While the Jews of Eastern Europe were being slaughtered by the millions during the Holocaust, at least a few animals in the Third Reich were spared the butcher’s knife thanks to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s vegetarian diet.
Ninety-five-year-old Margot Woelk is believed to be the last official food taster for Hitler who is still alive. She now tells the British media that Hitler ate fruit and vegetables, but no meat during the two years she was forced to taste his food before he did, due to threats that the German leader might be poisoned.
While her husband was fighting on the front lines, Woelk was taken by the SS to “Wolf’s Lair,” Hitler’s World War II headquarters on the Eastern Front (in today’s Poland), where she was required to perform the frightening job along with about another dozen women.
This is how she described her high-risk work:
Between 11 and 12 o’clock, we had to taste the food, and only after all of us had tried it was it driven to the headquarters by the SS.
It was all vegetarian, the most delicious fresh things, from asparagus to peppers and peas, served with rice and salads. It was all arranged on one plate, just as it was served to him. There was no meat and I do not remember any fish.
Of course I was afraid. If it had been poisoned I would not be here today. We were forced to eat it, we had no choice.
An article in Psychology Today in 2011 described the paradox of the Nazis’ disregard for human life yet their obsession with animal protection. It explained:
Remarkably, as soon as the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, they began to enact scores of animal protection laws, some of which are still operative in Germany.[…] For example, in Nazi Germany, people who mistreated their pets could be sentenced to two years in jail. The Nazis banned the production of foie gras and docking the ears and tails of dogs without anesthesia, and they severely restricted invasive animal research. The Nazi Party established the first laws insuring that animal used in films were not mistreated and also mandated humane slaughter procedures for food animals and for the euthanasia of terminally ill pets. (The Nazis were particularly concerned with the suffering of lobsters in restaurants).[…]
Perhaps the most chilling episode in the bizarre annals of Nazi animal protectionism was a 1942 law banning pet-keeping by Jews. As a result, dogs and cats owned by Jews were rounded up and humanely euthanized according to the German regulations pertaining to pets. But unlike their companion animals, Jews themselves were not covered under the humane slaughter legislation.
Humane treatment of animals aside, the Telegraph explains that Hitler’s vegetarianism was motivated by his desire for Aryan bodily purity. It describes a Hitler Youth manual which promoted soybeans – or “Nazi beans” – as a meat alternative. The paper reports that Hitler told Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels that after winning the war he intended to institute vegetarianism in all of Germany. He apparently also used to call meat broth “corpse tea.”
Some historians question the contention Hitler was a vegetarian. His cook prior to the war, Dione Lucas, reportedly said that the Nazi leader liked stuffed pigeon and Bavarian sausages. Hitler also occasionally enjoyed a slice of ham.
Author Rynn Berry who is a vegetarian historian told the magazine then, "There's absolutely no evidence he was a vegetarian. It simply isn't true." He said his research showed that while Hitler followed a vegetarian diet, he cheated big time, taking part in the occasional liver dumplings, caviar as well as ham as mentioned above.
Berry contends that during the early 1930s, after his niece and confidant Geli Raubal died, Hitler swore off meat. Slate reporter Alex Frangos wrote:
Some say seeing her corpse turned his stomach away from flesh. Others say his doctors put the despot on a vegetable-only diet to relieve excessive flatulence and sweating.
Berry asserts that propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels furthered the notion of Hitler as a strict vegetarian to make the ruthless dictator seem like an ascetic without vices who neither drank, nor smoked, nor ate meat, and was devoted above all to his people.
The Telegraph also conveys some interesting details from the secret diary kept by a German soldier, who had a front row seat to Hitler’s less than appealing table manners.
“Hitler eats rapidly, mechanically. He abstractedly bites his fingernails, he runs his index finger back and forth under his nose, and his table manners are little short of shocking,” the soldier wrote.
Official food taster Margot Woelk was eventually smuggled out of Wolf’s Lair by a German soldier before it fell to the Russians and was brought back to Berlin on Goebbels’s train.
Woelk’s first-hand account about the food she tasted for Hitler provides more evidence for historians to chew on in this decades-old controversy.