A Story of a German Shepherd Dog in 1940s Austria
Editor's note: If the wording seems odd, that's because Fred Lanting literally translated the story as told.
Our dog Donar was a German
Shepherd Dog, a first-class, purebred dog with a first-class pedigree.
Still he was once declared not worthy according to the Breed Standard of
the German people.
Our dog belonged first to a
master chimneysweep. The chimneysweep had a passion for hunting and
wanted a hound. Donar was not of use, however, as a hound. He was
“gun-shy”; i.e., he feared slams and bangs. He trembled, tucked his tail
between the hind legs, and hid his snout in the folds of his master’s
coat. His master beat him to expel the fear from him. But the more he
beat him, all the more fearful the dog became. His Master half killed
him, then gave up and gave him to us. When Donar came to us, he feared
not only the loud sudden noises, but also was afraid of persons. He
gradually forgot his fear of people after living with us, but not the
fear of sharp cracking noises. Once Willi, the son of the farmer next
door, inflated a paper bag and popped it, Donar crawled away behind me.
Willi examined the trembling dog. “My Barry, he does not fear”, said
Willi’s Barry was a Saint
Bernard, ponderous, intelligent, and brave. Willi had taught him many
tricks: to bow with the front legs put down for example, to play dead,
to sit upon the haunches and lift the front legs as if begging, to
unlatch doors, and devour sausage-ends only after a certain command. I
tried to teach our dog at least one of the tricks. I toiled at it much,
but our dog did not understand what I wanted.
At the time we were given Donar by the chimneysweep master, war was being waged. Willi and I were twelve years old. When we were thirteen, our dogs received a military call-up. We were supposed to provide them for military service and help “der Führer” (the Führer), to win the war.
Willi said “My Barry will not
go into the military!” Barry looked at him with his intelligent, droopy
eyes. I stroked Donar. His silky-smooth fur crackled. He licked my hand.
I could not stroke him further; I had a terrible choking in my throat.
Willi once more said, “My Barry does not go to the military! When the
dogs must present themselves, they must be evaluated with a gun-shooting
test. And the dog that runs away is no longer needed — it cannot be
used. The dog evaluation is one week from now. By then I will have
taught my Barry a new trick!”
“What kind of trick?”
“Running — at any gun-type
noise!” Barry wagged his tail. “Your Donar is cowardly!” Willi said, to
Our dog was timid, all right,
but he did not run if anything slam/banged. He only trembled and looked
to my mama or pap, or at me for refuge. Our dog would have to go the
military. And they would send him to the front. I could imagine the
scene as the shells fell around him and he had nobody to whom he could
flee. I visualized him being torn by shells.
“Poor dog!” said Willi to
Donar. “Perhaps they will take you anyway, because of your having a
stupid Germanic breed name!”
As he said that, I hated
Willi, although he was my friend. I screamed, “You look like a stupid
“Take that back immediately!”
In those days we were taught
in school that there are members of the master race and there are
subhuman races. Members of the master race are all who descended from
the Teutonic stock, and whoever did not descend from the Teutons were
all subhuman. Willi’s parents and my parents did not believe in any of
that. Willi’s father said, “Whoever in our village remains a pure
Germanic member of the master race must be a zombie. In our village the
Celts had settled, the Slavs, the Romans and the ancient Bavarians. We
were all mixed descent.” If somebody were blond and blue-eyed like
Willi, was it pure chance.
Willi could do nothing to
change his appearance. I took back everything and said he would
definitely not have a Hun in his ancestry. The Huns were known, according to
school, to be the lowest sub-humans. They had also been in the area
where our village stood, at one time in history.
The Hun ancestry comment
pleased Willi, and he promised me that he would teach my Donar the same
trick as his Barry would learn.
It was not successful with him. I personally donated in this week all
the paper bags that I could find. Our Donar became always sad and
confused; he stepped nervously from one paw to the other, and trembled
always more furiously at the noises, but he did not run away.
The day of the dog evaluation
came, a beautiful hot summer day. That morning I pulled on the hobnailed
boots which I had already prepared the previous evening. My mother, who
otherwise observed everything, did not notice the hobnail boots. She
gave our dog a piece of sausage for breakfast. He never got sausage
before. Sausage was obtained only with food ration cards, and one had to
divide and ration it carefully, so that it would last for a week. Our
dog was happy about the sausage.
I looked around at the other
dog owners. They made that same face that my mother did that morning. I
do not and cannot believe that they were proud.
The man in civilian clothes inspected the row of dogs and dog owners.
When he got to Barry, he stood still, for Barry pleased him.
The man did not consider my
Donar even though my Donar was not intimidated from the many persons and the many
dogs and worked especially bravely.
A couple of soldiers deployed
and fired their guns simultaneously. At once Barry scurried loose. He
was a dog that learned easily. Only a week had been needed for the new
trick. He ran over the meadow, and his bushy tail waved behind him. The
man in civilian clothes checked him off with full indignation and
My dog did not run. My dog crowded me instead. Willi came forward a step and partially concealed me. I lifted my right foot a little. The evening before I had pinched a nail-head off the sole with tongs. The pointed nail-end protruded. At the second volley I stepped on Donar’s foot with the shoe that had the nail sticking out of it. Donar whimpered. He turned his head to me. It seemed he could not believe that it was I, who stepped on him.
Donar fled up to the end of
the meadow and crawled away in the corner of the hedge. I cowered beside
him there. When I stretched out my hand to stroke him, he recoiled.
At home, I gave him the remainder of the sausage ration. He was a
gentle, soft-hearted dog, and he forgave me for stepping on him the way
his chimneysweep master once had.
A couple of days later my
parents received a registered letter. In the letter it stated that our
Donar was found to be unworthy for defense. Any German Shepherd Dog that
is unworthy for defense or protection is not breed-worthy and therefore
is not allowed to be used at stud for any German bitch. We were
commanded to return the first - class pedigree, so that it would be
destroyed in a certain place by persons responsible for the breed.
I ran with the letter to the
farm next door. Willi and Barry sat in the kitchen, where Willi’s mother
cooked the lunch. The radio was on. It played very loudly. It carried a
speech by “der Führer” to his people.
If the Führer made a speech,
everybody had to listen to it. Whoever did not listen to a speech by the
Führer, was marked. In a village like ours, everybody knows everything
about everybody else’s business and actions. The whole village knew who
believed in the “tausendjährige Reich” (millennial empire) and who did
not. For that reason we played the radio especially publicly and loudly
whenever the Führer spoke, even though we did not believe in it. It was
so that anyone who passed by a house could hear it. We did not want to
be locked up because of a speech by the Führer. He was not worth that
much to us.
I waved the letter. Willi grinned. Before him on the table lay exactly the same letter.
At the time our dogs became
“unworthy for defense”, the Hitler troops had conquered half of Europe.
For all who did not want it, it still was very hard to believe that
there would not be his “final victory”. Four years later the Americans,
the Frenchmen, the Englishmen and the Russians marched near of all
sides, and found Hitler’s troops in retreat. The Führer continued to
promise the final victory.
We began to hope for our
deliverance. But our deliverers were still remote, and meanwhile they
sent us their airplanes and their bombs. The bombs fell without
prejudice upon final-victory believers and non-believers alike. The
bombs did not hit the Führer. The Führer sat in his bomb-proof bunker.
Around about our village stood many anti-aircraft guns. If the defensive firing of the anti-aircraft gun was too strong, the flyers turned back before they reached the city. If they turned back, they unloaded their bombs, completely and immediately, regardless of what they were flying over at the moment. Therefore one was nowhere safe from the bombs.
He was always the first and
could hardly wait until we came. At each air-raid warning, we dragged
our mattresses from the bedrooms into the cellar. These were genuine
horsehair mattresses, and they originally were from my grandmother’s
family. I had no interest in the mattresses; for all I cared, they could
have been able to remain in the bedrooms. But my mother was very much
attached to them. If our house were to be bombed to pieces and
everything gone kaputt, my mother wanted to know that at least she had
saved the horsehair mattresses. Schlepping the mattresses around got on
my nerves. Once I refused. When the anti-aircraft gun began to shoot
next time, my mother then ran around the last mattress in the bedroom.
At the next alarm I again dragged the grandmother-mattresses down into
One day a fleeing stranger
joined us in the cellar. He was from a German city. The German cities
were bombed to ruin even worse than our cities in Austria. The foreigner
was shocked that we took along the dog in the cellar. He asked us if we
did not know that dogs would become mad if confined in bomb shelter
cellars. He assured us that this upset had befallen their own dogs. My
parents therefore wanted no more to have our dog in the cellar. They
agreed to confine him in the woodshed. The chickens were also there,
they explained, so he was not completely alone.
As the siren howled, I led
our dog across the yard to the woodshed. He wanted in the cellar and did
not understand why he had to be in the woodshed. He looked at me with
that same amazed look he had when I had stepped on him with the nail
from the shoe. I closed the door of the woodshed behind him and secured
We sat silently in the cellar
and heard the whining from up the woodshed directed down to us. We did
not look at each other.
The flying squadrons growled
above our village. Anti-aircraft guns fired in response. Our dog howled
in the woodshed. Never in my life could I have imagined that a dog could
howl and despair so.
“I can’t take it!” screamed
my mother. “I will get him!” She wanted to run up the cellar stairs.
Outside in the yard, “ack-ack” shrapnel rained down. The distance to the
woodshed was extensive. In the neighboring village one had been killed
by the ack-ack shrapnel. My mother stopped still. A bomb sang through
the air. From when you hear the singing of the bomb up to the impact,
those are the longest seconds in the world. The bomb exploded. The floor
under us quaked. The cellar walls wobbled. Bottles fell clattering from
the shelves, and broke.
The anti-aircraft guns shot.
The flyers growled. But something, however, was unlike at what it was at
first. It took a while before we comprehended: our dog was no longer
Then the cellar door flew
open. Our dog came crashing down the staircase. He whimpered with
delight. He jumped high in the air at us. He licked our faces. Finally
he calmed down beside me.
When the anti-aircraft gun
stopped shooting, we went from the cellar. The bomb had driven into the
field behind the garden. In the field now was a crater almost as large
as our house.
The woodshed still stood. We
thought that the shock wave from the concussion would have to have
sprung open the door, otherwise our dog would have not squeezed out of
there. The door was still shut. It had at the bottom a tiny opening for
chickens. As the bomb fell, our dog had crawled in his fear through this
hole, a hole, just barely large enough for a chicken. We never again
confined our dog in the woodshed. If the siren howled, he could be with
us in the cellar.
The Führer on the radio still
ranted for the final victory, but the front was already at the
boundaries of his Reich. Not only did the bombers come to us now, but
also the low-flying fighter planes. For these “dive-bombers” and
fighters, there was no alarm. These planes suddenly appeared out of the
heavens, swooped down, shot from their machine guns, and disappeared
again. One had to take great care for himself because of those strafing
One exceptional day, when
there was no air-raid warning, Willi and I got our dogs and wandered
from the village. It was the end of winter. The snow had already melted.
The soil glistened wet and dark brown. Our dogs ran ahead of us. We
walked on the ridge behind them.
We went on some distance from
the village, along the pasture ditch. Behind the pasture ditch was an
anti-aircraft site. Just as we almost got there, the strafing planes
came. We fled with our dogs into the ditch and flattened against the
earth. The meadow shrubs still had no leaves, and through the network of
the bushes’ twigs we saw the pale-blue spring sky.
The planes dove down on the
anti-aircraft site. Their machine guns rattled.
As Barry heard the clatter, his learned trick worked on him. He jumped
from the ditch and ran across the open field. His bushy tail waved
behind him like a battalion flag on the meadow.
Everything went so very quickly. One of the diving planes pulled up and away over Barry. As Barry was hit, it tore him apart in mid-leap. Then he collapsed in a heap.
As it became still, I climbed
from the ditch. The planes had not hit Willi. He knelt beside Barry. I
trudged over the field to them. My feet became difficult to pick up
because of the adhering clods of earth.
My dog prodded Barry with his
snout, the odor of blood confusing him. He backed away and whimpered. He
would not stop his whining.
Willi did not survive
Barry very long. As the Allies crossed the Rhein, the Führer needed new
soldiers for his final victory. Willi was required to join the army. He
was a little over 17 years old. He was sent immediately to the front.
Our dog survived the thousand-year empire and the war by many years. But each Saturday, when the siren of the small factory howled in our village at twelve o’clock noon, Donar unlatched the cellar door and descended the stairs. As he became very old and bothered by arthritis, he no longer could open the door by himself. He set himself before it and waited until somebody came and opened it. Then he hobbled down into the cellar.