Facts about: What Sort of [So-Called] Vegetarian was Hitler?
Donal O'Driscoll, Oct 1998
For those fighting for the abolition of vivisection it
is not uncommon to be labeled as Nazis by its
defenders in their efforts to discredit with ad hominem attacks when their
science fails them. This is not simply a question of basic insult.
head continually rises as the pro-vivisection have found themselves a bit
of twentieth century mythology of sufficient impact to latch onto. What it
boils down to is that the Nazi Party of Hitler's German claimed to respect
animal rights and therefore all animal rights activists must be of the
The flaw in this argument is apparent to all who pause
for a minute to think about the logic behind it. The same logic would have
us branding as fascist anyone with blue eyes and blond hair.
Rather than go into detail as to the various logical
flaws of this stand point - odd for men and women of science where logic
is the basis of their work, we are going to concentrate on the Nazis
themselves and see how far the claims made by the pro-vivisectionists for
them are actually true. This roughly divides into two issues: the extent
and nature of vivisection in Nazi Germany and the laws controlling the use
of animals in their science and society; and what sort of vegetarian was
Hitler. The former has already been explored elsewhere in the essays and
work of Roberta Kalechofsky (Founder of Jews for Animal Rights)  and
It is the latter we shall concentrate on in this article
since there seems to be as much confusion among those fighting vivisection
as those proposing it. Though some would argue that we can not separate
Hitler's opinion on vivisection and vegetarianism, this article is being
constructed from the point of view of criticisms leveled at the modern
anti-vivisection and vegetarianism movements which are sufficiently
distinct to make this separation necessary to keep the issues at stake
clear. For those who say that Hitler was a supporter of animal rights as
defined in the modern language of Singer and Regan, then the quick answer
is that in this philosophy there is no room for a person who tests out his
cyanide pill on his pet dog.
On of the first things we must be careful not to do is
to dismiss the claims out of hand immediately. If we are to be strong as a
movement we must be able to defeat our detractors at their own game and
take them on with their standards.
If we do this and succeed then we have made them look
foolish; not doing this leaves us open to the perennial accusation of
simply being ignorant cranks.
Hiding from the fact Hitler claimed to be vegetarian is
not going to do any good. What we need to do is to show how this supposed
vegetarianism was nothing more than a claim, in part promoted by the Nazi
spin doctors, in part a weak man deluding himself.
The answer to the "accusation" that Hitler was a
vegetarian, is that those who make this claim are as much victims of the
man as those who believed in his lies at the time. Hindsight has given us
the advantage to see through his other claims and posturing so why should
we fall for this one as well.
We will start with the question as to why Hitler
espoused vegetarianism then discuss how good a vegetarian he was. What
seems to accepted through out the various sources and historians that this
claim first surfaces in or before the year 1931. After this we get into
the principle region of confusion as there seemingly two schools of
The first is that Hitler was told to go vegetarian on
the advice of his doctors.
In the years of the Weimar Republic which governed
Germany following World War I until the Nazis took power, vegetarianism
was seen as a health fad for which much good was claimed. In particular it
was espoused by one of Hitler's heroes,
the composer Wagner. Wagner believed that vegetarianism
promoted vitality, long life and physical fitness, all things important to
Hitler (though not practised by) and which he was to attribute to
vegetarianism. Hitler also had a chronic stomach condition which was to
trouble him for the majority of his life.
Connected with this was a flatulence problem. He
believed that a diet of vegetables helped to settle his stomach and remove
the odors of the latter.
The second is that Hitler went vegetarian as a result of
the death of his niece Geli in 1931. Geli, full name
Angela Raubal, was the daughter of Hitler's step-sister who was acting as
his housekeeper from 1929. Between 1929 and 1931 Hitler became very
attached to Geli, forming a possessive and jealous relationship over her
that developed into an infatuation. His feeling for her does not appear to
have been reciprocated and in September 1938 she shot herself.
There are several theories around her death and some
mystery remains due to lack of direct evidence more than anything else,
however the important issue here is that it had a very profound effect on
Hitler. For the rest of his life he had a photo of her in his room which
flowers were placed in front of every year on the anniversaries of her
birth and her death. Many statements as to Hitler's vegetarianism are
derived from this period. Indeed the diaries of one of his secretaries
states that it was as a result of Geli's death that he turned vegetarian.
So which of the above view points are correct? The first
thing to note that his doctors recommended that he went vegetarian but he
did not seem to follow their advice more than intermittently. However, the
idea was planted in his mind and the death of his niece, which we know
made a profound and lasting shock on him.
His vegetarianism, or rather his definition of it, seems
to have become stronger after the death of Geli Raubal. Up until then
vegetarianism was associated with his feeling better from his stomach
problems and other conditions, though there was some evidence that there
was some cross pollination of the idea of meat being bad for him with the
idea of death, another very important subject in his life was already
occurring in the early 1920's, viz during his relationship with Mimi
However, it was not until Geli's death, triggering a
much more pronounced fixation with death did he start to fully link it
with his own health which in turn, following doctors and Wagner, he linked
with vegetarianism. The result is now an abhorrence of meat and the real
espousal of vegetarianism as a way of life, as can be so readily found in
the diaries of Goebbels. That it is the death of Geli which brought about
this shift of position, from a health fad to a full blown way of life is
testified to in the diaries of his secretaries at the time and the well
known comment to Goering that he refused to eat a piece of ham on the
grounds it reminded him of a corpse. This position has been taken by a
number of historians including Albert Speer, Robert Payne and John Toland.
Hitler's friend, Frau Hess, is given in Toland as having
said that he never ate meat after Geli's death except liver dumplings.
So on the face of it the evidence so far does seem to
support the ascertain that Hitler was a vegetarian. However, we still have
to discuss how well he carried it out. Are we going to simply accept the
ideal of the aestic leader, favoured by Goebbels
, of which the vegetarianism was wound in to promote further
comparisons with Ghandi? As with much in his life in this too he was a
chronic liar both to himself and others . And not even consistently at
Pre 1931 we have the situation familiar to many of us -
we hear and appreciate the doctors advice but in the face of giving up a
pleasure we do not necessarily follow it. This holds equally true of
Hitler. His love of certain meat, in particular liver dumplings and
Bavarian sausages  is well known and he found it hard to give up meat
altogether. It mostly depended on how much trouble he was receiving from
his stomach as to how seriously he took the vegetarian diet.
In 1931 and after, Hitler was already well on his way to
power but in the words of the historian David Irving: "By 1936 Hitler was
an extremely cranky vegetarian" and even his idea of what a vegetarian
seems to deviate quite significantly from what we currently take the word
to mean. In the late 1930's we have the testimony of a hotel chef in
Hamburg called Dione Lucas saying that Hitler's favourate dish was stuffed
and roasted baby pigeon . In 1937 there was an article in the New York
Times on Hitler where he is described as a vegetarian who loved ham and
It is important to point out here that there are
documented cased where he ordered his chef to prepare vegetarian dishes
, but as pointed out above this can be regarded as him reacting to
increased stomach trouble at the time. Looking closer at this statement it
is odd that for such a powerful figure that he would have to specifically order vegetarian dishes, when if he was such a
professed vegetarian this should be taken as a matter of course.
This all fits in with the details given in the "The
Medical Casebook of Adolf Hitler" by Leonard and Renate Heston , which
chronicles his stomach aliments and the various food explorations that he
tried to settle it. The overall picture is that he was more concerned
about his own mortality and pain, but when he felt good he was not adverse
to delving back into meat. Meanwhile, he was keeping up the facade of a
vegetarian diet to his friends as is attested in
Goebbels diaries , the latter fulling believing Hitler's sermonizing on
For a person who manage to stamp so much of himself on
the country he ruled at the time, there is no evidence that he tried to do
the same with vegetarianism, yet he enforced
other stringent health measures including anti-smoking laws.
Indeed the opposite seems to have been the case if the
treatment of the various vegetarian societies are anything to go by.
Though individual vegetarians were not persecuted, their societies were
being forced to leave the International Vegetarian Union and subjected to
Gestapo raids and stringent conditions.
So what are we left with? Accepting that Hitler was a
proclaimed vegetarian we get a very poor impression of what that actually
meant. Certainly by our standards he would he would not rank as one. At
best he appears as a hypocrite, his problems not medical but seated much
deeper in his psyche, a psyche with a very nasty inferiority complex and
mendacious tendencies. His reasons for his belief were based on health,
not moral, grounds. In fact I would go so far as to say that Hitler's
vegetarianism is nothing more than a label he adopted to suite himself.
Those who use the two words together are guilty of falling foul of
Hitler's own propaganda. In their glee they seize on the fact that the
words can be used in the same sentence with out understanding the context
in which they are given.
The answer to the "accusation" that Hitler was a
vegetarian, is to ask do they believe liver dumplings, caviar and ham to
be vegetarian; are they going to listen to a liar who could not even
follow his own teachings?
 "The Goebbels Diaries 1939-41", translated by Fred Taylor, 1982
 "The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler', Robert Waite, 1977
 "Life and Death of Adolf Hitler", Robert Payne, 1973
 "Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook", Dione Lucas
 "Hitler, A Study in Tyranny", Alan Bullock, 1994
 "The Medical Casebook of Adolf Hitler", Leonard & Renate Heston,
 "Hitler and Vegetarianism", Roberta Kalechofsky, http://www.micahbooks.com/
 "Adolf Hitler", John Toland, 1976
I would like to thank Jez Caudle and JP Goodwin for their help
researching this article.