Kaleb, a German shepherd dog, shares the spotlight with Joshua (August Maturo), his 10-year-old owner in a 1930s tale, set in Germany as the Nazis gain power. This outstanding heartfelt movie demonstrates the strong connections that bind us to our pets—while providing a historical view of the impact of the Nuremberg laws. Also, the filming in Budapest—produces genuine authenticity that gives the film on the whole—a topnotch look and feel.
Writer-Director Lynn Roth adapted Asher Kravitz’s award-winning novel, “A Story of a Jewish Dog,” presenting the emotional family bonds during World War II—including the ties to family pets; when owning them became banned by the Nuremberg laws. With the arrival of four new puppies, the Schoenmann family is over-joyed; however, their joy is short-lived as SS officers come to their home to divide the puppies amongst German families.
We learn that Kaleb’s new owner, in particular, the wife, doesn’t like the dog because he came from a Jewish family. Roth weaves parallels between dogs and humans throughout the script, delivering a penetrating view of the comparisons to how Jewish people were treated. In a scene, Joshua and his sister, Rachel, played by (Viktoria Stefanovsky) are horrified to hear that the puppies will be separated and live with different German families. Later in the film, Joshua is separated from his family in the Nazi concentration camp.
Kaleb leaves his German family and is adopted by an SS Officer (Ken Duken) who trains him to attack. Upon arrival at the concentration camp, Kaleb remembers Joshua’s scent; their reunion may bring tears. Again, the parallels of Kaleb’s situation of having plenty of food to eat, and praise for a job well down is quite the opposite of Joshua’s, he’s given little food to eat, and the SS Officers treat him harshly. Eventually, his way with animals is rewarded, and he’s allowed to feed the animals, although he’s told, by a German SS officer, “If I ever catch you eating even one bite of food, I will shoot you on the spot.”
As not to spoil the end of the movie, I won’t’ divulge the rest of the story, although Kaleb and Joshua do go on an adventure together, a harrowing one indeed!
Here’s a quality film that I’m recommending for ages nine and up. Mostly shot during WWII, I was surprised and appreciated how much I did learn about the Jewish owned animals. Check out this excellent film; all will enjoy the old-fashioned storytelling, the stunning cinematography, and using the dog Kaleb’s point of view to tell the story.
* Author’s Note: I screened this film at the 919 Film Fest, in October of 2019, Lynn Roth spoke after the screening. She told viewers that actually five dogs were used in the film, each based on each dog’s strengths and abilities to portray Kaleb.
I’ve also included the director’s vision as it appears on “Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog” website.
** Director/Writer Lynn Roth Vision Statement:
From the moment I read the Israeli novel, “A Jewish Dog” by Asher Kravitz, I knew that it would be my mission to make this movie. To take this unique premise…the trajectory of a dog during the Holocaust and make it a film that would be appropriate for the entire family. A film which parents and grandparents could view with their children and together they could learn or be reminded of a time in history that must not be forgotten.
This film is subtly shown through the eyes of a dog. No gimmicks of a talking dog but rather a sensibility—an instinctual reaction to what his going on around him. A dog, who has the same plight as Jews in the 1930’s, listed on “verboten” signs, forbidden to enter certain places, judged for pure-bred status, and bewildered as to why he is cast out of a loving home.
This film embodies the two aspects of life which continue to confound me the most: the fascinating quality of dogs—what goes on in these creatures minds and how they provide so much love and companionship to the human species…..and how the world tolerated “animals” who came to power in Germany and Austria and almost destroyed an entire people.
Sarah Knight Adamson© January 27, 2020