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How the Nazis used a Jewish vet’s pioneering work with canines

by Green Zak
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Toward the tip of her life, the Austrian-born Jewish scientist Rudolphina Menzel acknowledged a horrifying actuality: the dog-training methods she pioneered had been utilized by the Nazis to commit atrocities.

“I suffered lots figuring out that my college students in Austria and Germany have been utilizing the data they acquired from me to make use of canines to exterminate my individuals and different peoples,” she stated in an interview roughly 10 years earlier than her loss of life in 1973.

“She needed to always negotiate a shifting kaleidoscope of political, scientific, and cultural concerns…”

But in one of many extra exceptional ironies of Twentieth-century historical past, Menzel additionally educated the canines that helped create the state of Israel. She was a trailblazing Zionist pioneer.

A brand new ebook, Canine Pioneer: The Extraordinary Life of Rudolphina Menzel (Brandeis Press, 2023), chronicles Menzel’s life and profession, exploring her seminal position within the improvement of cynology (the scientific research of the home canine) and fashionable Jewish, European, and Middle Eastern historical past.

Edited by the anthropologist Susan M. Kahn, the ebook particulars Menzel’s position in coaching the canines utilized by the German navy and police within the Nineteen Twenties and early Thirties—and the way she helped the fledgling Zionist state safe its independence from Britain and win the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

“Rudolphina’s lengthy, sophisticated, and eventful life was peppered with triumphs, marred by tragedies, and suffused with ideological tensions,” Kahn writes. “She needed to always negotiate a shifting kaleidoscope of political, scientific, and cultural concerns with a view to notice her terribly formidable scientific targets and activist goals.”

Zionist and scientist

Menzel was born in 1891 to an upper-middle-class, assimilated Jewish Viennese household.

During childhood, she stumbled on a discarded copy of the Zionist newspaper Die Welt and developed what turned a lifelong dedication to the trigger. By the time she earned her doctorate in chemistry from the University of Vienna in 1914, she was additionally an ardent socialist.

After she and her husband Rudolph settled within the northern Austrian metropolis of Linz following World War I, Menzel met Austrian veterinarian and famend canine breeder Joseph Bodingbauer. He gave the Menzels their first canine, a sturdy, brindle-colored boxer she named Mowgli.

Kahn particulars how and why Menzel remodeled her love of canines right into a critical skilled enterprise that enabled her to analyze scientific questions and remedy societal issues.

She rapidly mastered the burgeoning scientific discipline of cynology and designed an unique, 16-year analysis research the place she noticed and recorded the day by day behaviors of a whole lot of boxers, being attentive to which behavioral traits have been genetic and the way the surroundings formed their temperament.

She additionally turned fascinated with the size of canine notion, notably olfaction. In a landmark 1930 paper, she demonstrated that with the appropriate coaching, canines might discern the person scents of explicit human beings. She then educated her canines to acknowledge an individual’s odor at totally different occasions and beneath totally different situations, making them ultimate for monitoring criminals and suspects.

Rise of the Nazis

Inevitably, Menzel’s work drew the curiosity of the German and Austrian police and navy. She labored as a sought-after advisor and lectured to each teams on her methods for breeding and coaching canines that have been obedient, clever, and expert at police work.

It was customary observe to coach police canines in a overseas language so criminals or prisoners couldn’t talk with them. Menzel, whose Zionism impressed her to be taught Hebrew, educated her canines to obey instructions within the language.

In 1934, a yr after Hitler got here to energy, Menzel stopped working for Austria and Germany. But her canines and coaching strategies remained utilized by authorities nicely after the Nazis rose to energy. It’s doubtless that among the hounds deployed by the Nazis have been, at the least initially, educated to obey instructions in Hebrew.

After the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, native authorities in Menzel’s hometown ordered the “instant elimination of the Jewish kennel” on her property. In August of that yr, she and her husband fled to Palestine with cast papers, taking solely two of their a whole lot of boxers.

Menzel in Palestine

Many early Zionist settlers have been socialists and regarded having pets a bourgeois behavior out of conserving with the pioneering ethos. In addition, Jews on the whole had lengthy had an ambivalent relationship with the canine species. The Hebrew Bible and the rabbinical commentaries within the Talmud depict canines as unclean. In Eastern Europe, “du bist a hunt mit di oyern”—”you’re a canine with ears” in Yiddish—was thought of one of many worst insults.

Menzel modified all this by persuading Zionists that canines could possibly be rather more than pets. They could possibly be staff that protected Jewish lives and property. “Help us reclaim the canine for our individuals,” she wrote to her fellow Jews in Palestine in 1943. “Make room for a brand new pioneering path to reclaim the canine for the constructing of our nation.”

Many of the canines in Palestine have been feral and free-roaming. Menzel, who coined the time period Canaan canines to explain them, bred and educated them. She found that a few of these so-called “pariah canines” could possibly be loyal, clever, resourceful, and forgiving.

During World War II, Menzel labored with the British, equipping them with canines to detect the mines the Germans laid in North Africa. But she made them promise by no means to make use of the animals towards the Jews in Palestine, nonetheless beneath British management.

Menzel’s canines have been additionally used to detect intruders and patrol Jewish land, defending towards the Palestinians preventing Zionist settlers. When the 1948 struggle broke out towards the encompassing Arab nations, her canines have been deployed by the Haganah, the principle Zionist navy group. They transported messages by following scent trails laid between command facilities and troopers within the discipline. They additionally carried medical provides and ammunition in saddles on their backs.

Columns of navy canines marched via the streets of Haifa and Tel Aviv within the 1949 victory parades.

Dogs “have been instruments that constructed the nation at least the plow, the tractor, the gun, and the water tower,” Menzel later wrote.

A change of focus

In the early Fifties, Menzel radically shifted the main focus of her work and started coaching seeing-eye canines. She based the Israel Institute for Orientation and Mobility of the Blind, the primary guide-dog institute within the Middle East and undertook in depth research of the mobility wants of individuals with visible disabilities in Israel.

Menzel’s loss of life went largely unnoticed, and her contributions to cynology have been all however forgotten. This could also be due to sexism or as a result of most of her scientific work was by no means translated into English and did not discover a broader viewers.

Kahn sees her ebook as an necessary first step to lifting Rudolphina Menzel out of obscurity.

Source: Brandeis University

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