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Holocaust Survivors Launch a Movement

Looking ahead to the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th, it’s altogether fitting that we recall three Holocaust survivors who were instrumental in launching the U.S. animal rights movement. Neither their background, nor their Holocaust experience gave a hint of the major role they were to play in saving animals.

A Philosopher

The concept that animals should be endowed with certain basic rights, as an extension of human rights, was first proposed by British social reformer Henry Salt in his 1892 essay Animals’ Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress. The concept was revived in 1965 by British playwright and social reformer Brigid Brophy in an editorial in the prestigious London Sunday Times.

In the early 1970s, a group of young philosophy post-graduate students and others at England’s Oxford University became intrigued by Brophy’s 1965 editorial. In the following year, they collected 13 essays reflecting on animal rights into a book titled Animals, Men and Morals.

In 1973, a member of the group published a review of that book in the prestigious New York Review of Books. Because of the positive public reaction to the review, he was invited to teach a course on animal rights at New York University. Two years later, he expanded his lesson plan into a book – Animal Liberation, which is generally credited with introducing the concept of animal rights to the United States.

He went on to write many more books on ethics, including several on animal rights and activism. He is considered one of the world’s most prominent living philosophers and an exponent of effective altruism, which seeks to minimize suffering of all sentient beings.

Peter Singer was born in 1946, in Melbourne, Australia, to Jewish parents who had escaped Nazi persecution in Vienna, Austria, in 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II.

A Labor Activist

One of Singer’s students at New York University was a tough merchant marine seaman, union organizer, and civil rights activist, who viewed the struggle for animal rights as a logical extension of his own human rights activism.

In 1977, he applied the tactics he learned in the labor and civil rights movements to shut down outrageous cat blinding experiments at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Two years later, he was instrumental in repealing New York State’s Pound Seizure Law, which forced shelters to turn over unwanted cats and dogs for medical research and training.

By 1981, his powerful Coalition to Stop Draize Rabbit Blinding Tests prevailed on Revlon, Avon, Bristol-Meyers, and other cosmetic companies to donate millions of dollars to develop animal-free alternatives to this cruel practice. His Coalition to Stop the LD (Lethal Dose) – 50 Test was also successful. The test measured the lethality of a substance by feeding increasing amounts to a group of animals, until 50 percent of them died.

A truly grassroots activist, he usually worked alone, with occasional help from his many individual and organizational admirers. His successful record of ending cruel practices of major corporations transformed animal rights from a philosophical concept to a force to be reckoned with. His activism has been heralded in Peter Singer’s Ethics into Action. A year before his death, we presented him with our animal rights conference award.

Henry Spira was born in 1927 to a Jewish family in the diamond trade in Antwerp, Belgium. The family escaped to New York City in 1940, just before the Nazi invasion. We lost Henry to cancer in September 1998.

A Scientist

I was one of the few people that Henry Spira tolerated. I took advantage of my privilege by showing him at every opportunity my factory farm and slaughterhouse slides from the federal agriculture library. Eventually, I persuaded Henry to turn his powerful activism from vivisection to animal agriculture.

I had stopped eating animals for esthetic reasons in 1961, right after getting my PhD in chemistry. However, I didn’t know any other vegetarians, or fathom the devastating ethical, health, and environmental impacts of animal agriculture. Attending the 1975 World Vegetarian Congress in Orono (ME) became a life-changing experience. I knew instantly that I would devote the rest of my life to animal advocacy.

In the following year, I launched the Vegetarian Information Service to disseminate information on the ethical, health, and environmental benefits of plant-based eating. I also arranged a couple of small conferences. Some conference attendees had read Animal Liberation and were looking for a place to share their new-found ideology. Although I did not fully comprehend the concept of animal rights, I was impressed by their enthusiasm and our common opposition to using animals for food.

In August of 1981, I organized a conference in Allentown (PA) to explore opportunities for cooperation between vegetarian and animal rights advocates. That conference, is generally viewed as the birthplace of the U.S. animal rights movement. It consummated an ideological marriage between animal rights advocates inspired by
Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and vegetarian activists recruited six years earlier by the World Vegetarian Congress. Vegetarian activists had to make one small adjustment – we all had to go vegan.

I have since organized nearly 30 other national animal rights conferences, led 40 more years of vegan advocacy programming with FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement), and have been authoring this blog for a couple of years.

I am Alex Hershaft, born in 1934 in Warsaw, Poland. I am one of the few survivors of the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, a Nazi concentration camp where an estimated 400,000 Jews were murdered, including most of my family.

The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily
represent the views of the Farm Animal Rights Movement

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18 thoughts on “Latest Post”

  1. Incredible what you experienced over your lifetime. A true survivor and someone who has dedicated a lifetime to saving lives. I’m going to subscribe to your blog.

  2. Thank you so much for this. Very wise words that must be spread and shared. Many people will not want to hear these words because they don’t want to think of themselves as bad people but the animals depend on us to share.

    1. Thank you for all your throught-out informed beneficial points. Indeed you have touched upon many that I have been saying for years, being an ARA about 2 decades and Animal lover/rescuer from childhood. I’m the daughter of WWII Holocaust survivors and recognize 100% the parallel of the Animal Holocaust. At my demos I’ve advocated for communication via love and tolerance, in order to build a bridge of communication instead of a wall of defense. Aka NVC (Non-Violent Communication) and the importance of early education to counter the indoctrination via the ‘not yet vegan’ homelife and community. All you have mentioned shall be indeed beneficial. 🌟🕊💖🌱🌸✌🌷Thank You
      Mitzi Ocean global coordinator of the International Anti Fur Coalition (IAFC)

    1. I don’t think anyone but a survivor could openly own and say this, without being totally shamed by so many, because it sounds disrespectful, but I totally agree,I’ve used those rotten comparisons in my mind,and you sir have the ultimate right to shout that out. My respect for you sir, immense. Thank you for your compassion for the defenceless.

  3. Dr Hershaft is one of the very few who can refer to the Holocaust when referring to animal rights. To the best of my knowledge PETA previously drew comparison and it caused controversy.


      I am very happy to meet you, even if it’s on the computer. I have thought for many years that in order for there to be peace in the world, we have to stop killing and eating animals. We have to start with the animals and work our way along our paths to people. It’s horrible what we do to animals not even giving the smallest thought to the suffering we are causing them. I am not without guilt in this area as I ate animal flesh for the first forty years of my life until I met my husband to be who was a vegetarian. Now we are both vegetarians, but we do eat frozen yogurt and ice cream causing suffering to cows. I am now pledging to become a vegan and hope I will have the willpower to stay a vegan. Since I am now 83 years old, I will have to begin again doing some cooking as vegan food, I’ve found, is difficult to find. So I said to myself, this is too hard. So wish me well that I can stick to a vegan diet.

  4. Carla Sofia Salas

    THANK YOU só much for speak for animals and for show to the world the meaning of what they eat, and that a steak in your dish is more than a piece.of meat and potatoes! It’s a dead body part of a living being who had a cruelty life and a brutally dead!
    We are what we eat!

  5. Hi.
    What you quoted as similar between Holocaust and animal slaughter, stems from both been brought to us by same people. Modern “farming ” and slaughter comes from Germany and was brought to the States by Germans who went to live there. Four years after Neuremburg, all the scientists sentenced to death were freed and brought to America. They became CEOs in all the mayor companies, including pharmaceutical and agricultural industries.

    However, how can you compare what is done to animals, though wrong, to the Holocaust? By doing so you disgrace your parents’ memory, which is up to you, but also that of all the others who were murdered. It cheapens the Holocaust and is especially insulting because you mention your parents died there. I really don’t think it helps the cause either.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Nicole.
      The Holocaust and killing animals for food are two manifestations of the common capacity of otherwise normal people for committing unspeakable acts. The victims are not comparable, because we relate to them differently, but the oppressive mindsets, sanctioned by prevailing social norms, are amazingly similar.

      Please don’t presume how I should deal with my parents’ memory.

  6. Thank you Dr Hershaft for this very moving informative piece, I have read it twice so far. I agree that animals must think of us as Nazis but I think not all animals because some animals are in sanctuaries but unfortunately very few compared to the many billions of land animals murdered unnecessarily for food every year and trillions of sea life. I became a vegetarian in 1979 merging into veganism by 1999. In 1981 I went to the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on a 2 week trip to Israel with my husband & his parents, some of what I saw at that museum is still in my mind now. Some years later we visited the Holocaust Jewish Museum in Sydney & later still I became a member of the museum. Thank you again Dr Hershaft.

  7. Thank you so much, Dr. Hershaft, for your words and thoughts and for sharing them with us. You show us how similar the victims were/are tortured and killed, and you can do this, because you know what you are talking about. Though the victims are different, the methods of torment are more equal than different. We have to stop the wars against other beings, any war against any being. It is not humanlike and we can do it better. The first step is very easy: GO VEGAN (and talk about it)! Best wishes from Germany and stay healthy.

  8. Thank you, Alex, for your heartfelt expression of what I have known for at least 30 years. Your beautiful testimonial underscores why I became a vegan over 26 years ago while in college (27 as of New Year’s Day 2021). As a Reform Jew who experienced ample anti-Semitism throughout my formative years, I can’t stand to see anyone subject to bigotry of any kind. I have no tolerance for moral hypocrisy that segregates non-humans from our moral sphere simply based on their different species, as if we should only respect the dignity of humans, and all other beings are legitimately exploitable for any purpose. I believe Tikkun Olam, the Jewish principle that advocates “healing the world” by definition must include veganism as a moral imperative. The notion of intersectionality also must include non-human beings in our moral community, lest we undermine the values we claim to uphold. As an agnostic Jew, I prioritize moral consistency over superstition. I don’t celebrate Jewish holidays or attend synagogue for Shabbat as I did when I was younger, though I had a Bar-Mitzvah and Confirmation, but I cannot accept any self-described Jew who consumes non-humans, has no qualms about vivisection and other myriad abominations against non-humans so ubiquitous in our daily lives as being consistent with Jewish values. Mohandas Gandhi advised us to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, “No one is free when others are oppressed.” I am personally offended by anyone, especially Jews, who proclaim that comparing non-human animal exploitation to the Nazi Holocaust “cheapens the memory” of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Third Reich. This is patently hypocritical and willfully ignorant, particularly when most of us know firsthand what bigotry feels like. This is exactly why I rebel against all true bigotry, regardless of who the subjects of such discrimination happen to be.

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