The Propagander ™ FAQ: Was Hitler a Vegetarian?

Was Hitler a Vegetarian?

This question may seem very minor--and is. Nonetheless, increased understanding of a historical figure consists of accuracy in the small points as well as the large. The small details in a painting may be minor, but paintings would be pretty boring without them. Historical research is often a sort of reverse Pointillism, and these tiny points of detail are the little pixels that make up a complete picture.

One often hears that Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian, but what evidence is there that this is a true statement? There are many who consider that those who adopt a vegetarian lifestyle are hoeing a difficult row, and that the life-affirming and Green aspects of this choice are admirable. Why should Hitler get credit for the adoption of an admirable lifestyle when the reality is that he really did not? Or did he?

Many reasons have been put forward to explain why Hitler was drawn to vegetarianism, but most of them have no documented evidence to support them. Among these are that Hitler developed an aversion to meat after nursing his mother's wound from a massive mastectomy during her losing battle with breast cancer; viewing the dead body of his niece, Geli, after her suicide; and his alleged love for animals. There is no proof for any of these suppositions, and they will not be dealt with here.

It is documented that Hitler was what can only be called a fussy eater.

From The Medical Casebook of Adolf Hitler, by Leonard and Renate Heston:

Starting in the early 1930s, Adolf Hitler began experiencing episodes of sharp, cramping pain in his right upper abdomen. The pain appeared shortly after meals, and when it did, Hitler would usually leave the room. Sometimes he returned 'after the spasm had passed', as Albert Speer described it, and sometimes he did not return at all. 'After every meal the pain begins!' Hitler exclaimed in exasperation. Occasionally the pain began during a meal, and Hitler, obviously greatly distressed, would leave the table. He also complained of abdominal distension accompanied by duller pain and frequent belching. From the start, the cramping pain appeared for no evident reason and then disappeared after a time. There were days marked by incapacitating pain, days with only nagging soreness, and intervals of weeks to months without pain. But the pain always returned, and it was to do so for the rest of his life. He was in his early forties at the time and he had never before been seriously ill . . . . Although Hitler did ask for opinions, no one could convince him to undergo the needed examinations for his abdominal pain.

What he did do about his illness was entirely in character: he treated himself. Gradually, he adopted an eccentric diet that was nearly vegetarian. Guided, no doubt, by the effects of particular foods on his pain, he eliminated rich pastries and meat and continued to eliminate foods until his basic diet was vegetables and cereal--a major change for a man who had a reputation as a lover of cakes and sweets. 'Even bread and butter gave him trouble. Zwieback, honey, mushrooms, curds, and yogurt became his standard diet.' At times, even milk products were eliminated and some vegetables, especially cabbage and beans, were also troublesome. Though occasionally he lapsed and would again try the rich foods he previously had enjoyed, Hitler generally followed a very stringent diet from the middle 1930s on.

If Hitler was indeed a vegetarian of some sort, it was a later development. He does not even mention the subject in either volume of Mein Kampf or his so-called Second Book. There are no interviews of Hitler in existence where he talks about vegetarianism, nor is the subject mentioned in any of the Nazi Propaganda literature.

There is, however, some documentation from articles published outside of Germany to support the idea that Hitler was a vegetarian. Below is the earliest public reference to Hitler's vegetarianism from a May 30, 1937 New York Times article:

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.

In a 1938 magazine article published in the UK, Ignatius Phayre wrote:

A life-long vegetarian at table, Hitler's kitchen plots are both varied and heavy in produce. Even in his meatless diet Hitler is something of a gourmet--as Sir John Simon and Anthony Eden were surprised to note when they dined with him in the Presidential Palace at Berlin. His Bavarian chef, Herr Kannenberg, contrives an imposing array of vegetarian dishes, savoury and rich, pleasing to the eye as well as to the palate, and all conforming to the diatetic standards which Hitler exacts.

The most often quoted documentation of Hitler's alleged vegetarianism is located in Hitler's Table Talk: 1941-1944, a collection of stenographic transcripts edited and compiled by Martin Bormann and translated by Hitler biographer Hugh Trevor-Roper. They are suspect as a primary source due to Bormann's involvement and the fact that the original shorthand notes have never been found. Here is the extent of this evidence:

Table Talk, November 11, 1941:

One may regret living at a period when it's impossible to form an idea of the shape the world of the future will assume. But there's one thing I can predict to eaters of meat: the world of the future will be vegetarian.

Table Talk, January 22, 1942:

At the time when I ate meat, I used to sweat a lot. I used to drink four pots of beer and six bottles of water during a meeting . . . . When I became a vegetarian, a mouthful of water was enough.

Table Talk, August 20, 1942:

I am no admirer of the poacher, particularly as I am a vegetarian.

April 26, 1942: From the Diary of Josef Goebbels:

An extended chapter of our talk was devoted by the Fuehrer to the vegetarian question. He believes more than ever that meat-eating is harmful to humanity. Of course he knows that during the war we cannot completely upset our food system. After the war, however, he intends to tackle this problem also. Maybe he is right. Certainly the arguments that he adduces in favor of his standpoint are very compelling.

From The Enigma of Hitler, by Belgian SS General Léon Degrelle:

He could not bear to eat meat, because it meant the death of a living creature. He refused to have so much as a rabbit or a trout sacrificed to provide his food. He would allow only eggs on his table, because egg-laying meant that the hen had been spared rather than killed.

Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge, wrote that Hitler "always avoided meat" in her memoirs, and revealed that Hitler's one-time Austrian cook would sometimes add some fat to his soup: "Mostly the Fuehrer would notice the attempt at deception, would get very annoyed and then get a tummy ache. At the end he would only let Kruemel cook him clear soup and mashed potato." Hitler would later hire Constanze Manzialy, who would cook his meals in the Fuehrer Bunker until his demise.

The above is the strongest evidence in support of the Hitler/Vegetarian story. However, there is reason to suspect that it was partially motivated--at least at first--by propaganda.

The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler by Robert Payne:

Hitler's asceticism played an important part in the image he projected over Germany. According to the widely believed legend he neither smoked nor drank, nor did he eat meat or have anything to do with women. Only the first was true. He drank beer and diluted wine frequently, had a special fondness for Bavarian sausages and kept a mistress . . . . His asceticism was a fiction invented by Goebbels to emphasize his total dedication, his self-control, the distance that separated him from other men . . . . In fact, he was remarkably self-indulgent and possessed none of the instincts of the ascetic. His cook, an enormously fat man named Willy Kannenberg, produced exquisite meals and acted as court jester. Although Hitler had no fondness for meat except in the form of sausages and never ate fish, he enjoyed caviar.

In an interview with Rudolf Hess' wife, she said that Hitler was a practising vegetarian except for an extreme likeness for Leberknödl: "From that moment on, Hitler never ate another piece of meat, except for liver dumplings."

There are some, such as John Lukacs, author of Hitler of History, who do not think the question of whether or not Hitler was a 'real' vegetarian is even important: "What difference does it make? Hitler never cared much for food. Except he liked sweets. He had a weakness for creamy cakes, not for chocolates, Viennese creamy cakes. He had pastry cooks make him sweets until the end of his life, even in the bunker."

From Neither Vegetarian nor Animal Lover by Rynn Berry:

There's absolutely no evidence he was a vegetarian. It simply isn't true . . . . Mainstream historians have an elastic definition of vegetarianism. They don't hold Hitler to the same standards as a practicing ethical vegetarian. You can't be a vegetarian and eat liver dumplings . . . . It's too good a story to spoil it with the truth. They relish the paradox that a genocidal tyrant might have observed a Gandhian diet . . . . Nonetheless, it doesn't hurt to have it finally settled on the record that Pythagoras, Leonard da Vinci, Tolstoy, Shaw, Gandhi, and Singer were vegetarians, but that Mr. Hitler--who liked his pigeons stuffed and roasted--was not.

In Hitler's 
Last Days in the Bunker, he ate very little meat and avoided even his beloved Leberknödl. However, an examination of the plethora of medications given him by his quack doctor, Theodor Morell, reveal that they contained many animal-derived additives. Of course, Hitler could not have been aware of this.

Conclusion: It seems likely that Hitler's liberal vegetarianism evolved from his response to his perceived physical reactions to various foods, as delineated by the Heston's, combined with his and Goebbels' considerations concerning his public image. While the evidence for this is not overwhelming, it is at least mildly compelling. What is certain is that Hitler for most of his life was not what we would consider today to be a strict vegetarian, but towards the end his consumption of meat as such was miniscule. His vegetarian cook, Constanze Manzialy, has testified to the fact that Hitler would not allow her to make anything for him that had animal products of any kind. So it is accurate to say that Hitler was no vegan, but he was a vegetarian, though he was not strict about observing vegetarianism until his last days.
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