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ETERNAL TREBLINKA describes disturbing parallels between how the Nazis treated their victims and how modern society treats animals. The title is taken from a story by the Yiddish writer and Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer: "In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka."
The Foreword is by Lucy Kaplan, former attorney for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. ETERNAL TREBLINKA has already received support from more than 200 humane, animal protection, and environmental groups around the world.
One bitterly ironic feature of killing operations is their attempt to make the killing more "humane." By "humane," the operatives mean they want the killing to be done more efficiently and to be less stressful on the killers. The truth is, of course, they're not really interested in being "humane." If they were, they wouldn't be killing in the first place.
As Nazi Germany began implementing its eugenic policies, both Hitler and Himmler wanted the policies to be "more humane." Hitler believed it was more humane to kill defective children: "The exposure of the sick, weak, deformed children, in short their destruction, was more decent and in truth a thousand times more humane than the wretched insanity of our day, which seeks to preserve the most pathological subjects." During his 1939 meeting with Karl Brandt, whom he appointed head of the T4 program, Hitler used the expression again when they talked about the best way to kill mentally ill Germans. When Brandt told him about the various options under consideration, including the use of carbon monoxide gas, Hitler asked him, "Which is the more humane way?" Brandt recommended gas, and Hitler gave his authorization. In the Political Testament Hitler wrote in his bunker in Berlin the day before he committed suicide, he spoke about the "humane" method that had been used to exterminate the Jews.
In August 1941, during his visit to Minsk in German-occupied Russia, Heinrich Himmler told Artur Nebe, the commander of Einsatzgruppe B, that he wanted to watch a liquidation up close to see what it was like. So Nebe ordered his men to round up about 100 Jews. As the shooting proceeded, Himmler became uneasy, dropping his eyes after each volley. After the liquidation was over, SS Obergruppenfuhrer von dem Bach-Zelewski, who had also been present, said to Himmler, "Look at the eyes of the men in this Kommando, how deeply shaken they are! These men are finished for the rest of their lives. What kind of followers are we training here? Either neurotics or savages!"
In his talk to the men to boost their morale, Himmler conceded that the duty they were performing was "repulsive," but he reminded them that it was their duty as German soldiers to carry out their orders unconditionally. He told them that he assumed full responsibility before God and Hitler for everything that was happening and that the job they were ordered to do was obeying "the highest law."
Accompanied by Nebe and von dem Bach-Zelewski, Himmler next went to inspect a nearby mental asylum, which he also found disturbing. He told Nebe to end the inmates' suffering as quickly as possible. Then, after Nebe's men shot the patients, Himmler told Nebe to try to find another way of killing that was "more humane."
Dr. Wilhelm Pfonnerstiel, professor of hygiene at the University of Marburg and a SS lieutenant colonel, reported after the war on his wartime visit to the Belzec extermination camp. "I wanted to know in particular if the process of exterminating human beings was accompanied by any act of cruelty." He admitted the operation had not been as humane as he would have liked. "I found it especially cruel that death did not set in until eighteen minutes had passed." He was also concerned about the welfare of the SS men doing the killing.
During his trial after the war, Anton Kaindl, the former commandant of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, declared in his depositions that Richard Glucks, the inspector of concentration camps, ordered the camp commandants to have gas chambers built on the model of those at Auschwitz. Exterminations at Sachsenhausen had been carried out by shooting or hangings until 1943, when Kaindl introduced gas chambers because "the existing facilities were no longer sufficient for the exterminations planned." The head doctor assured him that the use of prussic acid led to instantaneous death. "This is why I considered the installation of gas chambers suitable, and also more humane, for mass executions."
Those who kill "humanely" often contend that their victims suffer minimally or not at all. This contention helps ease their guilt and makes the continuation of the killing more acceptable. Robert Juhrs of the SS, whose job at Belzec was to shoot the arrivals who were no longer able to walk, said that because of the poor condition of the Jews after their long journey in indescribably overcrowded freight cars, he looked on shooting them "as a kindness and a release. I shot the Jews with a machine gun from the edge of the ditch. In each case I aimed for the head, so that each one died instantly. I can say with absolute certainly that not one of them suffered."
In 1958, the United States Congress passed the Humane Slaughter Act to make the slaughter of farm animals "more humane." The law required that animals whose meat is sold to the federal government or its agencies be "rendered insensible to pain" by means of "a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut."
At committee hearings on the bill prior to its passage, one witness recommended wider use of a stunning mechanism then in use in some places that had already been tested on calves, lambs, and pigs. Originally proposed by John Macfarlane of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the device had been developed by Remington Arms, a weapons manufacturer working in conjunction with the American Meat Institute and the American Humane Association. The witness demonstrated to the committee how the stunning mechanism worked. "Contact of this trigger rod with the animal's head discharges the cartridge," he explained, "forcing this out and striking the animal's head."
Nearly five centuries earlier Leonardo da Vinci had predicted that "the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men," but that time had obviously not yet arrived in America. At no point in the hearings did anyone question or object to killing animals. All parties concerned with the bill, animal welfare groups included, were interested only that the animals be killed "humanely."
The fact that the final law exempted religious ritual slaughter led some people to criticize Jewish ritual slaughter as "inhumane" because it requires that the animal must be conscious when he or she is killed. However, as Brian Klug points out: "I have witnessed the slaughter of animals at a number of slaughterhouses. None of it, whether performed by religious or secular methods, impressed me as being anything other than a pitiful way to treat one's fellow creatures. Singling out Muslim and Jewish methods in the name of the animals strikes me as invidious. Dignifying other methods with the word 'humane' is, to my mind, adding insult to the ultimate injury."
In 1978, Congress amended the Humane Slaughter Act so that its provisions covered all federally inspected slaughterhouses, not just those that sold meat to the federal government. Once again, humane and animal welfare groups, as well as the meat industry, voiced their support. John Macfarlane returned to the second set of hearings to testify on behalf of the proposed amendments. In the intervening two decades, Macfarlane had left his post at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to become a livestock handling consultant and a member of the board of directors of the Livestock Conservation Institute.
Several spokespersons from the humane community stressed that the slaughter method that rendered animals unconscious made the operation more efficient, economical, and less stressful for those who did the killing. Emily Gleockler of Humane Information Services spoke of support for the bill by meatpackers who "found humane slaughter practices more efficient in labor utilization and resulting in lower costs." She assured the committee that the bill would "not impose any significant burden on the government which enforces it, on the livestock industry, the meat-packing industry, or consumers." What burden it might impose on the animals being slaughtered she did not say. Another spokesperson from the animal welfare community emphasized that "humane slaughter in the long run saves money for packing plants" and helps avoid "labor difficulties." By "difficulties" she presumably meant mental and emotional stress on slaughterhouse workers.
Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg's observation about German attempts to find more humane ways to conduct their killing operations is relevant here: "The 'humaneness' of the destruction process was an important factor in its success. It must be emphasized, of course, that this 'humaneness' was evolved not for the benefit of the victims but for the welfare of the perpetrators."
I definitely learned some new things reading this book. Not only about the holocaust, but at how similar animals are treated and exterminated compared to the Jews. And how much the animal agriculture industry influenced "The Final Solution".Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.