Faithful Friends: Pet Stories From Holocaust Survivors

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We came across Susan Bulanda’s book by accident and thought it was brilliant. The Holocaust stories we hear are horrifying but they are rarely about pets. Susan’s work gives us an amazing insight into what pet owners had to live through and reminds us to give hugs to our animals in appreciation of their love.

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By Susan Bulanda

This is what life was like in most of Europe just before and during World War II. Nazi Germany controlled most, if not all, of the media. People did not know details about what was happening. They had to rely on refugees fleeing their homes for news. Sometimes people did not believe what they heard; it all seemed so impossible. Yet the evidence filtered its way into many towns. Non-Jews started to shun Jewish people. Often, the ones hurt the most were the children who could not understand why their lifelong friends would no longer play with them, why their playmates started calling them names and even throwing things at them. The icy fingers of isolation crept into their lives. Can you imagine a world without television, computers, a lack of newspapers, and no radio programs that gave reliable news? The only news that you could depend on, for the most part, was the news brought by people who traveled through your hometown.

Yet many of them, in addition to the love and protection of their family, also had their pets. Their wonderful dogs and cats never failed them. As more accounts of the war filtered into communities, the adults tried to hide the frightening news from the children; but being children, they had their own underground network of spies. They knew that something was bad, and they saw the results themselves. Stores and mills that were run by Jews lost business as non-Jews avoided them. Adults became tense, smiles were a rarity, and the children heard only bits and pieces. Some families left their homes to find safety.

Yet, the dogs and cats still loved them. They were still playful and happy. For a few moments, children and adults alike could forget the daily peril and enjoy life as it was before. Wagging tails, loving kisses, gleeful barking, and contented purring comforted them. At night, a faithful dog would sleep beside the bed, or sometimes, unbeknownst to the parents, on the bed, and no one could harm the family while they were on guard.dog-park-new-york-19

One day the Germans arrived and people had little time to gather their belongings and prepare to be marched off. What was to become of the faithful pets? They were not allowed in the ghettos or the camps.

In France one woman was forced to leave her French Bulldog in her garden as she was taken to jail and then sent to Auschwitz. While she was still in jail she pleaded with a German soldier to go back and take care of her dog. If he did, her dog would live, if not, who knows what would happen to him.

In Romania, while a family was stripped of their jewels and money, one of the three family dogs attacked a soldier for hitting the mother of the family. The daughter yelled to the dogs to run, to go home. It was the only hope they had to survive. After the war, she went back to look for her dogs. She did not know how they could survive a starving country, but her hopes were high. Weak as she was, every day she walked the countryside, calling their names.

In Poland, before they were captured, a young girl opened her closet door and found that their cat had torn her best dress to make a nest for a litter of kittens. They kept one of the kittens who was born with only one eye. This kitten turned out to be a loving devoted member of the family. When they were forced into the ghetto, the girl and her brother were able to hide with a local farmer. But one day she yearned to see her home so much that against the farmer’s wife’s orders, she snuck back to see her home, the place where there had been safety, love, and a normal life. When she got to her house, there, sitting on the front porch waiting for her, was her beloved cat.P1020559

In Holland, a family found a neighbor to take care of their German Shepherd Dog for them as they were taken away. Two of the children survived the camps. The first thing they did when they were free was to find a way to go home to find their dog.

Thinking of their beloved pets gave both children and adults hope while they suffered in captivity, especially the children. They had the love and devotion of their pets locked in their hearts to sustain them. They had something to think about besides their terrible situation. They worried about their pet’s care or ability to survive.

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How the pets left behind acted, felt, and what happened to them is an important part of the history of the Holocaust. These pets were as much a part of the family as any human.

It is one aspect of the Holocaust that has never before been told.

The most important part of writing this book was the response of the people I interviewed. Without exception, they thanked me for caring enough to ask, but more importantly, they told me that telling me their stories gave them closure. At a time when so many horrors of war filled the world, few people wanted to hear about a child’s grief at having to leave a pet behind. During that time of history, people did not understand the human/animal bond and did not allow or support the grief of losing a pet. These children had to lock it in their hearts. I feel honored to have given them the opportunity to share their stories with me.

Visit www.sbulanda.com to read more about Susan’s work and buy her autographed book Faithful Friends: Holocaust Survivors’ Stories of the Pets who Gave Them Comfort, Suffered Alongside Them and Waited for Their Return.

 

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