Section: Animals and the Holocaust
Reviews of Eternal Treblinka
Confronting the Frozen Sea Within: Book Review by
After Charles Patterson wrote the manuscript of Eternal Treblinka,
he was confronted by an unwelcome discovery: no one, it seemed, wanted
to publish his book. Publisher after publisher complained that Eternal
Treblinka was too strong.
In the preface of Eternal Treblinka, Patterson reveals that
while he struggled to find a publisher, he found solace in this passage
Franz Kafka: I think we ought to read only books that bite and
sting us. If the book we are reading doesnt shake us awake like
a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So it
can make us happy? Good God, wed be just as happy if we had
no books at all...A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within
It is understandable why many publishers shied away from Eternal
Treblinka. The book is a straightforward, unblinking discussion
of the parallels, direct and indirect, between the treatment of animals
during the history of humankind and the treatment of Jews during the
Holocaust. In short, Eternal Treblinka argues that if we lived
in an ethically vegetarian world, the Holocaust might never have happened.
For carnivores, Eternal Treblinka is an uncomfortable read. Early
on, Patterson puts the human species in a biological and historical
perspective that many humans prefer to ignore.
He notes, for example, that anthropologists Roger Lewin and Richard
Leakey, in their book Origins, ask the reader to think of the history
of the earth as a 1,000-page book. If each page covers four and
a half million years, it would take 750 pages just to reach the beginnings
of life in the sea, writes Patterson. Hominids would
not appear until three pages from the end of the book, and the first
of stone tools would show up halfway down the final page. The story
of homo sapiens would be told in the very last line of the book,
everything from cave paintings and the pyramids to the Holocaust
and computer age jammed into the final word.
Likewise, Patterson deftly chops down the notion cherished by many
humans that they are not animals but instead are Gods finest creation
and blessed with immortality. He quotes authorities like Edward O. Wilson
who has opined, It was a misfortune for the living world in particular,
many scientists believe, that a carnivorous primate and not some more
benign form of animal made the breakthrough as the planets
One of the most controversial ideas in Eternal Treblinka is
that the domestication (read, domination) of animals for agriculture
responsible for human slavery. Feminist Elizabeth Fisher, notes Patterson,
has maintained that it was the vertical, hierarchical positioning
of human master over animal slave that intensified human cruelty
laid the foundation for human slavery. The violation of animals expedited
the violation of human beings.
Similarly, Patterson quotes Karl Jacoby who argues that it seems more
than coincidental that the region that yields the first evidence of
agriculture, the Middle East, is the same one that yields the first
evidence of slavery. In the ancient Near East, writes Jacoby,
slavery was little more than the extension of domestication to
humans. To drive the point home, Patterson cites numerous examples
of how practices used to control and dominate animal slaves, such
branding and castration, chaining and whipping, even ear cropping,
were used to control human slaves.
As Charles Darwin put it: Animals who we have made our slaves,
we do not like to consider our equals.
Among the books treasures are its portraits of Jewish and German
Holocaust-connected animal advocates, such as Christa Blanke, a German
Lutheran pastor who founded Animals Angels, which specializes
in combating livestock transport in Europe, and the anonymous son of
a former Auschwitz doctor who says in an interview: There are
two kinds of people: meat eaters and plant eaters. The meat eaters
the dangerous ones.
Lastly, congratulations to Martin Rowe and Lantern Books for publishing
Eternal Treblinka. Despite its unwelcome message, we are blessed
to have the book.