FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Feeling Their Pain: Animal Rights and the Nazis

by

392547-hitler

In April 1933, soon after they had come to power, the Nazis passed laws regulating the slaughter of animals. Later that year Herman Goering announced an end to the “unbearable torture and suffering in animal experiments” and–in an extremely unusual admission of the existence of such institutions–threatened to “commit to concentration camps those who still think they can continue to treat animals as inanimate property.” Bans on vivisection were issued–though later partly rescinded–in Bavaria and Prussia. Horses, cats, and apes were singled out for special protection. In 1936 a special law was passed regarding the correct way of dispatching lobsters and crabs and thus mitigating their terminal agonies. Crustaceans were to be thrown into rapidly boiling water. Bureaucrats at the Nazi Ministry of the Interior had produced learned research papers on the kindest method of killing.

Laws protecting wildlife were also passed, under somewhat eugenic protocols: “The duty of a true hunter is not only to hunt but also to nurture and protect wild animals in order that a more varied, stronger and healthier breed shall emerge and be preserved.” The Nazis were much concerned about endangered species, and Goering set up nature reserves to protect elk, bison, bears, and wild horses. (Goering called forests “God’s cathedrals,” thus echoing the idiom of John Muir, one of the fathers of the American national park movement, and a despiser of Indians.) The aim of the Law for the Protection of Animals was–as the preamble stated–“to waken and strengthen compassion as one of the highest moral values of the German people.” Animals were to be protected for their own sake rather than as appendages to the human moral and material condition. This was hailed as a new moral concept. In 1934 an international conference in Berlin on the topic of animal protection saw the podium festooned with swastikas and crowned by a banner declaring, “Entire epochs of love will be needed to repay animals for their value and service.”

Nazi leaders were noted for love of their pets and for certain animals, notably apex predators like the wolf and the lion. Hitler, a vegetarian and hater of hunting, adored dogs and spent some of his final hours in the company of Blondi, whom he would take for walks outside the bunker at some danger to himself. He had a particular enthusiasm for birds and most of all for wolves. His cover name was Herr Wolf. Many of his interim headquarters had “Wolf” as a prefix, as in Wolfschanze, in East Prussia, of which Hitler said, “I am the wolf and this is my den.” He also liked to whistle the tune of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” from a Disney movie.

Goebbels said, famously, “The only real friend one has in the end is the dog… The more I get to know the human species, the more I care for my Benno.” Goebbels also agreed with Hitler that “meat eating is a perversion in our human nature,” and that Christianity was a “symptom of decay,” since it did not urge vegetarianism. Rudolf Hess was another affectionate pet owner.

On the one hand, monsters of cruelty toward their fellow humans, on the other, kind to animals and zealous in their interest. In their very fine essay on such contradictions in Anthrozoos (1992), Arnold Arluke and Boria Sax offer three observations. One, as just noted, many Nazi leaders harbored affection toward animals but antipathy to humans. Hitler was given films that displayed animals killing people. The Führer watched with equanimity. Another film showed humans killing animals. Hitler covered his eyes and begged to be told when the slaughter was over. In the same passage in his diary from the 1920s quoted above, Goebbels wrote, “As soon as I am with a person for three days, I don’t like him any longer… I have learned to despise the human being from the bottom of my soul.”

Second, animal-protection measures “may have been a legal veil to level an attack on the Jews. In making this attack, the Nazis allied themselves with animals since both were portrayed as victims of ‘oppressors’ such as Jews.”

Central to this equation was the composer Richard Wagner, an ardent vegetarian who urged attacks on laboratories and physical assault on vivisectionists, whom he associated with Jews (presumably because of kosher killing methods). Identifying vivisectors as the enemy, Wagner wrote that vivisection of frogs was “the curse of our civilization.” Those who failed to untruss and liberate frogs were “enemies of the state.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.05.31 PM-1

Vivisection, in Wagner’s view, stood for mechanistic science, extrusion of a rationalist intellectualism that assailed the unity of nature, of which man is a part. He believed the purity of Aryans had been compromised by meat eating and mixing of the races. A non-meat diet plus the Eucharist would engender a return to the original, uncorrupted state of affairs. Wagner borrowed from Viennese monk Adolf Lanze, who held that in the beginning there were Aryans and Apes, with Germans closest to the former and Jews to the latter. The core enterprise was to perfect the breed and purge the coarser element. This went for animals too, in an unremitting process of genetic purification.

Finally, as Arluke and Sax put it, “the Nazis abolished moral distinctions between animals and people by viewing people as animals. The result was that animals could be considered ‘higher’ than some people.”

The blond Aryan beast of Nietzche represented animality at the top available grade, at one with wild nature. But spirituality could be associated with animals destined for the table, as in this piece of German propaganda: “The Nordic peoples accord the pig the highest possible honor… in the cult of the Germans the pig occupies the first place and is the first among the domestic animals… The predominance of the pig, the sacred animal destined to sacrifices among the Nordic peoples, has drawn its originality from the great trees of the German forest. The Semites do not understand the pig, they reject the pig, where as this animal occupies the first place in the cult of the Nordic people.”

Aryans and animals were allied in a struggle against the contaminators, the vivisectors, the under-creatures. “The Führer,” Goebbels wrote, “is deeply religious, though completely anti-Christian, views Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so. It is a branch of the Jewish race… Both [Judaism and Christianity] have no point of contact to the animal element, and thus, in the end they will be destroyed. The Führer is a convinced vegetarian on principle.”

Race purification was often seen in terms of farm improvement, eliminating poor stock, and improving the herd. Martin Bormann had been an agricultural student and manager of a large farm. Himmler had been a chicken breeder. Medical researchers in the Third Reich, Arluke and Sax write, “also approached Germans as livestock. For instance, those familiar with Mengele’s concentration camp experiments believe that his thoughtlessness about the suffering of his victims stemmed from his passion about creating a genetically pure super-race, as though he were breeding horses.” Those contaminating Aryan stock were “lower animals” and should be dispatched. Seeing such people as low and coarse animal forms allowed their production-line slaughter. Höss, the Auschwitz commandant, was a great lover of animals, particularly horses, and after a hard day’s work in the death camp liked to stroll about the stables.

“Nazi German identity,” Arluke and Sax conclude, “relied on the blurring of boundaries between humans and animals and the constructing of a unique phylogenetic hierarchy that altered conventional human-animal distinctions and imperatives… As part of the natural order, Germans of Aryan stock were to be bred like farm stock, while ‘lower animals’ or ‘subhumans,’ such as the Jews and other victims of the Holocaust were to be exterminated like vermin as testament to the new ‘natural’ and biological order conceived under the Third Reich.”

Animal-rights advocates and vegetarians often fidget under jeers that it was Nazis who banned vivisection. In fact vivisection continued through the Third Reich. The British journal The Lancet commented on the Nazis’ animal experimentation laws of 1933 that “it will be seen from the text of these regulations that those restrictions imposed [in Germany] follow rather closely those enforced in [England].”

The moral here is not that there is something inherently Nazi-like in campaigning against vivisection or deploring the eating of animals’ meat or reviling the cruelties of the feedlot and the abattoir. The moral is that ideologies of nature imbued with corrupt race theory and a degraded romanticism can lead people up the wrong path, one whose terminus was an abattoir for “unhealthy” humans, constructed as a reverse image of the death camp for (supposedly) healthy animals to be consumed by humans. For the Nazis their death camps were, in a way, romanticism’s revenge for the slaughterhouses and the hogsqueal of the universe as echoing from the Union Stockyards in Chicago, which perfected industrial methods of mass killing nearly a century before Auschwitz.

A version of this essay originally appeared in City Pages and will be included in the forthcoming book An Orgy of Thieves.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail