Nor Animal Lover
Pythagorean Publishers, 2004
$10.95. 90 pages paperback
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
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:
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.
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