HITLER WAS A VEGETARIAN?
One of the comments often aimed at those such as myself, who write
about famous vegetarians of the past, and how many of them were paragons
of virtue who practiced non-violence and compassion, is the following:
"But wasn't Hitler a vegetarian?" One such example began
when in 1991 I wrote to The New York Times commenting on the vegetarianism
of Isaac Bashevis Singer and how this important feature of Singer's
life had been glossed over in his recent obituary. I had interviewed
Singer for my book Famous Vegetarians and Their Favourite Recipes,
and he had been vehement on the issue of respect for animals. Two
weeks later, under the headline: "The Vegetarian Road to World
Peace," the Times published a reply to my letter from the well-known
author and New Yorker essayist Janet Malcolm. It is worth quoting
in full: "Rynn Berry's fine letter about Isaac Bashevis Singer's
vegetarianism reminded me of the comment Mr Singer made at a luncheon
to a woman who noticed approvingly that he had refused to eat the
meat course, and who said that her health had improved when she, too,
gave up meat. 'I do it for the health of the chickens,' Mr Singer
"Mr. Singer's belief, quoted by Mr. Berry, 'that everything connected
with vegetarianism is of the highest importance, because there will
never be any peace in the world so long as we eat animals,' may have
puzzled readers. What does eating or not eating meat have to do with
world peace? Milan Kundera gives us the answer on page 289 of The
Unbearable Lightness of Being: 'True human goodness, in all its purity
and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power.
Mankind's true moral test (which lies deeply buried from view) consists
of its attitude toward those who are at its mercy: the animals. And
in this respect, mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle
so fundamental that all others stem from it.'"
Janet Malcolm's response to my letter drew a reply from another Times
reader. Under the headline "What About Hitler?" the writer
castigated Ms Malcolm for implying that the universal acceptance of
vegetarianism will bring about world peace because, 'Adolf Hitler
was a vegetarian all his life and wrote extensively on the subject."
To me, this response was all too predictable; for I have yet to give
a talk on vegetarianism in which the tasteless question of Hitler's
vegetarianism has not been raised. Invariably, at every bookstore
signing, at every lecture, on every phone-in talk show, at least one
person has asked me half-mockingly: "Is Hitler in your book?"
or "Why didn't you put Hitler in your book?"
Following the latest letter in September, 1991, The New York Times
published two rejoinders to this question. Under the headline, "Don't
Put Hitler Among the Vegetarians," the correspondent (Richard
Schwartz, author of Judaism and Vegetarianism) pointed out that Hitler
would occasionally go on vegetarian binges to cure himself of excessive
sweatiness and flatulence, but that his main diet was meat-centred.
He also cited Robert Payne, Albert Speer, and other well-known Hitler
biographers, who mentioned Hitler's predilection for such non-vegetarian
foods as Bavarian sausages, ham, liver, and game. Furthermore, it
was argued, if Hitler had been a vegetarian, he would not have banned
vegetarian organizations in Germany and the occupied countries; nor
would he have failed to urge a meatless diet on the German people
as a way of coping with Germany's World War II food shortage.
Under the headline, "He Loved His Squab," another correspondent
cited a passage from a cookbook that had been written by a European
chef, Dione Lucas, who was an eyewitness to Hitler's meat-eating.
In her Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook (1964), Lucas, drawing on her
experiences as a hotel chef in Hamburg during the 1930s, remembered
being called upon quite often to prepare Hitler's favourite dish,
which was not a vegetarian one. "I do not mean to spoil your
appetite for stuffed squab," she writes, "but you might
be interested to know that it was a great favourite with Mr Hitler,
who dined at the hotel often. Let us not hold that against a fine
Not even the august New York Times has a staff large enough to verify
all the facts in the letters published in the Letters to the Editor
section; so I decided to look up the specific passages in Payne's
biography of Hitler and Dione Lucas' Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook
that cast doubt on Hitler's vegetarianism. Sure enough, Robert Payne,
whose biography of Hitler, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, has
been called definitive , scotches the rumour that Hitler might have
been a vegetarian. According to Payne, Hitler's vegetarianism was
a fiction made up by his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels to give
him the aura of a revolutionary ascetic, a Fascistic Gandhi, if you
will. It is worth quoting from Payne's biography directly: "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,
Eva Braun, who lived with him quietly in the Berghof. There had been
other discreet affairs with women. His asceticism was fiction invented
by Goebbels to emphasize his total dedication, his self-control, the
distance that separated him from other men. By this outward show of
asceticism, he could claim that he was dedicated to the service of
"In fact, he was remarkably self-indulgent and possessed none
of the instincts of the ascetic. His cook, an enormously fat man named
Willy Kanneneberg, 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. He was a connoisseur of sweets,
crystallized fruit and cream cakes, which he consumed in astonishing
quantities. He drank tea and coffee drowned in cream and sugar. No
dictator ever had a sweeter tooth."
So there we have it: Hitler doted on Bavarian sausages and caviar.
Not even the loosest definition of vegetarianism could be stretched
to fit these gastronomic abominations. Yet, because non-vegetarians
often have an elastic definition of what constitutes a vegetarian,
they think that people like Hitler who eat fish, pigeons, and sausages
are vegetarians. By this criterion, even jackals and hyenas, which
eat fruits and vegetables between kills, could be classified as vegetarians.
Dr Roberta Kalechofsky makes a similar point in her essay entitled
Hitler's Vegetarianism: A Question of How You Define Vegetarianism:
"Biographical materials about Hitler's alleged or qualified vegetarianism
are contradictory. He was sometimes described as a 'vegetarian,' but
his fondness for sausages, caviar and occasionally ham was well known.
On the other hand, on the basis of foods he was known to like or eat,
'red meat' is never listed. His alleged vegetarianism was often coupled
with a description of him as an ascetic individual. For example, the
April 14, 1996, Sunday magazine edition of The New York Times, celebrating
its 100th anniversary, included this early description of Hitler's
diet in an article previously published on May 30, 1937, At Home With
The Fuhrer. "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" The New York Times
definition of 'vegetarian,' which included foods such as ham is quite
a stretch of definition of 'vegetarian.''
Quite a stretch indeed! Even as early as 1911, the 11th edition of
the Encyclopaedia Britannica (one of the most widely-consulted reference
works) defined vegetarianism as follows "Vegetarianism, a comparatively
modern word, which came into use about the year 1847, as applied to
the use of foods from which fish, flesh, and fowl are excluded."
So there really is no excuse for an editor of The New York Times writing
in the 1930s to be so misinformed as to have called Hitler a vegetarian.
Hitler did not describe himself as a "vegetarian" until
1937. It may have been prompted by an emotional response to the death
of his niece who had been in love with him and who may have taken
her own life. That at least was the thinking of Hitler's close friend
Mrs Hess: "He had made such remarks before and had toyed with
the idea of vegetarianism, but this time, according to Mrs Hess, he
meant it. From that moment on, Hitler never ate another piece of meat
except for liver dumplings." About this passage, which is cited
in John Toland's biography of Hitler, Dr Kalechofsky comments: "This
is consistent with other descriptions of Hitler's diet, which always
included some form of meat, whether ham, sausages, or liver dumplings."
Furthermore, one could infer that Hitler was not a true vegetarian
from the poor state of his health. In his letter to the Times, Richard
Schwartz mentioned that Hitler had suffered from excessive sweatiness
and flatulence. Besides those maladies, he also suffered from rotting
teeth, acute gastric disorders, hardening of the arteries (a typical
meat-eater's disease), a liver ailment and incurable heart disease
(progressive coronary sclerosis). His doctors gave him heavy doses
of drugs that included a 10 percent cocaine solution, strychnine-based
pills and injections of pulverized bull's testicles. Certainly, he
didn't enjoy the robust health that has come to be associated with
vegetarianism; on the contrary, his symptoms were those associated
with a heavy intake of animal foods.
In the course of doing the fact-checking in the Hitler biographical
literature, I couldn't help noticing how passionate Hitler was in
his denunciation of the evils of tobacco. He said, "I wouldn't
offer a cigar or cigarette to anyone I admired since I would be doing
them a bad service. It is universally agreed that non-smokers live
longer than smokers and during sickness have more resistance."
In fact he had a standing offer of a gold watch for anyone within
his circle who would forswear tobacco. To his mistress, Eva Braun,
however, he gave an ultimatum: "Either give up smoking or me."
It struck me that if Hitler had been a bona fide vegetarian, he would
have been as outspoken against flesh-eating as he was against smoking,
but I searched in vain for any such diatribe. Certainly, there was
no standing offer of a gold watch for giving up meat-eating; nor did
he give Eva Braun the ultimatum" "Give up meat-eating or
Finally, I decided to check the reference to Hitler's favourite dish
in Dione Lucas' Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook. It's worth noting
that Dione Lucas was a sort of precursor of the popular television
"French" chef, Julia Childe. One of the first to open a
successful cooking school in the US, Lucas was also one of the first
chefs to popularize French Cuisine on television in the 1950s and
60s. During the 1930s, prior to her coming to the U.S., she had worked
as a chef at a hotel in Hamburg, where Adolf Hitler was one of her
regular customers. On one of my book-hunting forays, I found a copy
of her Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook in a second-hand bookshop.
Blowing off the dust and cobwebs that had settled on its covers, I
opened it and turned to page 89. There, as plain as the Chaplinesque
moustache on the Führer's face, was Hitler's favourite recipe.
"I learned this recipe when I worked as a chef before World War
II, in one of the large hotels in Hamburg, Germany. I do not mean
to spoil your appetite for stuffed squab, but you might be interested
to know that it was a great favourite with Mr Hitler, who dined at
the hotel often. Let us not hold that against a fine recipe though."
It is ironic that people should be so willing to gloss over the truth
about Isaac Bashevis Singer's absolute commitment to the welfare of
animals, yet be so willing to believe a myth about Hitler's vegetarianism.
t is also ironic that my letter to the editor about Isaac Bashevis
Singer's vegetarianism touched off a chain of letters that ended by
exploding the myth of Hitler's vegetarianism. Of course, there is
no cogent reason why this myth should have embarrassed a movement
that contributes so much to "the health of chickens," as
Singer once phrased his concern, the health of humans and the ecological
health of the planet. Nonetheless, it doesn't hurt to have it finally
settled on the record that Pythagoras, Leonardo da Vinci, Tolstoy,
Shaw, Gandhi, and Singer were vegetarians, but that Mr Hitler, who
liked his pigeons stuffed and roasted, was not.
Rynn Berry, author of Famous Vegetarians
and Their Favourite Recipes and Food for The Gods