Updated: August 2, 2005
A disturbing development that has emerged in some animal and environmental activist circles is the use of Holocaust imagery to promote their causes. The following is an archive of information related to this topic.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a Norfolk, Virginia, based nonprofit animal rights organization, founded in 1980, is one of the most well known organizations that has utilized Holocaust imagery in their advertising campaigns and on their Web sites.
PETA operates under "the simple principle that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment." PETA claims to educate "policymakers and the public about animal abuse and promotes an understanding of the right of all animals to be treated with respect."
PETA is known for its use of outrageous antics to publicize its radical animal rights agenda. On February 24, 2002, PETA issued a press release unveiling its "Holocaust on Your Plate" exhibit. According to the press release, the exhibit consisted of "eight 60-square-foot panels, each showing photos of factory farm and slaughterhouse scenes side by side with photos from Nazi death camps."
"Inspired by the words of Jewish scholars," PETA wanted to "stimulate contemplation of how the victimization of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others characterized as 'life unworthy of life' during the Holocaust parallels the way that modern society abuses and justifies the slaughter of animals."
On May 5, 2005 (Holocaust Remembrance Day), after the exhibit comparing the treatment of farm animals to the victims of the Nazi concentration camps traveled to over 100 American and foreign cities, PETA issued an apology for its "Holocaust on Your Plate" campaign. PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said she realized that the campaign had caused pain: "This was never our intention, and we are deeply sorry."
PETA had previously used holocaust imagery in a television ad called "They Came for Us at Night," which was aired by a few local cable networks in the U.S. It was also aired in Warsaw in July 2003. The television ad showed the outside world through the slats of a boxcar and is narrated by a man (with an accent) who describes the plight of being transported with no food and water. "I know the ad is provocative," said Dan Mathews, the vice-president of PETA. "But for me, one of the lessons of the Holocaust is to recognize other atrocities as well."
It should also be noted that PETA's relationship with extremist animal rights groups has received increased publicity. In 1995, PETA gave $45,200 to the support committee for Rod Coronado, a convicted arsonist and Animal Liberation Front member, who firebombed a medical research facility at Michigan State University.
In April 2001 PETA gave a direct donation of $1,500 to the Earth Liberation Front, the most active and controversial militant environmentalist group in the U.S.
More Holocaust Imagery
In 2001, Meat.org, an anti-meat eating Web site, included an "Animal Holocaust" section comprised of color photographs of animals with words such as "Holocaust Victim". There is also a series of moving images on the Web site juxtaposing a Swastika flag with the words, "Stop the Animal Holocaust."
Meat.org claims that, "It's easy to see the resemblance of the systematic destruction and slaughter of over six million Jews by the Nazis before and during World War II and the over 20 million animals that are executed every day in America alone. Many of the Jews of the Holocaust were transported to concentration camps in cattle cars to their death. The concentration camps very much resemble the common slaughterhouses of today." Meat.org posts links to the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and PETA.
The Consistency in Compassion Campaign (CCC), a project of the Northwest Animal Rights Network of Seattle, Washington, similarly tried to "provoke debate on the issue of animal suffering on modern factory farms."
According to the Web site, "The term 'Consistency in Compassion' embodies the belief that we should scrutinize the morality of our actions now with the same severity that we scrutinize the actions of those in history. Today we are faced with a moral dilemma equal to that of those who chose to fight against the genocidal beliefs of the Nazi Party. Let us now respond to that moral dilemma with equal contempt for the victimization of non-human animals."
To this end, CCC created an ad, which uses photographs of undressed dead Holocaust victims in a pit at a concentration camp with photographs of dead cows and a swastika. The Web site included a "Frequently Asked Questions" page, which discussed whether or not the ad is anti-Semitic. "CCC believes the Holocaust stands for much more than the one event. It represents a place and time when supremacist thinking was so embedded in a culture that they were blind or apathetic to the evil that existed in their everyday world. This kind of thinking is not exclusive to just that time and place. The great blind spot of our country and Western Civilization for that matter is the mistreatment and disregard for non-human animals in nearly every capacity."
The group further claimed that the ad is not anti-Semitic because, "We have volunteers and contributors to this campaign who are of Jewish descent and understand that the comparison is only drawn to illustrate common patterns and catastrophic results of supremacist thinking."
The "Experimentation" section of the site included the following statement: "Josef Mengele, a medical researcher, came to Auschwitz in May, 1943." Texts detailing the experiments of Mengele then follow. The text pertaining specifically to animals states: "Unfortunately, sadism and evil in the medical sciences did not die with Josef Mengele. In laboratories across the country, tens of millions of sentient animals are subjected to experiments equally as cruel and pointless as Mengele's each year."
The San Francisco-based Web site of the magazine No Compromise hosted information for "grassroots animal liberationists by providing a forum where activists can exchange information." For at least six months, the Web site introduced the Animal Liberation Front with the following quotes:
"If we are trespassing, so were the soldiers who broke down the gates of Hitler's death camps;
If we are thieves, so were the members of the Underground Railroad who freed the slaves of the South;
And if we are vandals, so were those who destroyed Forever the gas chambers of Buchenwald and Auschwitz."
In July 2000, a one-page commentary titled, "The Animal Holocaust", appeared on a list-service. The article compares the killing of animals for food to the Holocaust. "There is no excuse at all for this Holocaust. What is the reason why this Holocaust is occurring…? It's time to stop the Animal Holocaust! Support the Animal Liberation Front!"
The cover article for The Animals' Agenda (March/April 2002) is another example of equating the Holocaust with the farming of chickens. The cover story, "The Holocaust and Animal Exploitation" is written by Charles Patterson, author of Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust.
The book, Eternal Treblinka, draws links between the ideologies and persecutions of various historical eras to the ways people treated animals during those times, emphasizing throughout the extent to which persecuted groups have been likened to animals. It traces a progression from ancient Sumeria - where the same word allegedly referred both to castrated slave boys and young domesticated animals - to the antiseptic extermination machineries of the modern world.
"Although the U.S. eventually went to war against Hitler," writes Charles Patterson, the book's author, in the afterword, "his world view lives on in the land of the victors."
"Each day millions of lambs, calves, pigs, chickens…are transported to killing centers to be slaughtered for the tables of the master species….Fortified by denial, indifference, and mindless custom that stretches back to our primitive origins, our oppressive exploitation seems hopelessly eternal."
Patterson, who has written histories of anti-Semitism and the civil rights movement, as well as a recent overview of the industrial use of animals, lists dozens of animal rights groups that he says support the "idea" of the book. Yet his treatment of some of the book's themes move from the offensive and ridiculous to the absurd. Apparently compelled to demonstrate that Hitler could not have been a vegetarian (nor have liked them), Patterson writes:
"Hitler discovered that when he reduced his meat intake, he did not sweat as much, and there were fewer stains in his underwear. He also became convinced that eating vegetables improved the odors of his flatulence, a condition that distressed him terribly and caused him much embarrassment….Nonetheless, Hitler never gave up his favorite meat dishes, especially Bavarian sausages, liver dumplings, and stuffed and roasted game….
The books also devotes extended sections to "Holocaust-Connected Animal Advocates" - survivors and others "influenced by Holocaust images and lessons" to speak out on behalf of the treatment of animals. One chapter is dedicated to Isaac Bashevis Singer, who was well-known for his vegetarianism and concern for animals - and from whose writing the book gets its title.
"Whatever his dietary preferences, Hitler showed little sympathy for the vegetarian cause in Germany. When he came to power in 1933, he banned all the vegetarian societies in Germany….Nazi persecution forced German vegetarians, a tiny minority in a nation of carnivores, either to flee the country or go underground."