Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog is a heartbreaking film set during the 1930s when Jews were dealing with the onset of the Shoah.
This film is about Kaleb, a handsome German Shepherd, and the bond that he shares with Joshua (August Maturo). The film runs an hour and a half and because it is more or less geared for families, the horrors aren’t really on display. That’s not to minimize what happened but we do see people getting shot in the camps.
It’s 1935 when the fictional family is about to realize the horror of the Shoah. The Nuremberg Laws are in effect. Jews can’t play in parks and oh yeah, Jews can’t own any pets. Samuel (Ádám Porogi), the father, loses his job. Shoshonna (Ayelet Zurer), the mom, is no longer allowed to shop at the grocery stores. As if matters weren’t worse, their children, Joshua and Rachel (Viktoria Stefanovsky), are no longer allowed to attend school. Their housekeeper is quickly notified that she can no longer work for Jews. I’ll wait so you can let all of this sink in for a moment.
Kaleb soon finds himself with the Heinz family, Frank (Miklós Kapácsy) and Greta (Lois Robbins). Greta wants absolutely nothing to do with any Jewish dog. I mean, I didn’t think dogs had a religion. Can somebody say Nazi? Anyway, Kaleb takes advantage of the door being open and escapes to go back home. The only problem is that his beloved family is no longer home. One can assume that they have been sent off to live in either a ghetto or camp. I don’t know about you but this is where the tears start falling and the film isn’t anywhere close to the halfway point when this happens. But this is the reality for Jews living in 1930s Germany.
What happens with Kaleb after this? He becomes a street dog until the Nazis retrieve him. He eventually ends up in the care of Ralph (Ken Duken). After training Kaleb to attack Jews, the two are assigned to Treblinka. This is when Joshua and Caleb reunite and shortly escape and fight for survival.
I’m not going to compare this to other films set during the onset of or during the Shoah. To do so would just be unfair. This film offers a perspective that we rarely see on screen when it comes to the Shoah. Not many films show us what happens to the animals. At least, none of the films I’ve seen if I can recall correctly. What I will say is to check out The Jewish Dog by Israeli author Asher Kravitz. Personally, I’ve not yet read the book but it should get a few new readers with the film.
The Nuremberg laws were not just antisemitic but inhumane. And yet, Germans–aside from those who were willing to hide Jews–just looked on and followed Hitler. Even though Shepherd is based on a fictional book, this could have been any Jewish family in Germany–it is why we say NEVER AGAIN.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Lynn Roth
CAST: Ayelet Zurer, Ken Duken, Lois Robbins, Miklós Kapácsy, Ádám Porogi, Kristóf Widder, Zsolt Páll, Miklós Béres, and introducing August Maturo