A recent survey shows a “worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge” among adults under 40, and 1 out of 10 of respondents cannot recall ever having heard the word “Holocaust” before.
This was the trigger which marked the beginning of the journey to the film: THE DOG SAW ME. Guided by Holocaust survivors’ testimonies, the film explores the significance and history of dogs who were weaponized by the Nazis, however, ended up playing a critical role in saving Jewish lives.
Monstrous images of dogs in the service of the Third Reich hold a significant place in the collective and cinematic memory of the Holocaust and have always been one of the symbols of trauma. THE DOG SAW ME re examines the conventional images of Nazi dogs, as they appear in personal accounts, historical studies and cinematic images over the years, and presents an alternative narrative of the Third Reich dogs as benevolent creatures. This unique angle allows us to reach a younger audience, hence, further contributing to the discussion and memory of the Holocaust and its effects till this day.
The film begins with Dr. Rudolphina Menzel, an Austrian cynologist, best known for her work in the field of animal behavior, and her work for the Austrian police & German Army in the 1930’s, and for the British army and Israeli Haganah in the 1940’s. The “Menzel Dogs” who were trained to follow commands in Hebrew, and in an ironic twist, so did the first dogs of the Third Reich. In 1938 Rudolphina and her husband managed to escape Nazi Germany to Israel where they were among the founders of the Israeli army Dog Unit “Oketz.” We learn about Rudolphina’s story from an interview filmed with 88 year old Esther Cohen, who worked closely with her for many years and through archival footage.
Through the story of Rudolphina Menzel’s work we learn about the original purpose of dog training and ask the question of human vs animal behaviours and dispositions. Can dogs be inherently bad or are we, the humans, responsible for their weaponization.
Holocaust survivors share the story of their survival thanks to the special relationships they developed with the Nazi dogs during their stay in the camps, while on the verge of starvation and death. All of them were young boys and girls during the war, and went through horrific experiences, yet survived. They insist that their love for dogs since childhood and the special connection they had with the Nazi guard dogs in the camps have had a huge role in keeping them alive.
Their testimonies uncover a story about dogs, humans, and the components of humanity. These killer dogs recognized in the survivors a humanity that was so cruelly disregarded by their fellow humans. The ‘Nazi dogs’ may have been trained to be ruthless killers, however, despite the strict conditioning these dogs may have undergone, their human-loving nature prevailed after all.