On April 21, 1933, Nazi Germany enacted a law that had the effect of outlawing kosher slaughter in the country. The law did not actually mention Jews or shechita (kosher slaughter); instead, it prohibited the killing of animals for food if they hadn’t first been stunned or anesthetized. Because kosher slaughter requires that the animal be conscious at the time it is killed, it no longer conformed to the law.
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While there is ample evidence that the law was indeed directed at Jews, and while it was only one of countless measures that were intended to make life in Germany untenable for them, it is also true that Nazi Germany had something of an obsession with animal welfare, with the strictest and most far-reaching animal-protection regulations in Europe. It is also true that some of the Nazi Party’s most pathological leaders – including Adolf Hitler himself – were either vegetarians or passionate animal lovers.
In his capacity as prime minister of Prussia, Hermann Goering, instituted laws that prohibited or severely limited hunting, forbade the shoeing of horses, and banned the boiling of live lobsters and crabs. Animals could not be used in films, and, most significantly, vivisection was disallowed. Written into the comprehensive animal-welfare law passed in November 1933 was a clause stating that animals were to be protected “for their own sakes,” rather than for the benefit of humans. In that spirit, animal vivisection was also banned in scientific research.
In a radio address in August 1933, Goering announced that it was due to the influence of “foreign conceptions of justice” and the fact that until not long before, “the exercise of justice was in the hands of people alien to the nation [that] until now, the animal was considered a dead thing under the law.”
There is some discussion about how consistently these laws were enforced, but in principle at least, someone found to have abused an animal could be sent for punishment to a concentration camp.
It is from Joseph Goebbels, who wrote it in his diary, that we have the information that Hitler was a vegetarian. He also said that Hitler was planning, after German victory in the war, to ban animal slaughterhouses altogether.
But in April 1933, it was just kosher slaughter that was restricted – the fruit of an effort that went back to the late 1800s to stop the practice, supposedly for reasons of cruelty. A similar effort in Switzerland, by the way, was successful, in 1893, and continues to be in effect until this day.
In Nazi ideology and propaganda, kashrut was deliberately misunderstood and misrepresented so as to tie in with claims that Jews partook of perverse ritual killings of humans for their blood – a modern corollary to the age-old blood libel. Whereas kosher slaughtering requires draining an animal of its blood, because of a strict restriction on consuming blood at all, German propaganda depicted the Jews’ draining of an animal’s blood as part of a secret and dark practice.
Der Stuermer editor Julius Streicher, who devoted an entire issue of his magazine to Jewish ritual murder, in 1934, even proposed that the Jews planned to kill Hitler on Yom Kippur of that year, in a human sacrifice in the style of the practice of “kapparot,” in which a fowl is swung around a person’s head and then killed, as a sin offering.
Historian Boria Sax, in his book “Animals in the Third Reich: Pets, Scapegoats and the Holocaust,” notes that the revival of the Jewish blood libel tied in at a deep level with a German preoccupation of blood, a symbol of the purity of the Aryan race.
With the end of the war, and the Allied victory, all legislation passed during the Third Reich was repealed, and kosher slaughter again became legal.