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History Repeating Itself - Eternal Treblinka

August 14, 2011

This week, I read the stories of tourists to Italy who came as close as they dared to witnessing an erupting volcano, Mount Etna. I saw the photographs of beachgoers ignoring the distant evidence of smoke from an erupting geological time bomb. I suppose similar minded tourists from Naples did the same some twenty centuries ago when Mount Vesuvius glowed and emitted white plumes into the sky before burying the cities of Herculenium and Pompeii. This week, I read the story of a cow that was running through the streets of Brooklyn, New York. Although Farm Sanctuary offered a home to this creature, the animal was captured and slaughtered.

The following was written ten years ago:

Dear Friends, The flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Portland Oregon lasted six hours.

On the plane, I read the rough draft version of "Eternal Treblinka," an extraordinary book written by Charles Patterson that equates the real life and death experiences of ten billion farm animals raised each year for human consumption to the same Nazi atrocities suffered by six million Jews who became Hitler's "Final Solution." Eternal Treblinka is scheduled for a September, 2001 publication date. This is one of the best written, best researched animal rights books that I've ever had the pleasure to examine.

Fresh from the memory of having read about Jews stuffed into cattle cars as they were being transported to the slaughterhouses of Auschwitz and Dachau, I myself became witness to the twenty-first century's foremost example of man's inhumanity to other living creatures. Our tortured kin. The animal holocaust.

Last Thursday morning, I drove from Portland to Mount St. Helens in Washington State. I had been attending the Raw Foods Festival in Portland, and found a few hours in between my talks to visit the scene of America's greatest natural volcanic disaster. On this hot summer day, I drove across a bridge spanning the cascading Columbia River, separating Portland from Vancouver. There next to my car was a 40-foot long silver van with holes large enough to see through.

Inside of the truck were dairy cows. They were packed tightly together�with no room to lie down. The cows had served man's purpose. Each individual lived her short lifetime of stress, first birthing a child who would be immediately taken from her, then injected with hormones that would painfully stretch her udder, depleting calcium from her own bones so that she would generate enough milk to fill 100 half-pint containers for school children to drink each day. Her ancestors naturally produced enough milk to have filled just four of those same containers.

The cow whose eyes I look into for just one moment would be made to suffer through hours or days of driving hundreds or thousands of miles to what was to become a dairyman's final solution. Yesterday she died a violent death shared by 10,000 of her sisters. Today she will share that same fate with 10,000 other Guernsey and Holstein cows on Route 80 or Route 66 or I-95, in Kansas, New Jersey, or Florida, on highways and neighborhoods where your children and mine sleep comfortably unaware of the predestined doom for living beings who have done nothing to merit such treatment. Tomorrow the same, and the day after that. Eternal death. Eternal slaughter. Eternal Treblinka.

A holocaust occurs while meat eaters turn the other way, denying that such horrors could possibly exist. Were the German and Polish people who knew the fate of those trucked to Buchenwald and Treblinka any less moral or guilty than those who comprehend the truth about what really happens to farm animals?

I followed the truck for a bit until it veered off to the left, and I continued my drive in another direction. I took the high road, and she took the low road, and her look will forever haunt me. Her body will produce 2,000 quarter-pounders for one of many fast food franchises. Her anus and cheeks, arms and legs, back and udder will be served so that others can have it their way. Today's slaughter will feed 20,000,000 people, and the year's tally of Elsie and her sisters will add up to seven billion kids meals served.

I feel the slaughterhouse. I hear the screams and know their fear. I smell the sweat and blood and suffer their pain. I internalize the agony and distress of transported animals. I envision the once green fields in which these animals grazed and the cold metallic ramp and smell of warm sticky blood that flows on the slaughterhouse floor and stains the psyche of us all. I imagine the stun gun bolt to the head. The upside-down hoisting and the sliced neck artery. The animal who chokes on her blood, and the man who slices off her legs as she kicks in fear from the ensuing pain of butchery. The last fifteen seconds of a death that no creature deserves. The arrogance of a man who eats the flesh and dares not consider the origin of each bite.

Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer once wrote about a man's love for his departed pet mouse:

"What do they know�all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world� about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka."

I ceased eating meat four years ago. I now look at my pet dog, whom my daughters rescued from a shelter one day before she was due to be injected with man's final solution. I have come to love her. Her name is Tykee, the goddess of fortune. Is she unlike the baby lamb or calf who is separated from her mother and shipped to the exterminator? I reflect on the Amazon parrot who recognizes me and sings "hello" when I visit my parents. Does the bird with green feathers differ significantly from the chicken with white plumage?

Do they not feel pain and deserve the right to live? I cannot eat them. I can no longer be the cause for their pain, although I once was a part of their genocide. I once denied responsibility for the acts of terror that occurred outside of my visi...outside of my consciousness. Their bodies were cut into smaller pieces and were broiled, baked, and fried.

Oh, that same crime of arrogance to which I now plead guilty! My penitence? Community service. I explain the act to meat eaters, and some turn their backs on me. Close their eyes. Shut their ears. Who wishes to deal with the truth and reality of death? Arriving at Mount St. Helens, I carefully read one plaque after another, taking note of performances both heroic and ironic. I consider the day that once silenced the birds and boiled to death fish in the streams. A blink in the eye of geological time that stripped the landscape of the color green, divested pine trees of their needles and scattered whole trees like matchsticks across barren mountain tops. I examined the original seismographs and warnings from hundreds of scientists to the residents to evacuate their homes and come to terms with an absolute truth.

I became dumfounded by the arrogance of one man, Harry R. Truman, who lived alone in a cabin aside the lake below a mountain that would soon explode with the magnitude and power equivalent to 27,000 Hiroshima-type blasts.

A man who declined to leave that mountain. A man who denied a truth shared by others. An arrogant man who looked death in the face and refused to respect man's destiny. I try to imagine his final moment of sensibility. At the same time, in my own mind's eye I call upon the face of a cow in a truck on a bridge.

Robert Cohen

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