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

Sunday, January 27, 2019

In Observation of International Holocaust Day - The Ghetto Dog by Isaiah Spiegel

"The Ghetto Dog" A Short Story by Isaiah Spiegel
Set in The Lódź Ghetto 1942

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"

 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. 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.  

This is a masterwork, deeply felt and moving.

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


Suko said...

Heartbreaking stories like The Ghetto Dog are historically significant and important. I will try to listen to this one. Excellent review!

Buried In Print said...

You already know that I love this story. Thanks for introducing me to it last year.

Unknown said...

Hello Mel:

Isaiah Spiegel was my UNCLE. My mom was his baby sister, Chaja ( youngest of 8) who also survived the horrors of Lodz. one other brother, Yitzak & one other sister, Pola also survived -Alas they are all gone now

We very much appreciate your including him & have shared with our families

If you want to know more-feel free to reach out