Dr. Charles Patterson, author of the groundbreaking book
ETERNAL TREBLINKA, which he dedicated to the Yiddish writer and Nobel
Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, laments that on the occasion of the Singer
Centennial (Singer was born in Poland on July 14, 1904) an important part
of his legacy is being ignored. Singer was the most powerful pro-animal
voice in modern literature and a passionately comitted vegetarian, but you
would never know it from centennial observances taking place in his name.
(PRWEB) July 6, 2004 -- Charles Patterson, author of the
highly acclaimed book "Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the
Holocaust," regrets that most people honoring the centennial of the
Yiddish writer and Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-91) are
unaware just how important his vegetarianism was to him and what a central
theme it was in his writings. Most of the main characters in his novels
and short stories either are vegetarians, become vegetarians, or think
about becoming vegetarians.
From an early age Singer was greatly upset by the abuse
and killing of animals he saw around him in Poland. His indignation was so
strong that he thought that there should be an Eleventh Commandment: "Do
not kill or exploit the animal. Don't eat its flesh, don't flail its hide,
don't force it to do things against its nature."
"The longer I am a vegetarian,” he wrote, “the more I feel
how wrong it is to kill animals and eat them. I think that eating meat or
fish is a denial of all ideals, even of all religions. How can we pray to
God for mercy if we ourselves have no mercy? How can we speak of right and
justice if we take an innocent creature and shed its blood? Every kind of
killing seems to me savage and I find no justification for it."
The Holocaust made a deep impression on Singer. Although
he escaped it by following his older brother Joshua to the United States
in 1935, his mother, younger brother, and many members of his extended
family who remained in Poland were killed. Singer’s stories and novels set
in America are mostly about Holocaust survivors and refugees from Europe.
Although he did not write about the Holocaust directly, it
was the ever present lens through which he viewed the world, especially
when it came to the killing of animals. The central character in his short
story "The Letter Writer," a Holocaust survivor, declares: "In relation to
them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka."
In his foreword to a book about vegetarianism published in
1979, Singer wrote: "We know now, as we have always known instinctively,
that animals can suffer as much as human beings. Their emotions and their
sensitivity are often stronger than those of a human being. Various
philosophers and religious leaders tried to convince their disciples and
followers that animals are nothing more than machines without a soul,
without feelings. However, anyone who has ever lived with an animal--be it
a dog, bird or even a mouse--knows that this theory is a brazen lie,
invented to justify cruelty."
Singer warned that as long as human beings go on shedding
the blood of animals, there will never be any peace. "There is only one
little step from killing animals to creating gas chambers a la
Hitler...There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife
or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is."
Singer was a patron of the International Jewish Vegetarian
Society, and in 1986 he received the "Jewish Vegetarian of the Year" award
from the Jewish Vegetarians of North America.
In Israel the organization CHAI (Concern for Helping
Animals in Israel) built an Isaac Bashevis Singer Humane Education Center
at the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in Tel
Aviv. The center contains an extensive library of books and videos about
animals and animal issues and conducts educational programs, including
CHAI's "Living Together" program that brings together Jewish and Arab
children to learn about and help animals.
At dinners in his honor where chicken was usually served,
Singer would decline the main course. Once when a woman asked him if he
didn’t eat chicken for "health reasons," he said, "Yes, for the health of
Singer was one of the most powerful pro-animal voices of
the twentieth century and the first major writer in modern literature to
use the Holocaust analogy to describe the exploitation and slaughter of
animals. This important part of the Singer legacy should not be ignored or
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