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The Dog That Understood German

Der Hund, der Deustch Verstand

Herle, Maria. "The Dog That Understood German." Volk auf dem Weg, May 2005, 26.

Translation from the original German text to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


Editor's Note: The following story was sent to us by Maria Herle nee Hoepfner, who in October, 1945 was deported from Selz near Odessa to Syktyvka, Komi SSR. She had heard this story in 1979 from Ida Hoegele, nee Rotecker, who died on March 15, 2004 in Kaufungen/Kassel and had been among the Black Sea Germans of Selz who had not succeeded in fleeing to Germany [in 1944] and had consequently been arrested by the NKVD. She is the one who experienced this story after leaving her hometown of Selz. (See also the article "Selz - ein ungeklaerter Teil unserer Geschichte [Selz- an unexplained piece of our history]" in VadW, November 2004). Story follows.

When the residents of the village Selz were ordered [by the German occupiers, Tr.] to leave their town on the Black Sea, a large portion of them were unable to cross the liman by ferry and thereby were unable to escape from the Soviets. A terrible horror for all who remained behind. They were not allowed to return to their houses and were instead taken to the nearby Russian villages Gradenitza, Yasi, and Belyaevka and temporarily housed in barns. The few things they had taken from their own homes were confiscated, so there they were -- with nothing at all.

Ida Hoegele told me that of her own things she had taken a few pieces of material and a bed cover, which she had been able to wrap around herself and had constantly worn that way under her dress. They had nothing to eat, since everything they still had in terms of food was also taken away. The people housed in the barns were beginning to despair, they were hungry, and they did not know what was to happen to them.

Ida had an elder mother and an eight-year-old daughter she somehow had to rescue from starvation. One morning, two of the Selz women from the barns decided to take a walk through neighboring villages. Perhaps they might find someone there who might take pity with them and give them something to eat.

So [Ida and the other two] women were trudging without hope through the villages, speaking German with each other when a dog without a master, probably left behind by the German residents, joined them. The dog heard that "his language" was being spoken, was also hungry, so he accompanied the women.

Ida said to the dog: "You must be hungry, too!" Happily, the dog got even closer to her.

A Russian woman standing at the entry to a yard and, seeing the three German women and the dog, addressed them: "You yourselves have nothing to eat, but you have a dog! Sell me the dog! How much do you want for him?" "Whatever you want to pay."

The Russian woman left for a while and came back with a rope, then she asked, "What's the name of the dog?"

Ida, who had no idea what the name of the dog was, replied without thinking, "Bell." [Translator's note: German word for Bark.]

The woman took the dog by the rope, gave it a piece of bread, and led it into the house. For Ida and her companions she brought a large piece of bacon and a bunch of garlic. Then she left once again, only to come back with a bag of corn meal and with a large can of sour milk.

The women were overjoyed. Back in the barn they immediately cooked up a large pot of gruel, of which everyone in the barn was given a saucerful. The garlic and bacon were also divided among the people there. The next day they took the empty milk can back and were again given a can of milk.

So the dog which "understood German" had been able to help them to lessen their hunger just a little, and himself had found a home.

This story moved me very much and reminded me of an episode in the book Wieso lebst du noch [Why are you still alive]? by Georg Hildebrandt, in which the author spoke to a horse in German.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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