One story in the book Faithful Friends tells about a little mixed-breed, playful dog named Bogar, loved by the Rubin family in Hungary. In 1944 “the unthinkable happened.” Cathy Rubin, a little girl at the time says, “We heard a commotion outside. On a loud-speaker the soldiers told all Jews to line up in the street. We had no place to run or hide. … We only had time to leave Bogar free outside. I prayed to God that he would be safe.”
Here is what happened as told from the dog’s point of view:
Bogar did not understand. He watched his family line up and march with everyone else. He had often gone on walks with his people; perhaps this was a walk of some kind. But he could smell the fear and sense the tension, so he knew it wasn’t a family outing like 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 where he was able to drink water, 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 a loyal dog, Bogar followed them.
Finally they reached the train station and he saw his family climb into a big square train car with lots of other people. There was crying. Occasionally a gun shot 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 a while a boot would swing in Bogar’s 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 the few soldiers who had been kind to him. He headed back to his home.
Time passed, and he found it harder to get food. There were no food 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 a while he would catch a bird and would even eat bugs. The days wore on.
Kathy Rubin’s family survived forced labor in Austria. She writes:
On that glorious day in May, 1945, we were free! We were herded up and sent out to fend for ourselves, but we were free. We were alive and all of my family had survived. We started the long walk back to our home. It was the only place we could go.
I’ll never forget walking that final mile. Because we were all so weak, we did not talk. But in our hearts, we wondered if Bogar would be there for us….
… Every day I would walk around our community, hoping to see Bogar, praying that God would bring him home to me and my family. I asked everyone I met if they had seen him, but most people were not sure; they did not remember what he looked like. They were busy trying to survive and did not pay much attention to stray dogs. Many dogs roamed the area. Some people I asked thought Bogar was dead, others thought they saw him run away. This was understandable, since they may have seen him follow us to the ghetto and thought he was gone.
The days passed and I could not find him. I was not strong enough to walk far or I would have walked back to the ghetto and train station to look for him. Slowly my hopes diminished. We were all thankful that we made it through the war and that we were still alive. We were joyful to be reunited with some of our neighbors and friends and to be able to worship at the synagogue again. But we mourned the loss of one family member: Bogar.
We had heard stories of dogs being caught and eaten, or being beaten or shot by soldiers. The bigger dogs would attack the smaller dogs as they starved to death. It wrenched my heart to hear these stories. I kept thinking that Bogar hated the sounds of war and the soldiers so much that he would try to escape. But how could he find food? I knew that, to survive, people had caught and eaten all the animals they could get. I wondered, What will be left for Bogar? Then I remembered that he was small and he would not need much food to live.
A month later, I was walking down the road about a mile from home, still hoping to find Bogar when I saw a dog that looked like Bogar. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. My heart skipped a beat and I held my breath. I hesitated to call his name, for fear it was not him and the disappointment would hurt so much.
Hesitantly, I called, “Bogar! Bogar!”
The dog stopped and looked, frozen in place. Then like a shooting star, he ran to me, jumping and licking my hands and face. It was Bogar—my sweet, wonderful Bogar!
I knelt and hugged him for a long time. What joy and relief. I thanked God for taking care of him. For the first time since we were taken away, I felt peace and hope. God did care.
The two of us hurried home as fast as our weak bodies could, and I burst through the door shouting to the family, “Bogar’s home! Bogar’s home!”
We all hugged and kissed him, then we all hugged each other, tears in everyone’s eyes. Next we gave him some of our precious little food, water and a soft, warm place to sleep. After we got over our excitement, we saw that Bogar had had a rough life while we were gone. He was thin, his coat did not shine, and it seemed that there was a haunted look in his eyes. … For the next year we had our wonderful Bogar with us, then he got sick and died and we all mourned deeply.
Read Kathy’s story and the stories of nine other Holocaust survivors in the book (from which this post is excerpted):