For years I winced whenever an animal rights activist used the word “holocaust” to describe the slaughter of animals for human consumption. Even though I knew the scale of the animal-killing we humans do — many millions of (in particular) cows, pigs, chickens and sheep every year — was massive, the term “holocaust” comes with so much cultural baggage that the conversation about eating animals gets derailed into the traumatic cul de sac of Nazis, Jews, the WW2 holocaust. And then other human genocides, too: of native Americans, of Cambodians, of Africans and the slave trade, in East Timor, and on and historically on.
You know, the typical, light, brunchtime topics discussed on the Mar-a-Lardo patio in Palm Beach, Florida.
We humans who live in civilizations can sure act uncivilized; we humans sure can act inhumanely.
More recently though, I’ve listened to, read, and pondered why using the loaded “H” word isn’t, or is, appropriate to describe how we human animals treat non-human animals. But a funny thing happened on my way through the holocaust analogy: it became more justifiable, not less so. How so? Read on.
As we wade into these treacherous rhetorical waters, I must note that I’m Jewish. This, for some, may mitigate some of the knee-jerk, “you’re anti-Semitic” reactions. But not all of the reactions, like the, “That’s even worse; you’re a Jewish anti-Semite.” and, “Then you should know better.” Effectively deploying the Jew-on-Jew master weapon, guilt.
If I didn’t grow up in a Jewish culture (in NYC), where I was taught to ask questions, welcome debate, and deploy humor, I’d be more reluctant to visit this death camp of a conversation. I’m given a shot of courage by Mel Brooks’ original 1967 film, “The Producers,” which was outrageous in its day. And probably still today, but we’re just used to Mel’s artwork. No one had ever before dared, on the pop culture movie screen, anything like “Springtime for Hitler” and all that Jewish jazz.
I consider myself culturally Jewish, but I’m not religious. As part of my cultural heritage, of which I’m proud, I was taught that Jews are not only allowed, but encouraged, to think for themselves, question, challenge and discuss anything and everything. Most rabbis, presumably guardians of the culture’s faith traditions, for example, welcome any sincere question and debate, on any topic. You can question the existence of God, the tenets of Judaism; any of it, all of it, anything and everything is fair game for inquiry. I’m told there’s less tolerant for this in some other religions, which will go unnamed here, fer Chrissakes. So although the Old Testament religion didn’t appeal to me, this Jewish cherishing and encouragement of free and independent thought sure did. So don’t blame me for what follows; blame the Jews.
First, let’s touch on“speciesism,” one reason people think comparing the Jewish holocaust to what humans do to animals is unjustifiable, even inexcusable. Speciesism may be an unfamilar “ism” to you. (It’s relatively new to me.) So, for example: “How dare you compare a human life, Jewish or not, to a cow, pig or chicken’s life! You don’t think an animal life is worth the same as a human life, do you?!”
To which I reply: “I value all animal lives, both human animals and non-human animals. From Hindu to hippo, from elephant to ant, and back to Buddhist — through every other religion — and back to human again. I advocate that we not torment and kill any animals, human or non-human, if we don’t have to in order to survive. Our human ancestors needed to kill animals to live; they lived far more closely connected to the rest of natural world than the majority of us humans do today. Due to industrialization and technological advances, for better and also for worse, we mostly live without having to hunt or forage for food ourselves.
One of the reasons for the popularity of the so-called paleo diet, meaning that of paleolithic man, seems to be an (understandable) longing to return to a simpler time, one of greater connection to the natural world. The theory being that we should eat the simple, whole, unprocessed, hunter-gatherer diet, like early humans did. Problem is we 20th century humans, one could reasonably argue, live, uh, somewhat differently than our hominid ancestors did from 2.5 million to 12,000 years ago.
We live in giant, industrialized cities, don’t expend massive amounts of energy hunting in the wild, and have access to supermarkets and restaurants which put global produce and products right outside our caves – – I mean doors. (But, from the photo above, apparently bikinis haven’t evolved much since One Millions Years, B.C.)
And here’s the thing: the vast majority of us humans no longer have to kill and eat animals to survive; we’re just so used to eating them, and have learned over generations to like the way their bodies taste. We are almost all taught, from birth, to eat animals and consume cow mother’s milk and dairy products, especially cheese, which our industrialized societies produce.
None of these products are necessary. We are the only species which drinks the mother’s milk of another species. And drinks mother’s milk beyond infancy, and through adulthood. WTF?
WHY THE BEEF & DAIRY?
Milk and meat and milk industry ads are working endlessly on our conscious and unconscious minds to hoodwink us into believing this isn’t so; that we can — for one commonly believed but absurd example — all eat meat and milk from small, local farms. You probably believe this. Support your local farmer, right? (Which, btw, I agree with.) Even though the statistics don’t support this popular industry public relations myth. It’s a myth, and only a dreram, because we humans are too numerous for us all to produce all of our own food now, especially in our swollen urban centers (where about 70% of humanity now lives).
And before you go all Kiss The Ground on me, yes, I wholeheartedly support backyard and small and local vegetable production, and increasingly work to de-corporatize and decentralize profit-driven (and junk) food production. And community vegetable gardens. And urban rooftop gardens, and all the rest. Yes, “know your farmer,” as the saying and T-shirt go. But don’t think local farmers can feed us all today.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FARMERS – – OF PLANTS
But raising the necessary millions of cows and pigs and goats and sheep and chickens to feed us in the quantities we now eat is no longer possible without mass production. And thus mass, industrialized extermination. Which brings us back to Doe-hey-me-fah-so-long-kill-deer — and the Holocaust comparison. Because we can’t produce cow and pig and chicken products in sufficient numbers to feed today’s 340 million Americans, let alone Europe’s, China’s, India’s and the world’s 8 billion humans.
But this even the local production impossibility ignores the ethical issues of eating animals. And even the term “ethical issues” falls colossally short of communicating the reality of the brutality of what we’re doing – – but the term “Animal Holocaust” more accurately does. Hence its use by animal rights activists, to get people to react — and think, and really re-think, what we’ve been taught to do unconsciously, without examination.
In fact, thanks to videos of animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky (also Jewish) speaking about the “Animal Holocaust,” I now say this about the concentration camp-animals slaughterhouse comparison: “You’re right; I shouldn’t compare what we do to animals to the Nazi Holocaust of Jews… because what we do to animals is arguably even worse — meaning on an unimaginably larger scale.
And if that makes you think, WTF is wrong with you, Jack,?” don’t quit on me now; read on.
Tens of thousands of animals are bleeding out in slaughterhouses as you read this single sentence. And, to repeat, they’re not dying for any human survival necessity. In our modern societies, we’re killing millions of animals, every day, out of habit and tradition, and its exacerbated by the profit motive.
First and foremost, we imprison, torture and kill animals in exponentially greater numbers than the 6 million Jews and 12 million humans Germany exterminated in WW2. (Some supporting animal slaughter statistics to follow.)
Second, the Animal Holocaust is not a dark, disturbing chapter of our past, in the long history of brutal human atrocities. The Animal Holocaust is ongoing. Today. Now. As you read this essay.
IT’S SO AWFUL, WE WON’T GO THERE
Third, collectively, we steadfastly refuse to even acknowledge that a mass, industrialized slaughter of animals is being perpetrated. We refuse to acknowledge the scale of it. We steadfastly deny the brutality of it. In fact, as proof of how horrific it is, our culture completely denies and hides the reality of it. Hiding the truth is always a giveaway that the truth is awful. Even Nazis knew to hide the truth of their death camps from the world at large, lest the world take action against the horror. (And yes, I know that some Americans did know, and some American industrialists knew, but the majority of the citizenry did not.)
Fourth factor: massive, multi-billion dollar, industry-driven public relations, advertising, and marketing campaigns hide the brutal truth of animal slaughter. Instead, we are sold an appetizing illusion we eagerly consume. We have the choice between a blood-soaked red pill, and a pie-in-the-sky blue pill. Who wouldn’t eat the illusion — especially since you’re served it from infancy.
“Humane slaughter” is only one of the more current, effective, industry-driven, public relations euphemisms (aka, lies) consumers eat along with their lamb chops. (What is a “chop” anyway? Answer: just another euphemism, for the leg of a slaughtered lamb, among the avalanche of lies we use to trowel over the bloody truth.
Fifth, the Nazis modeled their concentration camps and gas chambers on animal slaughterhouses. Including those in Chicago, USA. J. M. Coetzee, a South African–Australian writer and 2003 Nobel Prize laureate in Literature, said of the Nazis’ treatment of Jews:
“… in the 20th century, a group of powerful and bloody-minded men in Germany hit on the idea of adapting the methods of the industrial stockyard, as pioneered and perfected in Chicago, to the slaughter – or what they preferred to call the processing – of human beings.” READ MORE on this topic HERE.
And we’re also all now very much addicted; we love our bacon, our burgers, our deep dish (extra) cheese pizzas. In the United States in particular, we live for, and slaughter for (and also die from) mere palate pleasure. “Sorry to kill you, Porky the Pig — who is as emotional as my pet dog and even more intelligent — but I just love the way you taste as my morning ‘bacon’.” To concoct a quote from the non-existent film classic, Apocalypse Cow, “I love the smell of bacon in the morning. It smells like… family.”
By the way, if this whole topic is uncomfortable or repellent to you, I ask you to probe into why that is before you quit reading this. Because you’re very likely in the majority of humans who eat animal products — thus actively perpetuating their needless slaughter.
We’re pretty much all responsible collectively, for a massive, mechanized animal slaughter. And then, in addition to creating this culture of killing, we hide it — even from ourselves. It’s another reason the practice and the accompanying self-denial of delusion justifies the use of the term holocaust.
About 98% of humanity is not (yet) vegan; “pre-vegan,” as animal rights activist Will Tuttle optimistically puts it, in promoting his aptly-named, “World Peace Diet.” This is how normalized the Animal Holocaust is. Even vegetarians — people who “don’t eat meat but do eat ‘only’ eggs and milk and cheese and ice cream” — are also in the majority still stuck in the cultural conditioning of denial. They also haven’t yet made the connections between the animal products they eat and the animal suffering and slaughter these products perpetuate. Vegetarians, who care more than most humans about animal welfare, also participate in animal abuse and killing. That’s how powerful the conditioning is. For billions of humans to not-see. (Rhymes with Yahtzee, rhymes with Nazi.)
Like everyone around me, for over 50 years, I ate huge, daily amounts of meat and milk and cheese and butter and ice cream, so I’m not calling anyone out — I’m calling ALL of us out. Humanity is mind-bogglingly inhumane to the non-humans animals we share this planet with.
Yet even with all this carnage, the term Animal Holocaust still sparks outrage. One fellow Jewish writer, Ariel Sobel, published an article, from which I titled this essay, “Dear Vegans, Stop Comparing Animal Slaughter to the Holocaust.” (Ms. Sobel’s full Oct. 3, 2018 article is HERE) She expresses understandable disgust with the Jews-animals comparison this way:
“...I noticed a pro-vegan graphic [BELOW – JG] that made me want to upchuck my turkey sandwich. It was a stack of bodies in Auschwitz piled up, shown side by side with a heap of hunted pigs. With a swastika in the center, the image compares the atrocities committed by the Nazis to factory farming. I wish I could say that this was a rogue image, but in reality, it’s a deeply anti-Semitic brand of vegan propaganda which refers to the slaughter of livestock as the “animal Holocaust.”
And more: “…vegans left and right truly believe that eating meat is just as traumatic of an atrocity as the near-successful attempt to mass-exterminate Jewish people.“
And I agree with her — but only if you view our habit of eating millions of animals only from humanity’s point of view. Well, what the hell other viewpoint is there?,” you ask?
This is the common, deeply ingrained, human-centric perspective: that humans have more intrinsic value than animals. We’re all conditioned to believe this growing up. That’s convenient for us humans to believe, because it justifies using and abusing animals for anything, for everything. Including as food, even though me no longer need to. It’s called speciesism. It’s our unconscious excuse for not having to consider the effect on each one of billions of animals in this equation. And that number of animals killed is so large is it literally impossible to picture or even imagine.
Ms. Sobel, as do many others, rails against comparing the Nazi attempt to exterminate an entire culture and religion of humans (Jews are a culture, not a race) with the slaughtering of animals for food. The Nazi Holocaust is not just horrific, this argument goes, but also malevolent, intending to wipe an entire culture off the face of the Earth.
The Animal Holocaust may be violent, but not malevolent, this argument goes; we don’t want to exterminate all the animals we eat because we want to keep raising them and killing them and eating them — forever. And I hope you can see why that makes the Animal Holocaust far worse in a different way.
But all this is completely irrelevant to each animal, and to billions of animals who are killed to be eaten by humans. So again, whose point of view should we consider all this? The warm-hearted philosopher — and children’s book author — Shel Silverstein addressed this issue as well as anyone:
Thanksgiving dinner’s sad and thankless
Christmas dinner’s dark and blue
When you stop and try to see it
From the dinner’s point of view.
Sunday dinner isn’t sunny
Easter feasts are just bad luck
When you see it from the view point
of a chicken or a duck.
Oh how I once loved tuna salad,
Pork, lobsters, lamb chops too
‘Til I stopped and looked at dinner
From the dinner’s point of view.
And by the way, the Animal Holocaust will also, indirectly, kill more humans than the Jewish Holocaust did. Huh, what? Because our necessarily massive scale of animals-as-food production, to feed billions of humans — particularly grazing millions of cows for their “meat” and milk — is a main driver of global deforestation (especially rainforest being converted to cattle pasture), GHGs emissions (more methane comes out of cows than natural gas fracking sites), and the resultant contribution to global heating, aka the climate crisis. And thus poses an existential threat to all of humanity, Jews and non-Jews alike. READ MORE.)
Ms.Sobel makes another outraged complaint in her article:
Dear vegans shouting “animal Holocaust”: You are not empowering animals. In fact, you’re falling prey to Hitler ideology — that Jewish people are subhuman. The Nazis believed my grandparents were as savage as beasts. They used propaganda to compare us to rodents and other fauna. This was a means of numbing society’s hearts to us, to tolerate and even get people to carry out our mass murder. Now you’re doing the same. [Bolding added – JG]
There’s no doubt that the victims of concentration camps were treated like animals. The “animal Holocaust” imagery is, in many ways, spot on. That was the goal of the Nazis: to rip an entire ethnicity of its humanity. Why propagate the imagery that promotes that narrative?
Again, I agree with her. Each and every point she makes is valid. Yet the trouble is, that was then & there in WWII Nazi Germany, and this is here & now in industrialized 2024. And I, along with many of my fellow vegan activists (and in my case environmental activists too), make an irrefutable case for the necessity of humanity ending our historic practice of (exploiting and) eating animals.
In addition, we humans should cease treating animals “like animals.” For ethical reasons. For environmental reasons too. And for health reasons three. (Many animal rights activists focus on only the first reason. Fine. But I, ever the strategist, use all three reasons, since all three are true and, different people respond to different lines of reasoning. If you love cats or dogs, how can you justify needlessly slaughtering pigs? If your focus is on the environment, eating cows and cheese and drinking meat is a direct contradiction.
We human animals can and should treat non-human animals as equals, with an equal right to life. And an equal right to live without being abused, exploited, commodified, and of course killed because none of the killing is done in self-defense. Even from an anthropocentric view, eating animals harms humanity, the ecosystems which sustain us.
This isn’t just revolutionary thought, it’s evolutionary thought. We no longer need to kill animals to survive. Continuing to do so on the mass, industrialized scale we do, in order to feed 8,000,000,000 humans — which is a colossal Animal Holocaust — is both ecocidal and suicidal. Feeding animals huge amounts of plants food so we can then eat them is a wildly inefficient and polluting way to feed ourselves. (Despite what rancher John Dutton of Yellowstone wants you to believe.) READ ALL ABOUT IT.
But I choose a different, non-anthropocentric, vantage point. Because if we intelligent humans, also capable of great compassion and empathy, are willing to look at our treatment of animals from the animal’s point of view, everything, everywhere, changes all at once.
I hope we all agree that animals are innocent of any crimes or behavior justifying their execution. I’d hope we can also agree that each and every non-human animal is a unique individual who feels pain and suffers in much the same way we humans do. Or at least very similarly to how our pet dogs, cats and horses do. Let’s start there.
We have enacted laws to prevent cruel and abusive treatment of these animals we keep in our homes. Anyone who wants to argue that animals don’t suffer like we do hasn’t watched either documentary film, “Dominion” or “Earthlings.” Watch one tonight, and call me in the morning. “Animals don’t feel pain the way we do” is a commonplace, but lazy argument; so obviously false as to be silly. Either documentary conveys only some of the visceral horror of what we human animals wreak upon non-human animals. We abuse, torment and kill them because of humanity’s cultural “speciesism” bias. Both movies quickly turn the “animals don’t feel pain” claim to the trash bin where it belongs.
So, digging a bit more into this topic rather than shying away from examining it, I easily found more Jewish vegan and animal rights activists writing in defense of the comparison, and unafraid of the term Animal Holocaust. Serge Klarsfeld was a French Holocaust survivor, and a well-known Nazi hunter. He has a son, Arno, who became a lawyer and an animal rights activist.
“For animals in the meat industry, there’s no God, like there was no God for the Jewish families mercilessly murdered in the Holocaust. Singer was right: For some animals, life is an eternal Treblinka.”
But Klarsfeld borrowed that thought from Polish-American author Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1978 Nobel Prize winner in Literature, who made the comparison in several of his stories. In his 1968 The Letter Writer, the protagonist says, “In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.”
And in Singer’s The Penitent, the protagonist says “when it comes to animals, every man is a Nazi”.
Two more authors make no apologies for the direct Holocaust comparison. The following two paragraphs from a Wikipedia page on this topic (with apologies to my historian cousin who chastises me for using such unreliable non-primary sources; color me lazy):
Perhaps the earliest use of the analogy comes from Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz, a German concentration camp survivor and journalist, who wrote in 1940 in his “Dachau Diaries” from inside the Dachau Concentration Camp that “I have suffered so much myself that I can feel other creatures’ suffering by virtue of my own”.
And, “I believe as long as man tortures and kills animals, he will torture and kill humans as well—and wars will be waged—for killing must be practiced and learned on a small scale”.
Another Holocaust survivor who has written on the subject is Alex Hershaft, now a vegan activist, who also compared the treatment of livestock to the Holocaust. He has stated that “We’re focusing on the victims rather than the cancer of oppression itself,” and, “I noted with horror the striking similarities between what the Nazis did to my family and my people, and what we do to animals we raise for food: the branding or tattooing of serial numbers to identify victims, the use of cattle cars to transport victims to their death, the crowded housing of victims in wood crates, the arbitrary designation of who lives and who dies — the Christian lives, the Jew dies; the dog lives, the pig dies.”
We are taught about the web of interconnected, interdependent life on Earth in grade school — but are all taught to ignore this reality when it comes to the animals we eat. Cultural conditioning blinds us to the treatment of the animals we don’t consider “pets.” Conditioning enables us to kill billions of animals every year — trillions, really, if you count fish in the ocean — and not even acknowledge that we’re doing it. We are destroying planetary ecosystems that sustain all life on Earth, including our own. Is it really a stretch to refer to this much killing and carnage, on a global scale, as a “holocaust?”
The Animal Holocaust we are all perpetrating is on a scale mind-bogglingly larger than the Nazi Holocaust. 6 million Jews, and an estimated 12 million people overall (including blacks, Catholics, the disabled, and so on) is the huge number of victims who were murdered by the Nazis.
Now compare this monstrous, historical body count to this number: over 70 billion land animals – mostly cows, pigs, chickens and sheep — whom we humans slaughter, and eat, every year.
That’s over 190 million land animals every single day.
And for anyone who’d trot out the argument, “Hey, we humans need to eat,” they won’t like the rebuttal. Because it’s true: “We should just eat the plethora of readily available and inexpensive plant foods, rather than push them through animals so we can then eat the animals. Just remove the middlmanpigcow. Which means we’d need to grow about 1/10th the amount of vegetables, too, on about 1/10th the land we currently deforest, use and degrade to graze cattle for human consumption.
Then we could re-wild those hundreds of millions of acres of pasture land currently given over to methane-emitting cows. Killing and eating cows, despite the deep roots of cowboy romanticism in America, is one of the most inefficient ways imaginable to feed humans. This would also mean we’d finally stop cutting down Earth’s precious rainforests, which is primarily done to graze cattle and grow the (GMO) corn and soy crops to feed them. READ MORE if you don’t believe this.
And if you’ve bought into the beef and dairy industry’s newest public relations scam, so-called “regenerative ranching,” READ THIS WEBPAGE debunking it. Because it’s just the latest ploy to justify continuing the Animal Holocaust.
More likely than not, you’re normal; typical. Meaing, just like me and the vast majority of humans, you were raised in a society that brutalizes and kills animals, but hides it away (especially in the United States), and conditions us all not to ever talk about it, nor even think about the reality of this brutal system.
And if someone wants to even just talk about it, we reflexively push it away, and push them away. If you’ve read this far, you’re already outside the norm. And all the while, the daily Animal Holocaust continues.
So yes, comparing the Nazi Holocaust of the 20th century to the Animal Holocaust of the 21st century is a mistake — because the Animal Holocaust is much larger. And ongoing. And we won’t even talk about it, or dare to call it a holocaust.
But until we use the word holocaust to describe our treatment of animals today, which makes most people feel very uncomfortable, and to think about it, and begin to see it for what it actually is, it will continue.
I know this makes people feel uncomfortable. I too, got away from the people who “push their unpleasant views” on me. Today I know how much more uncomfortable it is for the cow, the pig, the sheep, and the chicken who suffers more than we ever will. And how we also pay a psychic price for avoiding the truth we know, but don’t want to face. Hence the emotional discomfort, the cognitive dissonance, around the topic.
If you eat animal products — including cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream and other dairy products, you are the equivalent of the German citizen during the Second World War who doesn’t want to know about the rumors of concentration camps and gas chambers because, hey, the economy is humming and the country is strong again.
And if you think that’s harsh, watch just 15 minutes of either documentary movie, “Dominion” or “Earthlings,” and then get back to me with your reasoned rebuttal. I’m all ears.
2-min. VIDEO: “Dominion” documentary film trailer:
• Wikipedia’s “Holocaust analogy in animal rights” page
• TreeSpirit’s Eating Animals page: http://www.TreeSpiritProject.com/EatingAnimals
• TreeSpirit’s Go Vegan help page: http://www.TreeSpiritProject.com/vegan