Ellen and Erich Arndt were amongst the largest known group of German Jews to survive in hiding in Berlin from 1943-45. Ellen, born Ellen Lewinsky in 1923, grew up in Blesen, Germany. She and her mother Charlotte Gurau Lewinsky and her grandparents, Henriette and Siegfried Gurau, a grain merchant, were well liked by the townspeople in their tiny town. Ellen was 10 when Hitler came to power in 1933. Although a top student, she had to drop out of school at 13.
Her grandfather was arrested on Kristallnacht. By May 1939, both grandparents had died. Ellen and her mother moved to Berlin to join Siegfried’s sister Johanna. There she met Erich at a party. Erich, born Joachim Erich Arndt, also in 1923, was a native Berliner who lived with his older sister Ruth, his mother Lena, and his father Arthur, a physician who had won an Iron Cross for outstanding service during WWI.
The family tried to get visas to America but could not so the family resigned itself to waiting out the war. Arthur could no longer practice medicine and Erich, a top student and athlete, also had to drop out of his school. By the spring of 1941, Ellen and Erich, Erich's sister Ruth and Charlotte worked as slave laborers in German ammunition factories working long hours. All were paid less than half the wages of Aryan workers. They spent long hours commuting to work and had to live on meager rations.
In the fall of 1943, Erich heard a rumor at Siemens, a huge munition factory where he was recruited to work, that all Jewish factory workers would be deported to concentration camps. Erich knew that to survive they would have to go into hiding. Eventually Erich convinced his father to seek help from Anni Gehre, a former patient. Anni contacted Max Kohler, a dedicated pacifist, to hire Erich as a journeyman in his small machine shop. Max let Erich sleep there as well. Dr. Arndt lived with Max and Anni Gehre.
Ellen, Charlotte, Ruth and Lina, Erich's mother, hid in many different places before they, too, moved into the factory. Erich's friend, Bruno Gumpel, also joined the group. After the war, Dr. Arndt resumed practicing medicine in Berlin. In June 1945 Erich and Ellen married, as did Ruth and Bruno.
The family came to the US in May 1946 on the Marine Flasher, the first ship to carry Jewish refugees to the United States. The refugee agency wanted to settle the group in Alabama but they would have none of it. They had experienced enough of prejudice to last a lifetime. They did not want to go to a place where blacks were segregated from whites. They settled in Hempstead, New York where they raised two daughters, Marion and Renee. In 1957 Erich accepted a job offer as a production manager with Rochester Alliance Tool and Dye and the family moved to Rochester where they became active members of Temple Emanuel and other Jewish institutions. They devoted much time to speaking about their experiences at local schools and colleges.
Biography written by: Barbara Appelbaum