DOGS

The Germans like to boast about their love for animals. Dogs especially are attached to them. During requisitions in the villages they never fail to pat the shaggy Burek [a common dog's name in Poland, ed.], or even offer him a piece of fat they have just taken away from its master: that same hand that just now thrust a bayonet into an unhappy peasant who brought a sack of rye or potatoes from beyond the river Bug, now fondles his own dog, his helper in the frontier man-hunts.

There are some of these specially trained dogs in Auschwitz. One – a lovely big Alsatian – enjoys long daily walks with his master, between the barbed wire fences of the camp and the adjoining administration buildings. The owner of the beautiful dog can be proud of it. He himself is young and handsome, and his tight fitting S.S. uniform suits him well. His fair pink face is usually adorned by a smile which one can only describe as pleasant. The dog is very well trained and alert to every command. He obediently walks at his master's heel, jumps high when he is ordered to, and retrieves things.

At certain hours the noise inside the barbed wire fences grows louder; detachments of prisoners march off to work far from the camp, others come back, some are working in the administration buildings, stables, cowsheds, amongst the rabbit hutches, and in the stores. Through the main gate, at a certain hour every day, the prisoners push a cart loaded with coffins; they take it to the nearby crematorium. After some time the cart trundles back again with the empty coffins to fetch the next lot.

The dog, as well as his master, watches carefully the daily, sights of the camp, but whereas the former seems to be satisfied with the normal amount of impressions, the handsome S.S. man with the pleasant smile seems to get bored with their monotony; he turns to inventing a game with his pet.

He finds a mark: an elderly prisoner is carrying a bucket of water, that evidently is too heavy for him – he walks slowly, not even attempting to achieve the speed that is ordered for the carrying out of any kind of task. The bucket of water weighs about 20 pounds, and the prisoner about 90. The proportion therefore is one to four and a half. Only two months ago-just before he was brought into the camp – this proportion was one to seven. It is the loss of these fifty pounds of weight that makes the prisoner walk slowly under the watchful eye of authority.

With a soft but firm voice the master gives an order to the dog. It is difficult to understand the German command. Translated into Polish it would just mean chase. The dog bounds off in the direction of the prisoner, throws himself on him with the whole weight of his well-fed body, bites into the man's thigh, and waits for further commands. The bucket has fallen to the ground, the attacked man has raised his hands instinctively to defend his head and uttered a frightened shout. The mouth of the handsome S.S. man wears its pleasant smile, as he calls back his dog. The good dog lets go its victim, and returns obediently. The hands of the German fondle the dog's head, expressing the friendly feeling of the master for his four-legged companion.

During the day the Lieutenant often tests his dog's intelligence on the prisoners who happen to pass within range. The torn wounds, made by the sharp white teeth of this strong healthy dog, do not heal quickly. They remain inflamed for weeks and months, as does even the slightest scratch here. In Auschwitz wounds will not heal.

During the dreary rains the sewer is stopped up. The camp yard becomes full of water. The sewer has to be drained with buckets and these have to be emptied into a ditch. About 20 prisoners are put on this work. They go in and out of the water so quickly, that one could almost say they jump in and out. This agility is not due to the low temperature of the water. On top of the barrack steps a few S.S. men are standing. But not even their glances, though sneering and watchful, provoke. the smart jumps of the prisoners. There are four other eyes watching their movements: the eyes of two Alsatians sitting on the steps.

One can be in the cold water up to the knees and still be sweating. The S.S. supervisor feels a little cold and bored. There is nothing more amusing than to watch someone getting frightened: from the first shiver of apprehension to the cramp of terror. The dogs already know this game. At a word of command they take the steps in one leap, and jump on the backs of the men in the water, gripping their necks between their jaws. At the moment when their strong teeth are almost cutting through the flesh, they are called back by the human beast, whose spirits have been cheered by the diversion. The dogs jump down from the prisoners and run to their master for approval. With excited barking they ask for a continuation of the fascinating game. Neither the dogs nor the men in the water ever know if the ‘Come back' order will always be just in time or whether the sharp teeth will cut through the skin and sinews.

To make that moment really menacing, it must be properly worked up. The order for attack is sharp – the dogs tear off like mad. The people in the water are frozen with fear; they become pale and stiff. The worn-out emaciated bodies are bent under the weight of the heavy well-fed dogs. The spectacle delights the S.S. men, and they call back the dogs with half-joking voices. In a short time the whole thing is repeated; the dog, jumping at his prey motionless in the water, has no thought of the splendid pantomime of terror, produced by the cruel pangs of the heart, the stopped breath, the mad fear in the eyes, and the livid pallor of the face.
   
  previous NEXT