Review of The Jewish Dog

Review by Miriam Kates LockThe Jewish Dog9780983868538

The Jewish Dog tells the story of the Holocaust from a point of view that has presumably never before been explored. In this curiously original tale, Caleb, an intelligent and pensive pup, is born in the home of the Gottlieb family, a traditional Jewish family living in Germany in the 1930’s. From the very beginning Caleb is sensitively aware of his surroundings and tries to figure out the world around him. He is particularly interested in humans, their language and the role they play in his life. He loves the Gottliebs and is relieved when he is the only one of his mother’s litter who is not separated from her. Unfortunately, he ultimately does get separated from her and from the Gottliebs as well, as the events taking place in Germany begin to affect not only the lives of Jews but even the lives of dogs.

When a law is decreed that Jews can no longer own dogs, Caleb is taken in by a German family who mistreats him terribly. When this family passes him on to an SS officer whose young son is thrilled with him, at first he thinks he is lucky but later he runs away to look for  the Gottliebs. Eventually he is captured by Nazis who send him to be trained as a guard dog.

If you think you won’t be able to identify with the thoughts, fears, and longings of a dog, this book will show you just how wrong that assumption can be.  Once you get to know Caleb, he will draw you into his story just as much as any ordinary human would. The Jewish Dog was published in its Hebrew original by Yediot Aharonot in 2007 and quickly became popular with adults and youth alike. It has also been produced as a successful play.

From his early puppyhood, Caleb is aware of his intense sense of smell as much as he is aware of his observations of the world around him and the people in it. As a puppy he is involved with typical puppy activities such as mapping out the best locations for relieving himself when taken on his walk by one of the Gottliebs. At the same time he can understand the happy and sad moods of his owners better than they do themselves.

“I would often hear the Gottliebs puzzle at my ability to recognize their moods and act accordingly – to rejoice with them in their happiness, to leave them be when they were busy, and to lie by their sides when they were sad. What can I say? It was an impossible feat for my feeble-nosed friends, but to me it was second nature. The scent they gave off would always reveal their temperament. People know how to fool one another and pretend they feel one way, when in fact they feel another. We dogs always know what’s happening inside the human soul.”

Caleb is also well-aware of his own “dogness”. He knows that he has the innate instincts of his species, and that being part of a pack of dogs changes him. He also knows that while he is capable of great love, he is capable of viciousness. Yet Caleb has a strong conscious and an innate understanding of the difference between right and wrong, something which is greatly lacking in the human world he encounters.

As the Nazis begin to close in on the Jewish population, Caleb smells fear in the Gottlieb’s home. He is surprised to discover that when he lives with the SS officer and his family, the fear disappears and there is contentment and security in the air. The absolute worst smell, the one he cannot recognize when he arrives, is the smell of Treblinka.

When Caleb arrives in Treblinka he learns quickly the heights to which the cruelty of man can reach. Still he survives and lives to tell his tale. In insightful and sometimes humorous language, Asher Kravitz takes the reader on Caleb’s journey. Seeing the Holocaust through the eyes of this exceptional dog will make you wonder more than ever how man can be capable of inflicting such horrors on other human beings. Sometimes it takes a dog to make you understand how human beings really should treat each other.

This review appeared in The Jerusalem Post Magazine.

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