The Nazi prohibition on animal cruelty was far-reaching and comprehensive. During its years in power, the Nazi party passed laws prohibiting anything that could cause an animal distress. It was made illegal to injure animals while making films or to produce foie gras by force-feeding geese. Special regulations were drafted regarding the legal way to transport animals from place to place. And the prevention of cruelty to animals was considered so important that it became a mandatory subject in school.
Not only were all German children taught about the right way to treat animals, but they were instructed to admire Hitler for his commitment to the well-being of animals. A Nazi children’s publication once asked German children, “Do you know that your Führer is a vegetarian and that he does not eat meat because of his general attitude toward life and his love for animals? The Führer is an ardent opponent of any torture of animals… thus fulfilling his role as the savior of animals.” In this instance, Hitler’s stance against animal cruelty was presented as an example of his innate benevolence.
The hypocrisy between Nazi treatment of animals and their treatment of humans seems absolutely staggering. Hitler had sympathy for animals, but none for people. There are accounts of Hitler watching movies with his associates that shows the different ways he viewed animals and people. During scenes where animals were killed, Hitler would become upset and cover his eyes. But if he witnessed a scene where animals were killing people, he had no trouble watching.
So, the question of why Hitler would be a vegetarian has puzzled historians for a long time. But there are two theories that could offer an explanation. The first possibility is that many Nazis didn’t see vegetarianism as an ethical choice. Rather than being about trying to prevent suffering, these laws may have actually been tied up in Nazi theories about race. And Hitler’s theories about race and vegetarianism are likely due to the influence of his favorite composer, Richard Wagner.
Wagner proposed that man’s original diet was vegetarian. The move towards eating meat was, in Wagner’s mind, the cause of a gradual mental and physical decay in the human species. Hitler seems to have held similar opinions and for Hitler, anything he believed in was tied up in a wider conception of racial superiority. Hitler was striving to create a race of Germans that were physically, morally, and mentally superior. Thus, refusing to eat meat was part of the effort to improve the fitness of the German race. In the transcripts of Hitler’s dinner-time rants, he often mentions a future where Germans are strong because they are all vegetarians.