Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, November 30, 2017

“The Ghetto Dog” - A Short Story Set in The Lodz Ghetto by Isaiah Spiegel - 1945- translated from Yiddish by Bernard Gurney

“The Ghetto Dog”
Wonderfully read by Laureen Bacall

My Holocaust Related Posts

Prussia, the ruler of Germany, was always an enemy of the intellect, of books, of the Book of Books—that is, the Bible—of Jews and Christians, of humanism and Europe. Hitler’s Third Reich is only so alarming to the rest of Europe because it sets itself to put into action what was always the Prussian project anyway: to burn the books, to murder the Jews, and to revise Christianity."  Joseph Roth, 1933"

Most of this month I have been reading and loving doing so German Language Literature.   There is, for me at least, a huge elephant in the room when one talks of the very real glories of German Culture, from Goethe, the great novels and music and Ulm Cathedral.  That elephant is the Holocaust.  Some will say, perhaps rightly, every culture has a dark side and try to rationalise things.  Others, as does Joseph Roth and I, see it as more than that.  There are strange connections in history.  Not long ago I read a very scholarly biography of the German Emperor Frederick the Great, worshiped by the Nazis for his military bravado.   The main thesis of the book was that Frederick became a warrior king to prove his father, who rightly saw that Frederick was  a homosexual, was wrong.  From this the Prussian ethic developed and the Nazis state was derivative from Frederick’s trying to show his father  he was wrong.  Jews were treated as sexual deviants and homosexuality was criminal, though of course many Nazis were homosexuals.  Hitler raved about the decadence of the Weimar Republic.  

Yiddish literature derives from a thousand year old culture based in Eastern Europe and Russia.    No culture that I’m familiar with cherished the Reading Life more.  The Holocaust was in part a war on those who loved books, knowledge and Reading.  Germans tried very hard to destroy this culture, it was not an aberation.  Joseph Roth is right.  

Today’s story, “The Ghetto Dog” by Isaiah Spegel, written when he was confined in The Lodz Ghetto in Poland, takes us inside the Ghetto.  He was there from 1941 to 1944, when he was shipped out to Auschwitz.  He survived and wrote wonderful stories focusing on the small details of life in Łódź under the Germans.

Laureen Bacall reads this story at the link above.  She does  a wonderful job.

I must warn you that this is very much a story of deep pain, heart breaking in the cruelty and subhuman behavior of the Germans.  Some will be disturbed by this but that is ok, you should be disturbed. I listened to it once last night and again this morning.  It is The most powerful literary work I have read this month for sheer depth of feeling and insight.  

As “The Ghetto Dog” opens an elderly Jewish woman, living with her beloved old dog Nicki, is ordered out of her home of decades, one she shared with her late husband, by a uniformed armed German.  When her normally completely placid dog prepares to go for the throat of the German she restrains him, begging the German not to shoot him.  She is moved into the part of Łódź, 
Poland, where Jews are allowed to live.  The Germans place her and Nicki in a room with a prostitute, called Big Bertha.  This alone is a shock to the widow. At first Bertha is very upset over having to share her quarters, she says Nicki is scaring her clients and tells the widow to go out on the balcony while she services a visitor.  

In a very moving perfectly done scene, something happens that bonds the two women, Bertha comes to love Nicki.   They sleep on the couch together.  Then the Germans issue a cruel vicious degree, all animals owned by Jews must be turned over to the Germans.  Many in the ghetto survive with the help of the animals.  Spegel,shows us whole families leading “Jewish Cows, Jewish Horses and Jewish Dogs” to be turned over.  They weep, kiss the animals as they part.  The horses and cows are taken away by German farmers.  The dogs are shot.

Bertha goes with the widow to turn Nicki over, there is no hiding him.  The close of the story is so moving, with almost a supernatural beauty and wisdom. It is perfect, so visual.

It takes thirty minutes to listen to “The Ghetto Dog”, Leonard Nimoy, deeply into Yiddish literature introduces the story and gives background information.  I listened to it twice.  

Last year during GLM I posted on a very good novel set in the Łódź Ghetto, second in size to Warsaw, Jacob the Liar by Jurek Becker.

This is a great story, I know I sound hyperbolic, but that is how I feel.  

From Northwest University Press 

Ghetto Kingdom
Tales of the Lodz Ghetto

Isaiah Spiegel was an inmate of the Lodz Ghetto from its inception in 1940 until its liquidation in 1944. While there, he wrote short stories depicting Jewish life in the ghetto and managed to hide them before he was deported to Auschwitz. After being freed, he returned to Lodz to retrieve and publish his stories.

The stories examine the relationship between inmates and their families, their friends, their Christian former neighbors, the German soldiers, and, ultimately, the world of hopelessness and desperation that surrounded them. In using his creative powers to transform the suffering and death of his people into stories that preserve their memory, Spiegel succeeds in affirming the humanity and dignity the Germans were so intent on destroying.

About the Author

Isaiah Spiegel was born in the industrial city of Lódz in 1906. After surviving Auschwitz, he immigrated to Israel, where he continued to write stories, novels, poems, and essays. He died in Israel in 1990.

End from publisher.

I wish I knew much more  about his post WW Two Life, he survived forty five years.  I hope he was happy, had a great wife and family.  I have researched him but could not find much more than the above. If you know something please leave a comment.

YouTube has thirteen, at least dramatic readings of stories by Eastern European Jews, commonly called Yiddish stories though some were originally in  Russia or Hebrew.

Mel u


Deepika Ramesh said...

Hi Mel,

Thank you for sharing the link and this post. After you posted a comment on my blog yesterday, I listened to the short story twice. Once last night and once a while ago. As I type this, my vision is blurred. Tears. I can't stop crying. I have read a few books on holocaust. As we know, most of the books's focus had been on humans. Despite being an ardent animal-lover, it never occurred to me to learn about what happened to the Jews's animals. Your post and the audio have opened an avenue for me -- I must try to read about how animals were treated during the wars.

'A Ghetto Dog' was painfully poetic. I loved how the widow and Nicki bonded over grief, and how the dog continued to remind her of her husband through his glassy eyes. They both were old and lonely, together in their senility and loneliness. Of course, Bertha had to fall in love with Nicki. Who can't love the dog! As you mentioned in the post, the climax was surreal. I could see all the snow and its blinding brightness. Oh, Mel! I want to say more but I am overwhelmed. I am going to listen to it more and I want to write about it sometime. I am grateful to you for sharing it with me. I am so moved. Thank you!

Mel u said...

Deepika, thanks for your comment, it gratified me

I was thinking more on The story, not only does Bertha come to Love The Dog Nicki, and The widow, but The widow loves her, a woman totally remote from her experiences. They form a almost mother daughter bond with Bertha protesting as she can The widow in her darkest hour. As to Bertha, we Know Nothing of her history, was she a prostitute before The Germans came or did she lose her husband and have no other way to live. There are a lot of deep open questions here. Also why does The Dog Go out at night, outside The Ghetto? That has meaning. We wonder How Bertha Will be alone, maybe, we just do not know, if The Dog and The widow were The only real Family she ever had. Her walking to turn The Dog in took real courage. Also we see The widow, who had lost her sense of being Jewish, returning to this.

I Will listen again. This is The kind of story that can Help define a person’s Reading experiences as you know you have encountered The sublime.

I a.m in a way sorry you cried but it gives me great respect for you.

Buried In Print said...

What a beautiful story. Thank you for recommending it. And thanks, too, to Deepika, for her tender response to the work. I am overwhelmed by the story just now - and you're quite right that Lauren Bacall's reading brought another layer of power to it - but I will let it settle and try to listen again. The questions you've asked will be in my mind. I was, in particular, curious about the dog's explorations or wanderings, his journey or his restlessness, and touched by his faithful return.

Deepika Ramesh said...

Many thanks, Mel and Buried in Print. I shared this story with a couple of my friends and they were all speechless. Some great stories stay with us that way, don't they? They settle in some tight corner, taking our words and giving warmth and pain in return. This story is precious.

Like both of you, I am curious about the dog's nightlife. I wonder if Nicki is going back to the house to soak in the memories. Or if he is simply going around the streets because the woman's grief is too much to bear. I particularly loved Mel's questions on the prostitute's life. What a terrific story!

Mel, I am taking some time to read the stories which are posted in 'Rereading Lives' because they are beautiful and thought-provoking, and I want to read them when I am in the right frame of mind. Also, I want to leave thoughtful commentaries. I have bookmarked the posts. I will get to them in a day or two. Thank you for introducing me to new authors and new works. I am grateful to you!