Animals in the Holocaust

    November 2011          
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By Kathy Rubin

Bogar did many funny things that made us laugh. One time he decided that my father’s pants made a good toy and grabbed onto them as my father tried to walk out the door. We all laughed so hard we could not get Bogar to stop. After that we all tried to get Bogar to grab my father’s pants legs when he walked through the room. Bogar however, was smarter than we were and knew my father did not find this pastime amusing.

Another time when we were all outside playing, Bogar saw a butterfly and started to chase it. The butterfly flew in circles and Bogar tripped over his own feet chasing it round and round. We rolled on the ground laughing and then imitated him by twisting our legs and falling over.

Bogar had a keen sense of smell and if we were outside, he would alert us as soon as my mother started to cook or bake a special treat. His favorite meal was dinner, since he always got a scrap of meat or leftovers.

Although there was an undercurrent of tension in our community in Hajdúhadház, Hungary (Hajdúhadáz is a town in the Hajdú-Bihar county, in the Northern Great Plain region of Hungary) due to the anti-Semitic feelings and the war that had started, Bogar brought us happiness and joy. When we played with him, we entered a trouble free world of love and joy. It was comforting to snuggle with Bogar. Often all of us kids would lay prone in the shade of a big tree, on the grass in the summer with Bogar next to us and make up stories or share a story from one of our books. These were some of the best of times.

Bogar never grew big; he weighed only twenty pounds. He was all black and of undetermined heritage, but we loved him. He seemed to sense our trials and would rest his little head on our arm or leg, or curl up in our lap, sometimes sleeping or just gazing into our eyes. All of us would wonder what he was thinking, and what did he feel? He made us laugh, was a constant source of joy, amusement and companionship to us. Sometimes as my mother sat in her favorite chair and read a book, Bogar would jump up into her lap and fall asleep. He especially liked to do this when the weather was cold or wet outside.

I, especially, bonded with Bogar. He would follow me everywhere. Many times he and I would sit together alone and I would tell him all of my secrets.

I remember one time when we could hear bombs in the distance. My parents were frightened and could not hide it from us. That night I was so afraid that I hid Bogar in my bed, under the covers with me. Somehow, he made me less afraid. We kids would hear stories about the war even though our parents and other grownups would not talk about it in front of us or within our hearing. They could not hide the worried looks and tense whispers between themselves from us.

My friends and I would have our secret meetings and share the rumors we heard through the children’s grapevine, as well as bits of conversations that we overheard. Those of us who had dogs would include them in our secret meetings. Somehow their presence made us feel safer.

Our family managed to survive the first five years of the war because Hungary did not enter the war until March, 1944. However, the war affected us all; for example, my father was taken several times into Forced Labor in the Hungarian Military starting in 1943. Even Bogar hated the sound of planes and shooting. Before we could hear it, Bogar would growl and raise the hair on his back when an airplane flew near.

Then the unthinkable happened, the thing we all feared. In June of 1944, we heard a commotion outside. On a loud speaker the soldiers told all Jews to line up in the street. My parents had told us that this might happen, not to be afraid. We had no place to run to or to hide.

The soldiers came into the houses and told every one to get ready to leave. We were only allowed to take one suitcase each. We rushed to grab some clothes and a few other things as the soldiers waved their rifles threatening us. We heard shots in the distance.

I saw my friends, our neighbors, the butcher, the doctor, and the banker, all of the people I grew up knowing and loved, standing, cowering, and crying, in the street. There were young people, middle-aged people, and the elderly trying to stand on their feeble legs with help from their relatives. Way down at the end of the line I heard a man yelling. Then I heard shots. I was afraid to look. It got very quiet after that; people talked in whispers.

As soon as we were lined up in the street, we were marched to the ghetto. We had no warning and no time to make provisions for ourselves or Bogar. We only had time to leave Bogar free outside. I prayed to God that he would be safe. But to my horror, when I looked around, I saw that Bogar was following us to the ghetto!

“Go home!” I cried, “Go home Bogar.” But he did not.

Dogs were not allowed in the ghetto, so as we passed through the gates, the soldiers chased Bogar, trying to hit him. I tried to run back to go to him, but my father held me by the arm and forced me to stay with him. I had never felt so helpless.

I thought I heard Bogar yelp, but I could not be sure since I could not see him, and we had no idea where he was or what happened to him. Even though we were afraid and uncertain about our own fate, we all worried about Bogar. Who would take care of him? How would he survive?

For three weeks we were kept in the ghetto in Hajdúhadház, where we lived in someone’s small summer home. After three weeks we were again lined up in the street. We were herded out of the ghetto and forced to walk to the train station in Hajdúhadház.

I looked around as I left the ghetto. I am not sure if I wanted to see Bogar or was hoping that he would be gone. I couldn’t stop from looking. And as we left the ghetto, to our surprise, Bogar was right there beside us. My dear sweet Bogar had waited outside of the ghetto for us. Initially I was thrilled to see that he was alive, but when he followed us all the way to the train station my heart sank. I couldn’t help the tears that fell down my face. I anguished over what Bogar would do. Would he follow the train? Would he be killed under the wheels of the train? Would someone shoot him? Poor Bogar did not know we would have to leave him again. What would happen to our precious Bogar? All I could think of was Bogar, not even about myself. Maybe by thinking of Bogar I was able to handle my deep fears. We had all heard stories about the camps.

Bogar did not know what was happening. He watched his family line up and marched with everyone else. He had often gone on walks so he thought perhaps this was a walk of some kind. But he could smell fear, and sense the tension, so he knew it wasn’t a family outing like he had been on before.

When his loved ones went into the ghetto, the guards shooed him away. When he would not leave and tried to get inside to be with his family, they threw stones at him that hurt him so badly he yelped. He quickly learned not to linger near the gate. He had been left at home before, but his family had always come back, and it was rare for everyone to be gone at the same time.

So Bogar waited outside the gates of the ghetto for his family to return, being careful to stay far enough away so that no one paid much attention to him. Every now and then a soldier would toss him some scraps to eat. There was a stream nearby so he was able to get water to drink, and when it rained he had the puddles.

After what seemed like a lifetime, Bogar saw people coming out of the gates in a long line. He ran up and down the line until he found them, his people. Then he jumped and wiggled with joy—now they would all go home!

But they did not go home. They marched again.. So, being the loyal dog he was, Bogar followed them.

Finally they reached the train station and he saw his family climbing into a big square train car with lots of other people. There was crying. Occasionally a gunshot made him cringe; the hair rose up on his back and a deep growl rumbled in his throat.

Again, he was forced apart from his family. The soldiers shouted and shoved people. Once in awhile a boot would swing in his direction. The people getting on the train did not pay attention to him and he had to run a distance away to avoid being trampled. As he hid in some bushes, he whimpered softly, sensing that his people were going far away, leaving him for good.

Once everyone was gone, he slowly wandered around trying to figure out what had happened. He was hungry, thirsty and tired. At first he ran after the train; but he could not catch up to it. Next he went back to the ghetto, hoping that he would find his people and food there, but gone were few soldiers who were kind to him. He headed back to his home.

Time passed, and he found it harder to get food. There were no scraps in the streets or garbage heaps. One time he went up to a man and the man grabbed him and hurt him. He bit the man and got away, but he instinctively knew that the man would have killed him. He became fearful of all people and avoided them, running each time someone saw him or hiding when he detected them first.

Things were not much better when he got back to his home. Some of the neighbors who were still there and knew him would leave a scrap of bone for him or some rotted food. He was not accustomed to eating vegetables but he was so hungry that he ate anything he could find. Once he even chewed the soles of a boot that he found. He went from being a clean dog with a shiny coat to a dirty, matted dog whose ribs stuck out. Even the rats, rabbits and mice became scarce. Once in awhile he would catch a bird and even ate bugs. The days wore on.

* * * * *

This article is an excerpt from the book, Faithful Friends: Holocaust Survivors’ Stories of the Pets Who Gave Them Comfort, Suffered Alongside Them and Waited for Their Return by Susan Bulanda. To order an autographed copy go to


from the November 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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