Susan Bulanda of Penn Forest Township was recently honored with an award for her heart-wrenching book "Faithful Friends," about dogs and cats left behind during the Holocaust.
The book was awarded second place in the nonfiction category by the National League of American Pen Women in their 2012 contest. The contest is held every two years and draws professional writers from across the United States. Bulanda has been a previous recipient of this award.
"People take notice of a book when it receives this award," Bulanda said. "It lets potential readers know that I produced a quality product."
Bulanda wrote "Faithful Friends" about a year ago.
"The response to the book has been very good," she said. "People are amazed that no one had thought to write about that topic. People have thanked me for writing about it because it touched their lives in some way. They had relatives or friends that survived or didn't survive the Holocaust. It's a whole different perspective on the Holocaust."
Considering Susan's vast experience with animals, a book about animals and the Holocaust wasn't that surprising. She has trained and managed search-and-rescue dogs, worked as a certified animal behaviorist, wrote seven animal-related books, is past vice president of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, judged for the United Kennel Club, taught university courses in canine training, and is a pet-lover herself. Add to that her interest in Jewish and Christian history, and you can see how the question – "When European Jews during World War II were torn from their homes by Nazis, what happened to the family pets?" – might arise in her mind.
Bulanda used her connections in the animal field to search for stories from Holocaust survivors still living, or from their relatives. Ten personal accounts are collected in her book, which carries the full title: "Faithful Friends: Holocaust Survivors' Stories of the Pets who Gave Them Comfort, Suffered Alongside Them & Waited for Their Return."
"I've gotten e-mails from people thanking me for writing the book," Bulanda said. "It's not an easy book to read."
Bulanda is currently working on her next book. It will be about the animals that served in World War I, primarily pigeons, dogs, mules and horses.
"I've collected material over the years," Bulanda said. "I have four books written in the early 1900s published by the main trainer in England for the dogs for World War I."
She has no title for the book, so far, and she expects that it will take another year before it is published.
"The book will recount some remarkable accounts of pigeons," she said. "During World War I, the only modern form of communication that troops had was a wired phone line. It was unreliable. If the line was cut, communications were lost. When telephone lines were not available, dogs and pigeons served to deliver messages."
Early wartime aviators carried pigeons in their aircraft. If they made an emergency landing, they would attach a message to a pigeon, release it, and it will return home with the message
"Many pilots were rescued because of the pigeons," Belinda said.
The award is presented by the National League of American Pen Women, the oldest women's writing and arts group in the United States, founded in 1897 by Marian Longfellow O'Donoghue, niece of Henry Wordsworth Longfellow. First Ladies have traditionally been awarded honorary membership and on occasion have actively participated in League functions. Eleanor Roosevelt, a prolific writer, was an enthusiastic Pen Woman during her tenure in the White House.
Bulanda was hoping to receive additional stories about pets and the Holocaust from readers of her book. She is disappointed that she hasn't received any but believes that most of the people with first-hand knowledge of the Holocaust have passed away.
"Some of the contributors to my book passed away since I started the project. I wish I had thought of it 30 years ago," she said.