www . compassionatespirit . com



About Keith Akers
Books, etc.
What's New

Asking the Big Questions

Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, by Charles Patterson (New York: Lantern Books, 2002). 296 pages, $20. 

In a recent interview, Richard Schwartz asked Charles Patterson whether Charles expected his new book Eternal Treblinka to be controversial. His response was that he wasn’t sure — "I don't know if I should get ready to take a bow, or hide under the bed." He might want to be prepared to do both: this is the most important book on human treatment of animals since Animal Liberation.

Eternal Treblinka compares the abuse of animals with the Holocaust. Patterson’s analysis is straightforward: he does not base his analysis on a claim of moral equivalence between the Holocaust and factory farms, but rather on a factual connection. The techniques, knowledge, attitudes, and experience gained in the human exploitation of animals were instrumental not only in the Holocaust, but in a broader sense were instrumental toward all kinds of exploitation of humans, including war, slavery, and colonialism. The industrialized assembly-line slaughter of animals provided the model, in several important ways, for the industrialized slaughter of humans in the Holocaust. Henry Ford not only got the assembly-line model from Chicago slaughterhouses, but also helped spread anti-Semitic literature throughout Europe. Patterson concludes with some "echoes" of the Holocaust — animal advocates who were victims of the Holocaust (like Alex Hershaft) or who lost relatives in the Holocaust (like Peter Singer), and even some Germans as well. They saw the horror and determined to work to prevent and stop future horrors.

So far as treatment of animals is concerned, there is little here that will surprise vegetarians. Castration, mutilation, confinement, the slaughterhouse — you’ve heard it all before, and you’ve probably lectured some of your meat-eating friends about it as well. What will surprise many vegetarians is the way humans treat other humans. While the book may not force vegetarians to re-evaluate their attitude toward animals, it will force us to re-evaluate our attitudes towards humans. Patterson states that "[Hitler’s] worldview lives on in the land of the victors." In light of this conclusion, what precisely do we share with American culture?

We must walk a fine line here. After reading Eternal Treblinka, the differences between Nazi Germany and modern America suddenly seem to be just a bit less. Aren’t terrorism, genocide, nuclear attacks on cities, and the killing of billions of innocent creatures, all part of a single network of violence? Shouldn’t we resist this whole arrangement? On the other hand, we need to find some common ground and some compassion for everyone in this violent system. Do we not benefit from this economic system and enjoy unprecedented civil liberties? Were not many of us meat-eaters once, and are not many of our friends still perpetrators, bystanders, and victims in this system? Patterson does not offer any pat answers, but his book has clearly posed the problem, and that is what makes this a great book.

-- Keith Akers