Animal Agriculture ≠ The Holocaust
I remember the first time I saw a PETA billboard that featured concentration camp inmates alongside captive chickens. It read “The Holocaust on Your Plate.” As a born and raised Jew with eight years of Jewish education newly behind me, my first reaction was one of horror. I couldn’t imagine there being any parallels between the cruelty that was inflicted on my people, and the practices of animal agriculture. It would be several years before I’d denounce meat, and a couple more before I went vegan. Then, the comparisons started to pop up again. Holocaust survivor Dr. Alex Hershaft co-founded the US Animal Rights Movement by drawing from his concentration camp experience. Israel is seeing a record number of new vegans, lead by non-violence with their own experiences of discrimination fresh in their minds. It isn’t hard to find an article linking Heinrich Himmler’s (a Reich Leader) work in agriculture to the design of the concentration camps, and a Sunday drive would show that pigs are shipped in trucks much like the Jews were. There’s simply no denying that in comparing the Jewish people to animals, we can understand that there has been a long history of humans being unkind to animals (before, during and following the Holocaust). However, each time I am confronted by this comparison, I feel a crucial piece of the puzzle is missing: hate.
There are three ways that Adolf Hitler and his regime treated Jews that differs from the current treatment of the farm animals. First and foremost, it was the reasoning for mass genocide. Second, it was the purpose. And lastly, it was the representation of their actions and it’s victims. Allow me to preface this, perhaps unnecessarily, by reminding you that I do not condone the violence happening to animals, and hope that in understanding both situations of unnecessary cruelty, we can influence the world to go vegan.
Some people think Hitler had trouble with a Jewish friend, others feel he blamed the Jewish people for all of Germany’s troubles. When it came to killing approximately six million Jewish people and another five million he considered unworthy of life (black, homosexual, gypsy, etc), the reasoning can be simply boiled down to prejudice. Prejudice so deep, and so dark, that this large number of slayings didn’t surmount to meet his goal of complete eradication. Now, the great majority of my friends and family are non-vegans. I’m confident that none would cite a hatred of animals as their reasoning for ordering steak at a restaurant. Instead, an often misguided “it tastes good” would be applied. To consider my meat eating loved ones equivalent to Nazis, they’d have to kill cows because they hate cows. They’d have to be collectively convinced that to have spots, or eat grass, means you aren’t worthy of life itself. If meat eaters were like the Nazi party, they’d believe that for me to love a cow or foster a cow is just as bad as being one. And at the core of it, all the killing of cows done would have to be so that the Earth would be forever rid of cows. While both The Holocaust and animal agriculture result in unnecessary taking of life, Hitler conducted his army in a way that was maliciously vindictive. It was fuelled by hate, and hate alone.
I’d like to call attention to the obvious fact that humans use animals. Whether it’s for food, clothing, or experimentation, death is often a means to an end. You cannot eat an animal without killing it first. You cannot wear one, either. No matter the location, be it an organic backyard farm or a factory floor, death is a step in production. It’s a part of the process of getting a product out to people. For this purpose, wealth and greed are motivators for death. The eradication of the Jewish people was the Nazis ultimate goal. Although the victims were used for labour, their hair and fillings sold, the profitability of The Holocaust was the byproduct of death, and hate was the motivator. The juxtaposition lies in Jews being singled out only for practicing their beliefs, and that the vast amounts of efforts put forward by the Nazi party was for their elimination alone.
If killing animals was like The Holocaust, farm animals wouldn’t be glorified in the media. They wouldn’t be adorable animated characters in our movies and companions to stars of our tv shows. We wouldn’t find their smiling faces on children’s clothing or their thumbs-up in our advertising. We certainly would not have petting zoos or animal sanctuaries. Beyond just convincing the world to hate, fear, and question Jews, Hitler was responsible for propaganda that would shape the hateful stereotypes and assumptions of Jewish people that live on in anti-semitism today. Hitler circulated posters, guides to anti-semitism, and his famous doctrine Mein Kampf. He used propaganda to effectively support his war and racially targeted persecution. His extreme hatred meant the entire world had to agree with him, or be just as targeted. The propaganda that the animal industries use is more often to sugar-coat what they’re doing, then to proudly recruit others to join in their cruelty. While many meat-eaters erroneously consider themselves to be animal lovers, the same cannot be said for Nazis.
Don’t call it the “Animal Holocaust,” because the hate that sparked one of our history’s most devastating genocides has been unmatched by human intention. I’ve had the privilege of knowing and hearing some Holocaust survivors speak and a sentiment that is often echoed is one of living our best lives, lives that are devoid of the kind of violence that was inflicted on us. Through education and understanding, we live hoping that this sort of hatred won’t return. In choosing to thrive, I hope that those who practice Judaism can listen compassionately to advocates of veganism. I know that to truly understand pain and suffering means never wishing to contribute to it on any level. Don’t allow the comparisons to make human suffering feel less valuable, but do consider how instead, we can have an impact on ending worldwide suffering starting with our plates.