Hitler and the Animal Rights dichotomy of Germany in the 30s

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Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat; Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals, by Hal Herzog

The troubled middle: An exploration of our ethical obligations to animals in Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals, by Hal Herzog.

Website for the book: http://halherzog.com

According to Hal Herzog in Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, Germany implemented some of the world’s best animal protection laws in the 1930s—while simultaneously murdering 6 million Jews. WTF?

How the Nazis could Love Dogs and Hate Jews

A bizarre moral inversion occurred in prewar Germany that enabled large numbers of reasonable people to be more concerned with the suffering of lobsters in Berlin restaurants than with genocide. In 1933, the German government enacted the world’s most comprehensive animal protection legislation. Among other things, the law forbade any unnecessary harm to animals, banned the inhumane treatment of animals in the production of movies, and outlawed the use of dogs in hunting. It banned docking the tails and ears of dogs without anesthesia, the force-feeding of fowl, and the inhumane killing of farm animals. Adolf Hitler signed the legislation on November 24, 1933. This was only the first in a series of Nazi animal protection acts. In 1936, for example, the German government dictated that fish had to be anesthetized before slaughter and that lobsters in restaurants had to be killed swiftly.

In announcing restrictions on animal research in a 1933 radio address, Hermann Göring said, “To the Germans, animals are not merely creatures in the organic sense, but creatures who lead their own lives and who are endowed with perceptive facilities, who feel pain and experience joy and prove to be faithful and attached.” Göring once threatened, “I will commit to concentration camps those who think that they can continue to treat animals as property.”

Hitler objected to killing animals for scientific research and he believed that hunting and horse racing were “the last remnants of a feudal society.” He was a vegetarian and found meat disgusting. As you might expect, contemporary animal activists don’t relish the idea that Adolf Hitler was a fellow traveler, and some activists adamantly deny that he was either a vegetarian or an animal lover. But the anthrozoologist Boria Sax has carefully documented the evidence that many leading Nazis, including Hitler, were genuinely concerned about the treatment of animals. (Needless to say, the fact that Hitler loved animals does not in any way undermine the validity of the case for animal protection.)

The Nazis used framing to construct a perversely inverted moral scale in which Aryans were at the top and Jews were classified as “subhumans”—beings lower than most animal species. While German shepherd dogs and wolves were high on the moral hierarchy, Nazis compared Jews to vermin—rats, parasites, bedbugs. In 1942, Jews were forbidden to keep pets. In one of history’s great ironies, the Nazis followed the legal procedures governing humane slaughter when they euthanized thousands of Jewish pets. But, unlike their dogs and cats, Jews were not covered under German humane slaughter legislation. No, they were sent to concentration camps, where their treatment was not covered by the Third Reich’s animal welfare laws. For the Nazis, Jews blurred the boundaries between man and animal. They were a polluted class, freaks, neither fully human nor completely animal.

To me, Nazi animal protectionism speaks volumes about human moral thinking. A few pages ago, I argued that for a thousand generations, the genetic puppet-masters have murmured into our ears “people over animals.” Hitler’s ability to construct a culture in which dogs were afforded moral status denied to Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals illustrates the fact that with enough social pressures, humans will ignore the whisperings of the genes. Nazi animal protectionism also shows that the ability to resist our biological inclinations does not necessarily make us better people.

In spite of the fact that many people dispute that Hitler was a vegetarian, this is pretty disturbing. And this is why I think it is so important to not only express our concern for how animals are treated in today’s society, but also to be concerned, for instance, with the treatment of humans working in dangerous slaughterhouse jobs—and for any mistreated group—whether starving humans, or pets on death row in our shelters. The more we open our eyes, the more we realize that it’s all related.

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