What other animals besides humans have wars?

Hitler's dogs, Goering's lions: how the Nazis also abused animals

A few animal enclosures and a goldfish pond were just a stone's throw away from the Buchenwald concentration camp crematorium near the city of Weimar. Monkeys played around in cages, birds chirped in aviaries, and there were even brown bears. The small zoo was supposed to offer "diversion and entertainment" to the men who spent their lunch break here, wrote concentration camp commandant Karl Koch, who had financed the zoo, which opened in 1938, with extorted "donations" from prisoners.

"Love for animals" Nazis who murder people

Of course, the prisoners and slave laborers who had been locked up in Buchenwald by the Nazis should not find "diversion and entertainment" here. They had built the enclosures and looked after the animals, but only the SS concentration camp staff were allowed to take a break there: guards, civilian forces and guards who tortured, tortured and killed inmates on the other side of the electric fence. And sometimes threw them into the bear pen because the concentration camp commandant Koch enjoyed watching the bears tear them apart.

Buchenwald Concentration Camp Memorial today: a fence that separated "valuable" from "unworthy" life

People and animals on the one hand, and inmates classified as "subhumans" by the Nazis 'racist ideology on the other side of the fence: this scenario reflects the Nazis' brutal worldview. Animals played an important role in it.

Shot by Göring: red deer "Raufbold" statue

"Sometimes they served as a template, sometimes as enemy images, sometimes they were just a means to an end," says Jan Mohnhaupt, author of the book "Animals in National Socialism", which also tells the story of the zoo in Buchenwald. "If you want to find out something about the arbitrariness and contradictions of the Nazi regime, you shouldn't ignore the animals."

So far, Nazi research has hardly dealt with the subject of animals, "because it is feared that the focus on animals will lead to a trivialization of human sacrifices," Mohnhaupt quotes the historian Mieke Roscher, who holds the nationwide only professorship for human animals -Studies at the University of Kassel occupied. A fear that is unjustified - as the following episodes from the book show.

Cult of the predator: "Like wolves in a flock of sheep"

Adolf Hitler's favorite dogs were shepherds. A breed of dog that obeys every word (which is why it was also preferred as a guard dog in the concentration camps) and resembles the ancestor wolf. Hitler admired wolves. Friends liked to refer to him by the nickname "Wolf"; his headquarters during World War II were called "Wolfsschlucht" or "Wolfsschanze".

No, not a wolf: Shepherd dog with flock of sheep

Nazi propaganda worked with the image of the "wild wolf" years before the takeover: In 1928 the later Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels threatened the democratic politicians of the Weimar Republic during the election campaign: "We come as enemies! How the wolf breaks into the flock of sheep so we come. " Five years later, in 1933, the Nazis overthrew the Weimar Republic. The first German democracy had failed.

In the same year they also passed an Animal Welfare Act, which stipulated, among other things, that warm-blooded animals could no longer be slaughtered without stunning. What sounds like a love of animals, however, had a different thrust: it was aimed primarily at forbidding Jews from ritual slaughtering. "For leading National Socialists, animal protection and crimes against humanity were not a contradiction in terms," ​​writes Mohnhaupt in the book, "on the contrary, they even felt they belonged to a moral elite".

Propaganda with animals: Hitler's dogs, Goering's lions

The leader of this cruel "elite", Adolf Hitler, can often be seen in photos with his dog "Blondi". Hitler's deputy Hermann Göring, who was also the "Reichsjägermeister", showed himself less often with his pets: Between 1933 and 1940 he kept seven young lions, which were "for Göring above all a symbol of power and validity", as Mohnhaupt analyzes .

Mighty, strong, brave? Hermann Göring with a young lioness

As is so often the case, the Nazis used historical models here as well: the Roman Caesars already held lions, while medieval European kings like Richard the Lionheart and Henry the Lion used the animal surnames to attribute characteristics of the "king of beasts": power, strength and courage .

Cats as "Jews among the animals"

Their racial madness was also evident in the Nazis' alleged love of animals. Just like humans, animals were also divided into "valuable" and "unworthy" life. While big cats of prey such as lions or panthers were admired, Nazi writer Will Vesper characterized house cats as "treacherous, wrong and anti-social" because they stalked the popular songbirds. According to Vespers, cats are the "Jews among the animals".

House kittens: in league with the devil?

That too had a sad, common tradition in Europe: Cats and Jews alike were assumed to be in league with the devil as early as the Middle Ages.

No pets for Jews

The writer Victor Klemperer and his wife Eva also kept a cat, their tomcat Mujel. After the Nazis came to power, Klemperer, who was a Jew, was gradually taken from almost everything: reputation, job and home. From September 1941 he had to attach the yellow "Jewish star" to his clothes. Shortly afterwards, Jews were banned from keeping pets. The Klemperers were supposed to give up their beloved hangover, their symbol of perseverance: the "raised hangover tail is our flag, we don't paint it," noted Victor Klemperer in his diaries. Because there was no way to hide the animal in any way, it was eventually euthanized by the vet.

Victor Klemperer survived the Holocaust

"The pet ban", writes Mohnhaupt, was "a further step on the way to the complete disenfranchisement of Jews in Germany". It was introduced at the same time as the mass deportations of Jews to the concentration camps that began in 1941 - so that the Gestapo did not have to deal with domestic animals that were left behind.

"Important for the war": pigs and silkworms

Pigs were positively occupied in the Nazis' view of the world. Because they were supposed to serve to feed the German population during the Second World War (1939-1945). The Nazis' "food aid organization" even collected kitchen waste from private households for them under the slogan "Kampf dem Verderb" - an early form of recycling.

Other "vital" animals were bred in schools: silkworms. Their tear-resistant, water-repellent and largely fireproof silk was required for the manufacture of parachutes, and teachers were specially trained in silk construction for this purpose. It was the task of the pupils to feed and care for the animals.

"Important for the war": silkworms for parachute silk

The sericulture "served as a kind of all-purpose weapon in elementary school lessons," says author Jan Mohnhaupt. "With them, the children were not only shown biology on living objects, but also taught the Nazi racial hygiene 'child-friendly'. Because breeding can only succeed, teachers convey to the children, if all sick and weak specimens are sorted out at an early stage".

In this way, the National Socialist racial madness was deeply anchored in everyday life and society. From then on it was not far to the murder of millions of people who were defined as "unworthy": Jews, Sinti and Roma, people with disabilities, political opponents. The animals were also used and abused by the Nazis for this purpose.

For further reading: Jan Mohnhaupt: Animals under National Socialism. Carl Hanser Verlag 2020.