The Jew­ish Dog

Ash­er Kravitz; Michal Kessler, trans.
  • Review
By – August 25, 2015

Caleb, a remark­able dog, is born in Ger­many in 1935. He lives with his lov­ing Jew­ish fam­i­ly until the Nazis for­bid them to have a dog. A Nazi fam­i­ly adopts him and gives him to the SS, where he is trained to be a guard dog at a con­cen­tra­tion camp. Caleb per­forms his duties admirably while act­ing as a keen observ­er of his­to­ry and human nature. He sees the cru­el­ty of the Nazis and the suf­fer­ing that it caused, but he also wit­ness­es the courage, loy­al­ty, and friend­ship of the pris­on­ers and those who aid­ed them. He nev­er for­gets his orig­i­nal family.

This unique pro­tag­o­nist, who sees the world from twen­ty inch­es above the ground, has a keen sense of humor and irony as he won­ders what, if any­thing, dis­tin­guish­es peo­ple from dogs. This slim book offers a very unusu­al per­spec­tive on the Holo­caust. While the atmos­phere is bleak, it is not with­out hope. Book clubs will have very inter­est­ing dis­cus­sions after read­ing Caleb’s sto­ry, and young adults, in par­tic­u­lar, will relate to the human/​dog bond. Any­one who enjoys a good sto­ry will love The Jew­ish Dog.

Also reviewed by Cha­va Pinchuk for Young Readers:

A pup­py is born, and the white one with the black cir­cle around his eye and brown patch on his chest” charms his way into the hearts of Got­tlieb fam­i­ly and becomes Caleb, who plays with the kids, takes walks and plays with oth­er dogs, and enjoys the table scraps from the Sab­bath and the Passover Seder. Soon the Nazis take pow­er. The Nurem­berg laws are passed, and the Got­tliebs are no longer allowed to own a dog. Kalman Got­tlieb gives him to a for­mer col­league, the col­league is arrest­ed and the dog is passed to the arrest­ing Nazi offi­cer. The offi­cer is killed in the line of duty, and Caleb runs away and joins a pack of dogs. Picked up as a stray, Caleb is trained to be a guard dog and shipped to Tre­blin­ka, where his dog sense reunites him to Joshua Got­tlieb. Joshua man­ages to get a job tak­ing care of the dogs. They escape dur­ing the pris­on­er revolt (August 1943) and join the par­ti­sans in the for­est. After the war they move to Israel. Dog and own­er both die in their sleep on the same night. 

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Hebrew as HaKelev HaYehu­di (Yedio­th Anronoth, 2007), this dog’s eye view of the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence before, dur­ing and after the Holo­caust is most effec­tive when Caleb observes from a naïve per­spec­tive, sim­i­lar to Mor­ris Glei­tzman’s Once (Hen­ry Holt, 2010). The epi­logue is a lit­tle hokey, with Joshua telling God that Caleb must remain with him for eter­ni­ty, rather than go to dog­gie heav­en.” There are graph­ic details of the Holo­caust and of sev­er­al own­ers’ sex lives. The com­bi­na­tion of a sto­ry of a boy and his dog, events in Jew­ish his­to­ry and a strong sense of both place and char­ac­ter make this a very worth­while read. It is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed for read­ers aged 14 and up.

Relat­ed Content:

Bar­bara M. Bibel is a librar­i­an at the Oak­land Pub­lic Library in Oak­land, CA; and at Con­gre­ga­tion Netiv­ot Shalom, Berke­ley, CA.

Discussion Questions