Animal Suffering and the Holocaust

by Roberta Kalechofsky

pbk.    60 pgs


Animal suffering and the Holocaust: The Trouble With Comparisons was written in response to PETA"s campaign, "Holocaust On Your Plate." While I symapthize with PETA's aim--and am a member of PETA--I ojected to this use of the Holocaust. Below, in capsule form, are my reasons.

"As the founder and president of Jews for Animal Rights, and as a vegetarian of many years, I share your horror at the cruelty that is inflicted on animals because human beings eat them. Plutarch summed up this misery 1800 years ago with the poignant statement: "What pain we bring into this world for a little taste upon the tongue." I wish everyone could wear that insight engraved on their souls.

However, I do object to PETA's advertisement, linking the consumption of animals with the Holocaust. When the Women's Movement compared middle class women to slaves, I objected to that, though I count myself as a feminist who believes in many of the goals of the Women's Movement. When PETA took out an ad comparing Jeffrey Daumer's cannibalism to eating meat, I wrote a letter to PETA, objecting to that. I could only shudder at the pain the families of Jeffrey Daumer's victims must have felt on seeing PETA's ad, and having to relive the horror of what their children went through. PETA used this painful moment to attempt to force a symbolism on the public, which some of us might understand, but which you cannot expect suffering people to understand.

The reason I object to comparing women to slaves and eating meat to the Holocaust--and other such comparisons---is that these comparisons blend all evils together and eliminate the crucially different histories of these different wrongs. Ultimately this makes it impossible for us to understand the Holocaust or slavery, or animal cruelty, and leads to ignorance about evils rather than to enlightenment. I agree with I.B. Singer's statement, that "Every day is Treblinka for the animals,"with the thesis of Debra Cohn-Spiegel's book, The Dreaded Comparison, with such statement as "Pain is pain, no matter who suffers it," made by the clergyman, Humphrey Primatt, in his nineteenth century defense of animals.

But the term, the Holocaust, is a pointer to a two thousand year old history of confict between Jews and Christians. Hitler understood his goal of eliminating Jews in this context. So do most Jews and many Christians. Clergyman such as the Rev. Roy Eckhardt, understand that the Holocaust was not a response to racism, but a racist response to a theological conflict between Jews and Christians. Using the term, "the Holocaust," in an advertisement to bring attention to the agony of animals, ignores this complex history.

I have given papers and talks at Holocaust conferences on the origin of experimentation on human beings, and the comparison between experimentation on animals and on human beings. No one has ever raised an objection, and one of my papers is in an anthology of articles on the Holocaust , "Bearing Witness." I believe the reason for the receptivity to my talks is that I take care to explain the historical context of the Holocaust---not to eliminate it.

The agony of animals arises from different causes from those of the Holocaust. Human beings do not hate animals. They do not eat them because they hate them. They do not experiment on them because they hate them, they do not hunt them because they hate them. These were the motives for the Holocaust. Human beings have no ideological or theological conflict with animals. If pain is the only operative metaphor, as it was in PETA's advertisement, then why not compare the agony of an animal being led to the slaughterhouse with the agony of a child dying of cancer, having his insides eviscerated, radiated, blown out and put back in again.

I have seen the faces of dying children. It would never occur to me to say to their parents, "Now you know how an animal feels. Some agonies are too total to be compared with other agonies. 

ISBN 0-916288-49-8   Animal Suffering and the Holocaust