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The Holocaust of Non-Human Animals

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

Shaun Britton crafts together a controversial comparison of the conditions of past inhumane crimes to those of farmed animals of today.

Photo by Matthias Zomeer

During the Second World War Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz, a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp, wrote: “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.”

Controversy surrounds the comparison made between the experience of an animal in a slaughterhouse or a laboratory and the horrific revelations of the holocaust. If such a comparison is possible, directly or indirectly, then it spells a deeply important message for humanity. The message is about the grim reality behind the practices we take for granted - and a secret at the heart of our darkest hour.

Auschwitz and Abattoirs: Comparisons of Cruelty

The Oxford Dictionary's first definition of holocaust is ‘destruction or slaughter on a mass scale.’ The word holocaust is Greek in origin (Holos meaning 'whole' or ‘completely’, and Kaustos meaning ‘burnt’.) Amongst other uses, the term has been used to describe large scale destruction by fire, and then most commonly linked with the shocking Nazi campaign in World War Two.

Proponents of the comparison cite the shocking treatment animals receive from humans in industry. That the animal industries carry out their business without animals consent, or recognition as individuals with a right to life, is sadly only the tip of the comparison’s iceberg.

The comparison between concentration camps and slaughterhouses depicts a macabre backdrop to our modern age, with abject cruelty claimed in both the method and the motive of animal industries.

The comparisons are often difficult to digest, as much of the practices in these industries are not directly publicised to consumers, and hence remain largely out of sight.

The UK charity VIVA reports that 25% of pigs are slaughtered using gas chambers or tanks filled with C02, and the rest, like other animals, largely with electrocution.

Pigs take 30 seconds to asphyxiate and will squeal, hyperventilate and try to escape. News of gassing still being used hit the media in August, with chilling footage to accompany it.

An undercover investigation by Animal Aid in 14 UK slaughterhouses found acts of abuse and lawbreaking in 13 of them, including those labelled high welfare and RSPCA assured. These acts included pigs burnt with cigarettes and animals beaten.

In just November 2018 in the UK alone, 952,000 pigs were killed for meat, in an age where using animals for food has been argued to be unethical, unnecessary and unsustainable.

The appalling images of mass graves, and bodies of victims being used as material resources at concentration camps, haunt our collective history and will never be forgotten. These acts, all sadly can be argued to have their counterparts in the animal experience. How do we compare and contrast the two? Put simply, we don't.

Two Branches Of The Same Tree

Seeking to Resolve The Controversy

Speciesism is at the heart of the controversy and, it is argued, the reason for our treatment of non- human animals in general. If both atrocities are judged solely by the internal suffering of the victims, the chasm between them begins to narrow.

One atrocity should not, and does not rob from the other. Rather than comparing the animal atrocity to the human, both can be recognised as holocausts in their own right, in their own time and in their own context.

They are both branches of the same tree, and both should move us to ensure that each catastrophe is placed firmly where it belongs - in the past; remembered, but not repeated.

In suffering, we are the same. Terror for an animal is no less or greater a terror than for a human.

The steadfast perception and belief of another being's right to life and inherent value, regardless of whether they have hands or hooves, is at the core of the capacity to dominate the innocent.

We learn the programming code of oppression the moment we are told to pet the dog and eat the cow. As Jewish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote “As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together.” | Tru. 🌱


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1.) Kupfer-Koberwitz, Edgar. Dachau Diaries 1942-45. Special collections research centre, University of Chicago Library

2.) Viva!. [Online]. [19 December 2018]. Available from: do/slaughter/slaughter-farmed-animals-uk

3.) Daily Mail. 2018. Mail Online. [Online]. [19 December 2018]. Available from:

4.) Animal Aid. 2018. Animal Aid. [Online]. [19 December 2018]. Available from:

5.) 18. United Kingdom Slaughter Statistics – November 2018. [Online]. [19 December 2018]. Available:

6.) Kemmerer, L (2012). Animals and World Religions. England: Oxford University Press.p186

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