Dogs, Holocaust and Fears
Contributor
Written by
Beatrice Weber
February 2020
Contributor
Written by
Beatrice Weber
February 2020

The first emotion I remember having was fear. I knew the language of fear before I learned any spoken words. I can almost see myself hunched up, fearful in my mother’s womb.

As a grandchild of Holocaust survivors and living in a community of survivors who were all Ultra-Orthodox Jews, fear was worn as a Shield. Fear was what we used to ensure that no evil would occur to us again.

I had regular nightmares and dreamt of triple-decker beds with emaciated men sprawled on them.

I was terrified of the Bible stories I was told at school and scared that the armies and killing would come to my home.

I was afraid of our neighbors, the “goyim” and kept far away from them, and if one of their children would approach me in the park, I would run away and pretend that I didn’t see them.

And most of all, I was terrified of dogs.

I don’t know why I was so scared of dogs. It was just the way it was. We were all afraid of dogs. The adults would steer clear of any oncoming dogs by swiftly dodging to the side of the road, while we children would run away wildly screaming in fear.

Was it because dogs had chased my grandparents, great-grandparents and family members too numerous to count during the Holocaust?

Was it because dogs were tomeh — impure animals and looking at them would harm unborn babies and sully our pure upbringing?

Or was it because dogs were just unfamiliar to us. With average family sizes ranging from six to ten children, no one thought of bringing a pet into their home.

My short walk home from school every afternoon was calm and peaceful as I would walk swinging my briefcase, but when I got to the second block, my small body always tensed in fear.

I had to walk past three dogs in order to get home.

Boochie, a small black dog lived on one side of the street. He was a very energetic little dog and would tug at his leash fiercely, and I was terrified that he would escape at any moment he would come running after me.

Sandy, a large Golden Retriever lived on the other side of the street and he would sit placidly on the front lawn. I would rarely see him stand up, but when he would stand, I would clench my school bag tightly, terrified that he would start chasing me.

Two doors away from Sandy lived a big black dog, whose name escapes me, or perhaps I never knew his name. I do remember how relieved I was when I heard that he had died and now I only had to face Sandy and Boochie on my walk home from school.

I got used to walking down the block as quickly as I could quietly murmuring special prayers under my breath that were said to keep dogs away.

I was so frozen in fear that I never thought to walk home in a different way. I never thought to speak to my parents about it and figure out a solution and I didn’t even tell my teachers or friends. Instead, I stayed frozen in fear, my narrow shoulders perpetually hunched over, ready to run out of harm’s way.

These childhood fears did not abate when I grew older, but rather transmuted into fears that would define decades of my life. My fears would dictate so many of my choices and decisions.

When I was 18 I was scared that no one would marry me, so I married the first person that was suggested to me.

When I got married, I was scared that I would not have children.

When I had children, I was scared they wouldn’t love me and so I rarely disciplined them or demanded respect. I

was terrified my husband would leave me. I was always afraid that I was never good enough and would bend over backward, doing anything to make him stay. I would even squeeze fresh orange juice and bake home-made bread for him. Anything to make sure he was happy.

For many years, if I ever got upset, I would quickly apologize for my reaction and promise to never get angry again.

My old childhood terror took over and frozen in fear, I reacted in the only way I knew, using my fears as a shield to protect myself.

I finally got the courage to leave my marriage after many years, but so many of my fears still stuck with me. Fears that I knew were illogical and unhelpful but could not shake off despite my best efforts.

Several months ago, we adopted a little puppy, Ginger. Having Ginger in our home has been transformational and has done so much to help me finally let go of so many of the fears that I have held onto so tightly.

She has taught me that in order for her to be calm, I need to show her that I am in charge.

She has taught me that I need to speak up and enforce rules with her.

And most of all she has taught me the true meaning of love and trust.

As she jumps in my lap after a long day, her gentle eyes remind me that I no longer need to use my fear as a shield and be ready to run. I can relax, let go and feel the love of the Universe surround me.

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