Adolf Hitler has long been the base standard against which all evil is measured. The name itself is a byword for ruthless dictatorship and boundless cruelty. And it’s easy to see why. After all, Hitler’s warmongering led to the most destructive conflict in history and his carefully organized attempt to exterminate an entire race of people is one of the most chilling acts of evil in human history. That’s why it may surprise you to learn that Hitler was an ethical vegetarian. He refused to eat meat because he abhorred the way animals were killed in slaughterhouses.
Not only did Hitler refuse to eat meat, but he and the Nazi Party passed some of the first nation-wide laws against all forms of animal cruelty in history. Even today, no country has laws that punish animal cruelty as severely as the Nazis did. And it wasn’t just Hitler; many of the top Nazi officials spoke out frequently against the mistreatment of animals. But why? How could the people who practically invented industrialized genocide possibly have been so against the killing of animals? To answer that question, let’s look at just how the Nazis viewed animal cruelty and the psychological explanations that can explain how they ignored the obvious connection between cruelty to animals and cruelty to human beings.
The first thing to note is that Hitler’s vegetarianism is not a historical myth. It was well documented at the time and mentioned by many people who knew him personally. A 1937 New York Times article made note of Hitler’s lifestyle, saying “It is well known that Hitler is a vegetarian and does not drink or smoke.” And a famously tone-deaf issue of English magazine Homes and Gardens focusing on the Führer’s mountain home at Berghof noted, “A life-long vegetarian at table, Hitler’s kitchen plots are both varied and heavy in produce.”
Martin Bormann, Hitler’s personal secretary, published a collection of notes that detail what having dinner with Hitler was like. Typically, Hitler would demand absolute silence from his guests while he launched into hour-long tirades about National Socialism, the war, and the importance of vegetarianism. Other Nazi officials apparently felt the same way. Joseph Goebbels, Chief Propaganda Minister once called meat eating, “a perversion of human nature.” And like Hitler, many Nazis were greatly attached to their pets. Usually, these were German Shepards, though Hermann Göring actually kept a lion cub (one wonders what he fed it).
But it wasn’t just eating animals that Hitler objected to. He also objected to practices like vivisection, where scientific experiments are conducted on living animals. In fact, one of the first acts that the Nazi party passed on coming to power was a total ban on the practice. In addition, hunting and boiling lobsters were banned. Like everything the Nazis did, these laws were upheld with brutal methods. Anyone caught violating these laws was to be sent to concentration camps. And a German fisherman actually was sent to a camp for cutting up a frog.