Loved His Liver Dumplings
Book Review by Mickey Z.
Hitler: Neither Vegetarian
Nor Animal Lover by Rynn Berry (New York: Pythagorean Publishers,
2004). Introduction by Martin Rowe. $10.95 paperback. 81 pages.
When you dwell in a heavily conditioned society such as ours, those
who spout conventional wisdom are rarely asked for evidence. This goes
for the left or the right. Take Michael Moore...please. He has done
much to infuriate the status quo media, but when he says “vegetarian
is unhealthy” or “humans need protein, and lots of it”
or “put down those sprouts and pick up a T-bone!” his flesh-eating
exhortations fit neatly between commercials and typically have all the
talking heads nodding in unison. If he appeared on the same TV show
and declared that cow’s milk is only for calves, he wouldn’t
even have enough time to address the raucous and mocking demands for
reams of documentation.
Rynn Berry boldly dispenses with any protocol by getting his unconventional
declaration out of the way right up front in the book’s title:
Adolf Hitler was “neither vegetarian nor animal lover.” There,
he said it. Now what...and why does it matter?
As Martin Rowe explains in an introduction that comprises about a third
of this slim volume, Hitler’s dietary choices may not be of vast
historical importance...but instead they do hold polemical value. Belligerent
meat-eaters often toss off the “But Hitler was a vegetarian”
line as an alleged method of discrediting a plant-based diet. After
all, their “logic” goes, if the epitome of evil himself
eschewed meat, what possible good could come from such a lifestyle?
While this premise obviously lacks even a shred of intellectual validity,
one cannot discount the emotional power invoked by associating Nazism
with vegetarianism. Berry himself has dealt directly with this phenomenon.
As the author of Famous Vegetarians and Their Recipes, he tells of facing
“at every bookstore signing, at every lecture, on every phone-in
talk show, at least one person (who) has asked...half-mockingly: ‘Is
Hitler in your book?’” Thus, in the name of setting the
record straight, Berry has marshaled the evidence necessary to take
on the Hitler-as-veggie dogma.
Interestingly, most of what Berry has dug up displays an even more
variable use of the label “vegetarian” than we endure today. Robert
Payne, a Hitler biographer, explains that the German dictator “had
no fondness for meat except in the form of sausages, and never ate fish,
he enjoyed caviar.” (Is sausage considered a vegetable in Germany?)
A second biographer wrote: “Hitler’s vegetarianism was quite
strict...He avoided any kind of meat, with the exception of an Austrian
dish he loved, Leberknödl.”
For those of you scoring at home, Leberknödl are liver dumplings.
Even the venerable New York Times fell prey to the amazing elasticity
of the term “vegetarianism.” In a May 30, 1937 article entitled,
“At Home with the Führer,” the newspaper of record
found this passage fit to print:
“It is well known that Hitler is a vegetarian and does not drink
or smoke. His lunch and dinner consist, therefore, for the most part
of soup, eggs, vegetables, and mineral water, although he occasionally
relishes a slice of ham and relieves the tediousness of his diet with
such delicacies as caviar.”
That revealing description—veggies are tedious, flesh is a delicacy—is
how the Times typically portrays a plant-based diet, to this day. It
also helps illustrate why Nazis like Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels
attempted to portray Hitler as a veggie lover. As Martin Rowe explains,
Goebbels “wanted the German people to imagine a leader selflessly
dedicated to his people and, through his abstention from tobacco, alcohol,
and meat, contributing to the cleansing of the body politic.” As
the Times cleverly hinted at, the tedium of vegetarianism (even with
the occasional slice of ham to relish) would require a man of impressive
discipline to adhere to it.
In a society less inundated by propaganda than ours, Berry’s book
would be superfluous. Hitler’s non-vegetarian status would be
apparent...and even if the Führer didn’t eat meat, few would
regard this as a judgment on vegetarianism. However, this is America,
the land of denial, and that means books like Hitler: Neither Vegetarian
Nor Animal Lover are required reading. It also means we can expect
more myth shattering from Rynn Berry.
Mickey Z. is the author of two new books:
A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense
(Prime Books) and Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind
War Propaganda (Common Courage Press). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.