My wife bought me Eternal Treblinka “Our treatment of animals and the holocaust”, as a Xmas present 3 years ago and I didn’t decide to read it until very recently. Call it annoyingly stubborn on my part, but I have an incredible self-imposed barrier on reading books suggested to me by others. I like to discover books on my own as I feel it adds to the experience of the knowledge gained and nearly sacred act of reading. I know, ridiculous. On a more legitimate basis, I also didn’t jump at reading this book because it’s subject matter, the comparison of killing millions of animals for food and millions of humans for racial purity, is most often an exaggerated, reactionary and lazy justification for veganism. PETA has done a splendid job of insulting both animals and humans by making the comparison without reservation. So, I was reluctant to begin reading a book that, from my past experience, I thought would be exaggeratedly sentimentalist and not offer much by way of a deeper consideration of the comparisons, though the discussion is well worth having.
In short, I was very wrong about this book…and I’m glad. Not only does Eternal Treblinka offer a grounded approach to the subject, but it makes its point by drawing a much larger picture of the social forces that create both animal suffering and human suffering. Eternal Treblinka could easily have made the tired comparison, that killing millions of animals is a current holocaust all the same that killing humans in the 40’s was a historical holocaust, but instead it goes much further to explain HOW these sorts of decisions are made. Eternal Treblinka avoids the simplistic comparisons based on numbers dead and instead details the comparisons of process that show how easy it becomes to kill without reservation. From there, the connections between the animal “holocaust” and the human holocaust are glaringly evident.
Interestingly, the book reads more of an indictment of the human holocaust, referencing the link to animals more as an explanation as to how humans could be killed in such numbers so easily, with the killers avoiding such a seemingly unbearable weight upon their conscience. The processes and the mentality of killing animals in such great numbers so easily lays the groundwork for the human holocaust to follow suit. Eternal Treblinka connects those historical dots to explain why both are so abhorrent.
Drawing on an easily traceable historical line, Eternal Treblinka connects the the first steps of small scale animal husbandry to the first factory farm, then leads us through Henry Ford’s awe at the efficiency of the slaughterhouses which he coopted for his automobile assembly lines, then makes the frightening connection between Hitler’s rise to power and his appreciation of Ford’s factory line processes (Ford was, by the way, incredibly supportive of Hitler’s anti-semitic perspectives), and onto the outcome that was the massive and efficient slaughtering of millions of humans in the name of racial purity. Yes, the ease with which humans were killed so efficiently and wantonly can be traced back to the machinations of animal slaughter. As this quote so succintly describes:
“…during the Holocaust, the infrastructure of destruction did not change, only the identity of the victims.”
Of course, although the processes and functions were readily available (some Jews were housed in slaughterhouse holding pens at times), there is still the necessary steps it takes to divide one being from the other, which makes the killing both a necessity and desired outcome. This is essentially where Eternal Treblinka begins, citing early mentalities that deliberately sought to divide human animal from non-human animal, making all sorts of cruelties justifiable through a veil of superiority. And once the division was made that humans are above non-humans, a whole spiraling effect took place where we allowed ourselves to be as free as we desired to do with animals what served our purposes. All of which, continued to lead towards so many cruelties against our own species. Vilification, eugenics, industrialized slaughter, etc.
Eternal Treblinka’s strongest contribution to the discussion of animal cruelty is that it doesn’t simplify the comparison of millions of animals dead to millions of humans dead, as the INTENT between the two are nearly worlds apart, but instead shows how the mentality that humans harbor against animals and the machinations we have established to enact that divisive, superior mentality can so easily be turned upon ourselves. Don’t think, however, the purpose of the book is to simply use the comparison to avoid another human holocaust. Eternal Treblinka delivers a vivid and heart-wrenching depiction of the treatment of animals and just as equally as it addresses the human suffering of the holocaust uses that as an example as to why we need to alter our perception in our relationships to animals, for their sake.
Unfortunately, the book takes an awkward diversion towards the end where the author runs through a number of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s stories and plays fanboy for a number of pages and although the subject matter relates to animals and the holocaust to some degree, the pieces were more of an after thought instead of a continuation of the book’s linear dialogue.
More practical, however, is the section of thoughts by both survivors of the holocaust and those who had various parts in its continuation, whether directly or as a bystander, who have drawn from the experience to become activists for both humans and animals.
Although addressing an abysmal subject, Eternal Treblinka does so with intellect and compassion, but most importantly with an unwavering call to action. The book is written to detail how the holocaust came to be, but also how we can learn from it and move to a more compassionate existence for both humans and animals, hoping to never repeat a human holocaust ever again, but also hoping to eliminate the perspectives and killing we place upon non-human animals today.