Philosophy of AR >
Animals and Abuse Linked
Edgar Kupfer was imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp in 1940. His last 3 years in
Dachau he obtained a clerical job in the concentration camp storeroom. This position
allowed him to keep a secret diary on stolen scraps of papers and pieces of pencil. He
would bury his writings and when Dachau was liberated on April 29, 1945 he collected them
again. The "Dachau Diaries" were published in 1956. From his Dachau notes he
wrote an essay on vegetarianism which was translated into "immigrant" English. A
carbon copy of this 38 page essay is preserved with the original Dachau Diaries in the
Special Collection of the Library of the University of Chicago. The following are the
excerpts from this essay that were reprinted in the postscript of the book "Radical
Vegetarianism" by Mark Mathew Braunstein (1981 Panjandrum Books, Los Angeles, CA).
The book is subtitled "A Dialectic of Diet and Ethic" and is recommended to all
vegetarians especially those interested in natural hygiene.
Animals, My Brethren by Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz
The following pages were written in the Concentration Camp
the midst of all kinds of cruelties. They were furtively scrawled in a hospital barrack
where I stayed during my illness, in a time when Death grasped day by day after us, when
we lost twelve thousand within four and a half months. Dear Friend: You asked me why I do
not eat meat and you are wondering at the reasons of my behavior. Perhaps you think I took
a vow -- some kind of penitence -- denying me all the glorious pleasures of eating meat.
You remember juicy steaks, succulent fishes, wonderfully tasted sauces, deliciously smoked
ham and thousand wonders prepared out of meat, charming thousands of human palates;
certainly you will remember the delicacy of roasted chicken. Now, you see, I am refusing
all these pleasures and you think that only penitence, or a solemn vow, a great sacrifice
could deny me that manner of enjoying life, induce me to endure a great resignment.
* * *
You look astonished, you ask the question: "But why and what
for?" And you are wondering that you nearly guessed the very reason. But if I am,
now, trying to explain you the very reason in one concise sentence, you will be astonished
once more how far your guessing had been from my real motive. Listen to what I have to
tell you: I refuse to eat animals because I cannot nourish myself by the sufferings and by
the death of other creatures.
I refuse to do so, because I suffered so painfully myself that I can
feel the pains of others by recalling my own sufferings.
I feel happy, nobody persecutes me; why should I persecute other beings
or cause them to be persecuted?
I feel happy, I am no prisoner, I am free; why should I cause other
creatures to be made prisoners and thrown into jail?
I feel happy, nobody harms me; why should I harm other creatures or
have them harmed?
I feel happy, nobody wounds me; nobody kills me; why should I
wound or kill other creatures or cause them to be wounded or killed for my pleasure and
Is it not only too natural that I do not inflict on other
creatures the same thing which, I hope and fear, will never be inflicted on me? Would it
not be most unfair to do such things for no other purpose than for enjoying a trifling
physical pleasure at the expense of others' sufferings, others' deaths? These creatures
are smaller and more helpless than I am, but can you imagine a reasonable man of noble
feelings who would like to base on such a difference a claim or right to abuse the
weakness and the smallness of others? Don't you think that it is just the bigger, the
stronger, the superior's duty to protect the weaker creatures instead of persecuting them,
instead of killing them? "Noblesse oblige." I want to act in a noble way.
* * *
I recall the horrible epoch of inquisition and I am sorry to state that
the time of tribunals for heretics has not yet passed by, that day by day, men use to cook
in boiling water other creatures which are helplessly given in the hands of their
torturers. I am horrified by the idea that such men are civilized people, no rough
barbarians, no natives. But in spite of all, they are only primitively civilized,
primitively adapted to their cultural environment. The average European, flowing over with
highbrow ideas and beautiful speeches, commits all kinds of cruelties, smilingly, not
because he is compelled to do so, but because he wants to do so. Not because he lacks the
faculty to reflect upon and to realize all the dreadful things they are performing. Oh no!
Only because they do not want to see the facts. Otherwise they would be troubled and
worried in their pleasures.
* * *
It is quite natural what people are telling you. How could they do
otherwise? I hear them telling about experiences, about utilities, and I know that they
consider certain acts related to slaughtering as unavoidable. Perhaps they succeeded to
win you over. I guess that from your letter. Still, considering the necessities only, one
might, perhaps, agree with such people. But is there really such a necessity? The thesis
may be contested. Perhaps there exists still some kind of necessity for such persons who
have not yet developed into full conscious personalities. I am not preaching to them. I am
writing this letter to you, to an already awakened individual who rationally controls his
impulses, who feels responsible -- internally and externally -- of his acts, who knows
that our supreme court is sitting in our conscience. There is no appellate jurisdiction
against it. Is there any necessity by which a fully self-conscious man can be induced to
slaughter? In the affirmative, each individual may have the courage to do it by his own
hands. It is, evidently, a miserable kind of cowardice to pay other people to perform the
blood-stained job, from which the normal man refrains in horror and dismay. Such servants
are given some farthings for their bloody work, and one buys from them the desired parts
of the killed animal -- if possible prepared in such a way that it does not any more
recall the discomfortable circumstances, nor the animal, nor its being killed, nor the
* * *
I think that men will be killed and tortured as long as animals are
killed and tortured. So long there will be wars too. Because killing must be trained and
perfected on smaller objects, morally and technically. I see no reason to feel outraged by
what others are doing, neither by the great nor by the smaller acts of violence and
cruelty. But, I think, it is high time to feel outraged by all the small and great acts of
violence and cruelty which we perform ourselves. And because it is much easier to win the
smaller battles than the big ones, I think we should try to get over first our own trends
towards smaller violence and cruelty, to avoid, or better, to overcome them once and for
all. Then the day will come when it will be easy for us to fight and to overcome even the
great cruelties. But we are still sleeping, all of us, in habitudes and inherited
attitudes. They are like a fat, juicy sauce which helps us to swallow our own cruelties
without tasting their bitterness. I have not the intention to point out with my finger at
this and that, at definite persons and definite situations. I think it is much more my
duty to stir up my own conscience in smaller matters, to try to understand other people
better, to get better and less selfish. Why should it be impossible then to act
accordingly with regard to more important issues? That is the point: I want to grow up
into a better world where a higher law grants more happiness, in a new world where God's
commandment reigns: You Shall Love Each Other.