A Penn Forest animal behaviorist's stories of Holocaust survivors whose pets gave them comfort, suffered alongside them, and waited for their return is told in the newly published book, Faithful Friends by Susan Bulanda.
"The book is about the pets of Holocaust victims," Bulanda said. "In my interviewing people, I uncovered some pretty amazing stories. Not all of them are sad."
The 144-page paperback book tells 10 personal memoirs written by survivors about their relationship with their pets from seven countries touched by the Holocaust: Hungary, Poland, Belgium, Holland, Romania, France, and Yugoslavia. Bulanda provides an introduction to give some background as to what was going on in that country at the time of the story.
Some years ago, while reading the Diary of Anne Frank, Bulanda was taken by the efforts that the Franks went to in order to keep their cat with them in their hiding place in an attic of a commercial building.
"There was a business below," Bulanda noted. "If you stepped on a board, they could hear it downstairs."
"During the daytime, the Franks had to be quiet and still – and they had to keep the cat quiet and still as well. The food supplies were on and off again but they still had to feed their cat and there was, of course, the litter box issue. I thought, what dedication it took on their part to risk their lives to hide their cat," she said.
As an animal behaviorist, it caught Bulanda's attention.
"It got me to thinking that there's got to be other people that did similar things, and had stories to tell about what happened to all those beloved animals," she explained.
She began contacting Jewish organizations, and over a period of years, spoke with the families of Holocaust survivors. As it happened over 65 years ago, many of the survivors who are still alive were children at the time. In other cases, the family allowed Bulanda to use a relative's journal.
The story of Yvonne, a Jewish ballet instructor and member of the Resistance in occupied France, is one example.
"Realizing you have to take joy wherever you can find it," she decided to get a French bulldog puppy.
While playing with Nicolas in her garden, she heard clicks and saw the hammers being cocked on the German rifles. Before being taken, she asked one of the German soldiers to promise to take care of her dog.
"The journal tells of her and the dog's adventures, and what finally happened," Bulanda said. "It was pretty remarkable. Yvonne and Nicholas survived the war and were reunited."
"Researching the book took a couple of years, running ads, contacting people, getting a story here and there," Bulanda explained. "The stories just dribbled in."
"I knew a lot about the Holocaust because I'm a history buff," she said. "I learned about kindnesses during the Holocaust that you don't often hear about in the movies or on TV. I learned about compassion. I learned about the human-animal bond at a time when it had not been recognized by the scientific community."
"Today, we recognize and accept it. Back in the day, if you grieved over the loss of a pet as deeply as over the loss of a family member, people didn't understand that. Now, we recognize the loss of a pet can be as devastating as the loss of a close family member."
Bulanda said that for those who came forward with their stories, it was a form of closure to be able to publicly acknowledge their story.
"In one way or another, they thanked me for caring enough to ask. Some were crying-and I was crying too," she said.
Faithful Friends: Holocaust Survivors' Stories of the Pets who Gave Them Comfort, Suffered Alongside Them & Waited for Their Return by Susan Bulanda was published by Cladach Publishing in Sept. 2011. It is available online at www.sbulanda.com and various online and local booksellers.
Susan Bulanda is a Certified Member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, an adjunct professor at Kutztown University and the author of seven books including READY! Training the Search and Rescue Dog.