leader of the Hachshara, Arnold was taken to Buchenwald on the night of Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938. The degradation of the camp proved too much for some and many committed suicide. After agreeing to leave Germany, Arnold was released and obtained a permit to go to a similar Hachshara in Enschede, Holland. Arnold joined the Hachshara and was trained to become a farmer and a blacksmith. Unable to obtain a permit for Palestine, Arnold was trapped in Holland when the Germans invaded in May 1940. Initially, the occupation had a minimal effect on the Hachshara and Arnold was able to continue work as normal.
In August 1942 Arnold was tricked into coming to the De Zomp Labour Camp in Ruurlo. In October he was transferred to the Erika camp in Ommen. In his short stay in Ommen Arnold was beaten and humiliated before being transported to Westerbork. In Westerbork Arnold was reunited with members of the Hachshara who enabled Arnold to join the ‘privileged’ prisoners who worked outside the camp and were allegedly safe from deportation. In September 1943, however, Arnold was herded into a cattle train bound for Auschwitz.
After a month digging trenches, Arnold gained work as a welder helping to build a factory for I.G. Farben Industrie. On one occasion, after the pipes he was working on were sabotaged, seven co-workers were hanged while Arnold was mysteriously spared. In January 1945 Arnold and other prisoners were evacuated to Buchenwald. Arnold worked clearing rubble until April when he was transported to Floessenberg. On the third day of a ‘death march’ from Floessenberg, Arnold was liberated by American troops. He was eventually able to return to Holland and was reunited with surviving members of the Hachshara.
In 1947 Arnold married a widow with two children and together they moved to Winterswijk. As time progressed their desire to leave Europe grew stronger. Arnold had dreamt of going to Palestine but thought that he was ill prepared for the hard life there. After a lengthy bureaucratic process, Arnold and his new family left for Australia in 1950. Arnold lived in Adelaide, where he was extremely active in the Jewish community, before moving to Melbourne in 1988. He was honoured in 1989 as a member of the general division of the Order of Australia (AM) for his services to the Adelaide Jewish community.
Arnold Erlanger’s account of his wartime experiences is both fast paced and absorbing. His book is infused with Jewish character, be it the biblical quotes which Arnold employs to reflect on his experiences, or his tireless service to Jewish communities in both Australia and Europe.