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Hitler: Neither Vegetarian
Nor Animal Lover

by Rynn Berry
Pythagorean Publishers, 2004
$10.95. 90 pages paperback

Reviewed by Richard H. Schwartz

The case for vegetarianism is, in my opinion, unassailable. How can anyone defend an animal-based diet that involves the gratuitous slaughter of billions of animals every year, most of them raised under extremely cruel conditions on "factory farms"? How can one defend a diet that has so many devastating effects on human health; that significantly accelerates global climate change, species extinction, soil erosion and depletion, the destruction of tropical rainforests and other valuable habitats; and that requires far more land, water, fuel, and other agricultural resources than plant-based diets? All this at a time when billions of people lack adequate food and clean water.

The answer is you can't, and that is why people who eat meat try to change the subject by asking such questions as, "Doesn't the Bible say eating meat is moral?" "Aren't you wearing leather shoes?" and, perhaps most often, "Wasn't Hitler a vegetarian?"

Of course, what Hitler ate or did not eat is really irrelevant. Would anyone cite Hitler's abstinence from smoking to discredit non-smokers? However, Hitler's alleged vegetarianism is brought up so often that it invites a response. And we should be very thankful that Rynn Berry's thoughtful and carefully documented book convincingly proves that Hitler was neither a vegetarian nor an animal lover throughout most, if not all, of his life.

First a digression to indicate how I played a role in this book being written. In 1991, Berry wrote to The New York Times commenting on the vegetarianism of Isaac Bashevis Singer and how this important feature of Singer's life had been glossed over in his recent obituary. A positive response to Rynn's letter from Janet Malcolm drew a reply from another Times reader. Under the headline "What About Hitler?" the writer scolded Ms. Malcolm for implying that the universal acceptance of vegetarianism will bring about world peace because, "Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian all his life and wrote extensively on the subject." Following that letter, in September, 1991, The New York Times published my response under the headline, "Don't Put Hitler Among the Vegetarians." In it, I pointed out that Hitler would occasionally go on vegetarian binges to cure himself of excessive sweatiness and flatulence, but that his main diet included meat. I also cited Robert Payne, Albert Speer, and other well-known Hitler biographers, who mentioned Hitler's predilection for such non-vegetarian foods as Bavarian sausages, ham, liver, and game. Fortunately, the Times had a second letter in that same issue that helped convince doubters. Under the headline, "He Loved His Squab," another correspondent cited a passage from a cookbook that had been written by a European chef, Dione Lucas, who was an eyewitness to Hitler's meat-eating. In her Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook (1964), Lucas, drawing on her experiences as a hotel chef in Hamburg during the 1930s, remembered being called upon quite often to prepare Hitler's favorite dish, which was not a vegetarian one. "I do not mean to spoil your appetite for stuffed squab," she writes, "but you might be interested to know that it was a great favorite with Mr. Hitler, who dined at the hotel often. Let us not hold that against a fine recipe though."

The above correspondence is discussed in detail in Rynn Berry's introductory chapter, "An Exchange of Letters."

Berry's slim book has a superb 26-page introduction by Martin Rowe, founder of Lantern Books publishers and publisher of my books, "Judaism and Vegetarianism" and "Judaism and Global Survival." Rowe eloquently discusses how the question about Hitler's alleged vegetarianism is an attempt to change or drop the subject of vegetarianism. He points out that the argument, "'Well, Hitler was a vegetarian' becomes shorthand for silencing the complicity we all have in the killing of others." Ironically, Rowe sees recent trends toward a vegetarianism that "honors the earth, the animals, the welfare of the human body, and the health of the world as a whole" as part of "the ultimate reply to Hitler." There are many more vegetarian-related insights in Rowe's introduction that make it by itself almost worth the price of the book.

Berry has carefully researched everything available about Hitler's alleged vegetarianism, and he cites several biographies to buttress his case. For example, Robert Payne's The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, which has been called definitive, scotches the rumor that Hitler might have been a vegetarian. According to Payne, Hitler's vegetarianism was a fiction made up by his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels to give him the aura of a revolutionary ascetic:

"Hitler's asceticism played an important part in the image he projected over Germany. According to the widely believed legend, he neither smoked nor drank, nor did he eat meat or have anything to do with women. Only the first was true. He drank beer and diluted wine frequently, had a special fondness for Bavarian sausages and kept a mistress, Eva Braun, who lived with him quietly in the Berghof. There had been other discreet affairs with women. His asceticism was fiction invented by Goebbels to emphasize his total dedication, his self-control, the distance that separated him from other men. By this outward show of asceticism, he could claim that he was dedicated to the service of his people. "In fact, he was remarkably self-indulgent and possessed none of the instincts of the ascetic. His cook, an enormously fat man named Willy Kanneneberg, produced exquisite meals and acted as court jester. Although Hitler had no fondness for meat except in the form of sausages, and never ate fish, he enjoyed caviar. He was a connoisseur of sweets, crystallized fruit and cream cakes, which he consumed in astonishing quantities. He drank tea and coffee drowned in cream and sugar. No dictator ever had a sweeter tooth."

As Berry points out, not even the loosest definition of vegetarianism could be stretched to fit Hitler's gastronomic preferences. He also shows that biographical materials about Hitler's "vegetarianism" are contradictory. He was sometimes described as a "vegetarian" by writers who also mentioned his fondness for sausages, caviar, and occasionally ham. For example, the April 14, 1996, Sunday magazine edition of The New York Times, celebrating its 100th anniversary, included this early description of Hitler's diet in an article previously published on May 30, 1937, 'At Home With The Fuhrer.' "'It is well known that Hitler is a vegetarian and does not drink or smoke. His lunch and dinner consist, therefore, for the most part of soup, eggs, vegetables and mineral water, although he occasionally relishes a slice of ham and relieves the tediousness of his diet with such delicacies as caviar ..."

Of course, as Berry points out, Hitler's philosophy and actions are poles apart from those generally associated with vegetarianism. Furthermore, he argues if Hitler had been a vegetarian, he would not have banned vegetarian organizations in Germany and the occupied countries (he devotes an entire chapter to this); nor would he have failed to urge a meatless diet on the German people as a way of coping with Germany's World War II food shortage.

Because animal-based diets and agriculture are so destructive, it is important that we dispel all false challenges to vegetarianism, including the recurring myth about Hitler. Hitler: Neither Vegetarian Nor Animal Lover does it definitively. I hope it gets the wide readership that it deserves. Then, perhaps people will focus on the important vegetarian-related issues, and on history's vegetarian humanitarians, such as Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, Mahatma Gandhi, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Rav David Cohen (the "Nazir"), and Rav Chaim Maccoby (the "Kamenetzer Maggid").

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