Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Fate of Pets in the Holocaust

While it may have been a tiny fraction of the suffering inflicted in the Second World War, the question of what fate befell Jewish owned pets in the holocaust is an interesting one.

Jewish girl with her dog,
prewar France -USHMM
There was no consistent Nazi policy for treatment of Jewish owned pets before the spring of 1942. The question arose quiet often when dealing with the segregation or deportation of Jews, since they owned pets just as commonly as any other group. Most often, Jews were banned from bringing their pets along and had to find foster families for their dogs, cats or birds within a very short time. This was the case, for example, in the uprooting of Jews from the shoreline of the Netherlands in 1941.

As long as the deportation had been announced a few days prior, finding a solution for domestic animals was the responsibility of the owners. But in an event of sudden mass-deportation or sealing of a Jewish neighborhood as a ghetto no time was given for such actions, and the problem thus became very much that of the authorities. In Eastern Europe, for example, Jews sometimes naively brought their pets along to the roundups prior to Einsatzgruppe executions, believing they were being resettled.

Jewish man with his dog, France -Yad Vashem
Sometimes pets were put in the care of willing locals, but when there was no immediate solution at hand, as was most often the case, owners were forced to leave their dogs and cats in their empty homes with the hope that someone would find them. During the round up of the Jews in Baden and Saarland, receipts were kept by the Germans for pets that were turned over to obliging neighbors, while in the notorious overnight roundup of Parisian Jews at the Vélodrome d'Hiver, French policemen were instructed to leave pets they find with the concierge for lack of any clear German orders on this matter. The abandoning of hundreds of domestic animals at once could easily erupt a plague if it went untreated.

Jewish couple with their dog, Lodz ghetto -Yad Vashem
In the process of sealing off Jewish neighborhoods as ghettos, a lot of pets were also confined within the walls - even though incoming transports carried no animals. The presence of dogs was particularly problematic, since they could attack the German soldiers during house raids. Dogs were therefore often shot. In the Lodz ghetto, however, a different solution was devised. All pet owners were forced to register their animals with the local authority under German orders. Records testify that several hundred dogs of various breeds were found in the ghetto in spite of the harsh conditions. Following the registration, all dog owners were informed that a compulsory rabies inspection by the German sanitary police was to be held on July 22, 1940 at number 8 Kośielny street. A fee of two Reichmarks was even charged per dog. All animals that were brought in for inspection that day were put to death due to an alleged "prevailing outbreak of rabies." Dogs were then strictly banned in the ghetto, and the inhabitants were ordered to bring in any strays to the Ordnungsdienst. Harboring a dog would result in collective punishment for all house tenants. In the great hunger that ensued the severe food rationing and overpopulation of the ghetto, stray animals were sometimes consumed by the starving inhabitants.

Lithuanian Jews, prewar
-Yad Vashem
Killing of pets as a mean of terror was also practiced by the Nazis. During the Kristallnacht several dogs and cats were killed by the rioters, sometimes cast out of windows in high story buildings. On January 14, 1942 all Jews in the city of Kovno, Lithuania, were ordered to bring their pets to the small synagogue at Veliuonos Street. There the animals were shot by German soldiers and their carcasses left to rot for months by order of the Nazi authority, as Avraham Tory, a secretary of the Jewish Ältestenrat, reported in his diary.

It was only after the Final Solution was set into motion that the Nazis presented a clear policy for Jewish owned pets in Germany and the annexed countries. The decree banning Jewish ownership of pets was published on May 15, 1942. According to the new act, all citizens and foreigners obligated to wear the yellow badge, as well as their cohabitants, were to deliver their domestic animals by May 20 at special collection points for euthanizing. Alternatively, they could present a veterinary certificate confirming that their pets had been put to death. According to the announcement made in the Jewish newspapers, failure to comply would result in measures by the Gestapo. Handing over the animals to third parties or foster care was strictly forbidden.

Jewish baby with kitten,
prewar Poland - Yad Vashem
The euthanizing of the collected pets was carried out by veterinarians of the German Animal Protection Association (Tierschutzverein). A questionnaire addressing domestic animals in each household had already been filled in major cities prior to the implementation of the decree. In smaller towns, Jews were ordered to file a report with the local Jewish authority regarding the domestic animals in their possession.

Czech Jewish girl with her cat,
prewar -Yad Vashem
Unlike earlier decrees, this ordinance did not address only Jewish citizens by racial definition, but also their "Aryan" partners in intermarried households, regardless of the registered owner of the pet. In Berlin, the publishing of the decree lead to a stream of pleas from Jewish and non-Jewish pet owners alike. At the Jewish hospital on Iranischestrasse 4, where pets were collected for euthanizing, columns of intermarried Germans reportedly protested against the act. Some owners sent photographs of themselves with their cats and dogs, others spent days at various city and state offices in search of exemption, which only a few received. Diarist Victor Klemperer and his gentile wife Eva chose to euthanize Eva's beloved cat Muschel on May 19 rather than hand him over to an "even crueler fate at the hands of the Gestapo." In Prague, survivor Helen Lewis witnessed a collection point for pets, describing a heartbreaking scene where both owners and their caged dogs and cats were greatly distraught and crying. Her Jewish friend, of mixed marriage, was allowed to keep her husband’s poodle provided she wasn’t seen with it in public.

Young Jew playing with a dog,
prewar Germany -Yad Vashem
There were some who chose to ignore the order. In 1943 the widow of a German Jew from Berlin reported to Rabbi Martin Riesenburger during the funeral ceremony of her husband: “We had a parakeet. When we received the decree stating that Jews were forbidden to have house pets, my husband just couldn't part with the animal… Perhaps someone denounced him, for one day my husband received a subpoena to appear before the Gestapo… After many fearful weeks I received a postcard from the police, stating that upon payment of a fee of three Reichsmarks I could pick up the urn containing my husband.” Rabbi Riesenburger was himself forced to have his thirteen year old Spitz euthanized.

The pet decree was undoubtedly a strong hint of things to come. As was evident until its introduction, the question of Jewish owned pets could easily be solved by allowing the animals to be put into foster homes. The inclusion of intermarried households in the decree also strongly suggests that this was an intentional act of agonizing Jews and those associated with them. Many survivors, children most often, remembered this decree as one of the cruelest. Very few pets were recovered after the war. Cats in particular lingered around their former homes, even ruins, perhaps because of their less dependent nature. In Denmark, many neighbors tended Jewish pets after the mass escape to Sweden.


  1. Thank you very much for this interesting and touching article! Do you know the name of the man who was executed for trying to save his parakeet? I'd like to make a donation in his memory. Thanks again! Linda

    1. Dear Linda,
      Thank you for your kind comment! You are the first to leave one on my blog, and I greatly appreciate it.
      Finding the name of the man might prove challenging. The testimony was given second-hand by Rabbi Martin Riesenburger, who conducted the funeral ceremony and spoke with the widow. He did not provide a name, but noted that she was non-Jewish and had been married to the victim for many years. The ashes were buried in the Weißensee cemetery in Berlin. I have written to the office to hear whether they can offer any help. Not many people were buried in 1943. Should they have a burial registry for that year, I might be able to filter it effectively with the information we have. I'll let you know how I fare. The chairman of the cemetery, Dr. Hermann Simon, re-published Rabbi Riesenburger's memoir, including this testimony, in 2003. Riesenburger was himself forced to have his 13 year old Spitz euthanized.
      Thanks again for commenting!

      Kind regards

    2. Dear Rick,

      Thank you so much for answering me so quickly and for going to so much trouble to try to discover this man's name! I'm honored, but shocked, that i'm the first person to leave a comment on your blog.
      I've shared the link with many people and they've all been appropriately horrified and touched by the information you've so kindly provided. I had actually first read your blog in June and wanted to ask this man's name, but I assumed you probably received so many comments that you wouldn't have time to read all of them, much less respond. So rather than bother you, I tried unsuccessfully to find out myself by checking on the Internet and on the Holocaust Museum website. It is so sad that Rabbi Riesenburger was forced to have his dog euthanized. Thank you again for writing such an important blog and for all the additional information!

      Kind regards,

    3. Hoi Linda, zeker interessant! Ik schrijf een boek over het getto van Warschau. Als je daar wat informatie over hebt, graag! Kees Bakker.

  2. Muito importante relatar a situação dos animais nas guerras justamente para não ser esquecido que
    eles são vítimas de conflitos criados pela nossa espécie.

  3. I downloaded the article a long time ago in order to read it when I had more time on my hands. Today I found it and read it. The whole shoah was the worst thing that has ever happened, and I had been wondering what happened to the pets. Now I know! Shalom and blessings to you, Rick!

  4. The little girl with kitty looks just like my aunt Lucy. This breaks my heart! I believe that all these precious souls and their pets are in Heaven with our loved ones and families ( I'm Ashkenazi) they will never be separated again from the people and pets that they love, we are connected family for eternity, going back to father Abraham.

  5. Thank you for your beautiful blog❤️we must keep the stories alive!

  6. I posted this to the Group "Remember The Holocaust". Thank you for this Peice of a once Forgotten History..It is no longer to many. Shalom and Shavua Tov.

  7. I work with a woman who was a child in Germany and she remembers the SS coming to peoples houses and shooting their dogs including her pet German shepherd She is German not Jewish . Is it true they did this to their own people?

    1. Many of the atrocities committed against Jews were also carried out against political opponents of the Nazis. Here is an article by the USHMM:

  8. Hi Rick!
    I am doing a research project on pets in the holocaust and attempting to raise awareness in my school on how these pets were killed, through what methods, and to what extent (how many etc.) I can see you have a lot of information here and was wondering where you found all of it since I am required to gather my information from a lot of different resources. If you could respond with the websites/books you used as soon as possible that would be extremely helpful.
    Thank You!

  9. A Zionist,(I am Anti-Zionist), once argued against my given reason for opposing Antisemitism and the Holocaust,my reason being it could be me and mine the next time.And that would include my dogs.You have to wonder how German soldiers ,many who would have had family and pets,could have behaved so cruelly.As an ex-soldier myself,I always refused any order to kill animals,whether it was donkeys in no-go areas,family dogs guarding their owners Kraal,or Mombies,(cattle),on the roadside.I never thought it was their war.
    Anyway,thanks for the article which was appreciated among many of my FB friends,most who are dog lovers.Among the comments were those who never thought of that aspect of Genocide.
    We honored all those dogs and pets of Jews who suffered loss and Genocide,and were assured that all were reunited with their families and reside as Honored residents at the Rainbow Bridge.Shalom.

  10. I have 3 birds myself and am also very interested in ww2
    As a child my father was in the air force and we were stationed in what was then west Germany.I remember going
    to Dachau concentration camp museum never forget it.I often wondered what happened to the poor animals of ww2 thank you for this insight

  11. Hey Rick! I'm an 8th grader stuck doing an English assignment on WW2. I love all the information you've given, and I would like to cite it. Could you please provide me with a link where you got your information from? I'm quite interested in what happened to the Jewish pets in the Holocaust. I have been researching a ton but I cannot find any reliable sources. Thank you so much,

  12. For some reason I had the theme from Schindler's List stuck in my head today and my dog was cuddling with me on my lap and I realized that I had never read an account of someone with a pet during the Holocaust. I had to know what the fate of those sweet animals were. It's just horrible. I can't imagine.

  13. It is heartbreaking to read about this. I always wondered what happened to the many pets who were also innocent victims of the Nazi death machine!

  14. Given the Nazi disdain for Jews, I thought they may have treated animals better, if only to demonstrate that (in their opinion) Jews were less worthy than animals. But no, they found a new way to inflict yet more psychological pain. How evil must a man be to even think of these actions.

  15. Thank you so much for posting this, Rick. So very, very sad. I wonder if there are any stories anywhere about miraculous reunions after the war. I shall have to dig, to see.

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