Compiled by Susan Bulanda. Cladach Publishing. $12.99.
Ten stories of hope and heartbreak follow the same ghastly thread – a quick retreat from home with only a suitcase full of prized possessions as Nazi soldiers invade their European homeland during World War II – without the frightened and confused family pet, often left with a friend or relative.
Each riveting chapter, headed by a brief explainer of Germany’s occupation of a specific European country (seven total), segues into an emotional, detailed memoir of a writer’s bond with his/her pet and the never-ending angst associated with leaving it behind to an uncertain fate.
Upon returning to their homes, all immediately question neighbors and friends about their beloved pet. Some learn quickly that it died – mostly from a broken heart. For others, coming home represents the beginning of relentless search for answers. Tears of joy and sadness reign in the coming weeks and months throughout this stirring bumpy ride.
While the war has its effect on both young and old, it takes its toll on pets, too.
Lya Galperin, author of “Jannet, Marcela and Cheelly” (Romania chapter), says, “My parents, like many others, would talk quietly, out of earshot, but the tension and fear showed in their faces. Even Jannet, Marcela and Cheelly (terrier mixes) seemed to lose some of their joy for life. I noticed they became quieter, and would often stay near us rather than wander like they used to do.”
The France chapter features an odyssey entitled “Nicolas,” by Yvonne Rothschild Klug (Yvonne Redgis) about a French bulldog who for three years eats better than most villagers while Italian soldiers occupy the area until 1943; finds itself in the care of a sympathetic Nazi soldier after Yvonne is imprisoned 18 months in three facilities, including Auschwitz; accompanies the soldier’s unit to Southern France, where it is left abandoned when the Allies overrun German troops late in World War II.
Klug notes, “By the grace of God, through all of his trials in the two years that we were separated, Nicolas never lost his collar with his nametag. Soon a family from Nice found him, took care of him and located me.”
When she receives a letter notifying her Nicolas is safe and well and will be reunited with her, Klug’s hands begin shaking and tears pour down her cheeks. Eventually, she and Nicolas move to California and the dog lives two more years to age 9 before succumbing.
Each narrative is packed with similar psychological turbulence that connects powerfully to the reader, detailing a glacial, soberly reflective journey that taxes the human-animal bond to the ultimate.