We take a look at the validity and value of the “argument” that Hitler was a vegetarian. Referencing several of his biographers and scholars, it is clear that he was as far from a vegetarian as you can get. Even if Hitler was, would it matter?
If you ever have an extended conversation about veganism, and maybe even one not so extended, there are two things that I guarantee will be brought up: bacon and Hitler. Though “Hitler bacon” would be a new one.
I’m going to address the validity of the “Hitler was vegetarian” argument after I first address its value. Let’s say Hitler was a vegetarian—or a vegan even. So what? How about all of the horrific people in history who were not vegan or vegetarian? Does that mean that every person who consumes animal products is automatically on the same level as Stalin, Osama Bin Laden, Jeffery Dahmer, or countless other animal-consuming sociopaths throughout history? It’s simply not a valid argument, or really an argument at all. So lets get down to the facts about Hitler himself, shall we?
Hitler was far from vegetarian—though there are reasons why people believe he was. According to historian, Robert Payne, in his text The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, the myth of Hitler’s strict vegetarianism was more or less a PR campaign orchestrated by Hitler’s minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels. Payne states that,
Hitler’s asceticism played an important part in the image he projected over Germany. According to the widely believed legend, he neither smoke nor drank, nor did he eat meat or have anything to do with women. Only the first was true…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 outwards show of aestheticism, he could claim that he was dedicated to the service of his people.1— Robert Payne, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler
In reality, Payne writes, Hitler was “remarkably self indulgent and possessed none of the instincts of the aesthetic.”2
Beyond this PR campaign to portray Hitler as a master of self-control, there is some credence to his eschewing of meat at times. In his mind-blowing text Eternal Treblinka: Our treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, author Charles Patterson illuminates some of Hitler’s rather unsightly medical conditions, saying that Hitler “suffered from indigestion and episodic stomach pains that had troubled him from adolescence, as well as from excessive flatulence and uncontrollable sweating…he discovered that when he reduced his meat intake, he did not sweat as much and there were fewer stains in his underwear.”3 He apparently also believed that increasing his vegetable consumption improved the odors of his flatulence.4
Regardless of his conditions, Hitler never gave up his indulgences of his favorite meat dishes—which, according to Dr. Fritz Redlich in his text Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet, were Bavarian sausages, liver dumplings, and stuffed and roasted game.5
Not only was Hitler not a vegetarian, he was also vehemently against vegetarianism. Patterson writes that,
[when Hitler] came to power in 1933, he banned all the vegetarian societies in Germany, arrested their leaders, and shut down the main vegetarian magazine published in Frankfurt…during the war, Nazi Germany banned all vegetarian organizations in the territories it occupied, even though vegetarian diets would have helped alleviate wartime food shortages.6— Charles Patterson, Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust
A huge tenant of veganism—and I’m not talking a vegan diet here, but actual veganism—is compassion towards animals. Hitler’s treatment of animals was much like his treatment of humans: abrasive, abusive, and cruel. Hitler would often carry around a dog-whip and viciously beat his dog in public.7 Biographer Ian Kershaw writes that “with his dogs, as with every human being, he came into contact with, any relationship was based upon subordination to his mastery.”8
Hitler based his entire treatment of the Jews on the assembly line slaughterhouses of the United States; he idolized Henry Ford,9 whose inspiration for his revolutionary assembly line system came from visiting a Chicago slaughterhouse as a young man.10 Hitler essentially built his own assembly line slaughterhouses, replacing the animals with human beings. As Gary Yourofsky says, if you walk into any slaughterhouse today, remove the animals and replace them with people, you have recreated Dachau and Auschwitz.
As you can see, Hitler was as far from a vegetarian as you can get. But again, even if he were, that does not hinder the vegan argument. I hope this helps clear up this persistent myth. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Leave them in the comments below!
— Emily Moran Barwick