Hitler was a complex figure: an inhuman monster who could nevertheless love animals, espouse vegetarianism and be vehemently opposed to smoking.

Adolph Hitler is infamous for his dream of Aryan world conquest, his hatred of the Jewish race and his extermination camps. Nevertheless, like all the great horrendous villains of history, he was not a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out figure, but a multi-faceted individual with paradoxical qualities that in someone else might be considered virtues.

Hitler the Famous Vegetarian and Health Freak

Hitler, the man who could coldly order the death of millions of innocent people, did not like harm to come to animals and so was a vegetarian. According to Colin Cross in History Makers, Hitler refused to eat meat and was harshly critical of others he described as 'eating carcasses'. He employed an excellent chef to prepare him meals of vegetables or eggs. On state occasions he would not bend the rule: on his visit with Mussolini, he refused the grand banquet fare offered and had a plate of scrambled eggs cooked for himself. Those who wanted to toady to Hitler became vegetarian. Cross records that Martin Bormann was despised by his colleagues for being a vegetarian in front of Hitler at dinner but tucking in to a plate of meat when he got home.

Nevertheless, despite the need for some staffers to emulate him, Hitler did not insist on others being vegetarian. He always offered meat and alcohol to his guests even though he did not touch it himself.

Der Fuhrer was a Teetotaler

Again, it is surprising that someone who seems to have a lack of self-control and moderation in public areas of his life would refuse alcohol. Cross suggests that this was not wowserism or aestheticism, but rather a distaste for sour or sharp-tasting things. His palate ran to luscious cream cakes and chocolate and so he would often drink chocolate or orange juice while others enjoyed wine or beer.

Adolph Hitler the Anti-Smoking Crusader

Hitler wasn't just a non-smoker; he was vehemently opposed to smoking and couldn't abide the smell of cigarette smoke. Edward Deuss is recorded on Nizkor.org as saying that no one was allowed to smoke in any room Hitler was likely to enter, and that when Hitler noticed his men leaving a meeting room at hourly intervals, someone had to lie to him and say they were going to the toilet, when in fact they needed a cigarette. Cross records that Hitler spotted a member of his press corps taking a quick puff outside the aeroplane at a refuelling stop, flew into a rage and sacked him on the spot.

Hitler Loved Animals

It has been suggested that one reason for Hitler's vegetarianism was his love of animals. Certainly, under this most inhumane regime animals got a better deal than people. The Reich Animal Protection laws banned vivisection at a time when the most hideous 'medical research' was being carried out on human victims. The Nazis promoted themselves as 'friends of animals'. Hitler was fond of birdwatching, loved his dogs, especially the Alsatians at his mountain retreat at Berchtesgarten. His long-time secretary, Traudl Junge recounted in her memoirs how Hitler would take his dog walking every day and come home excited by how much higher the dog could jump each day.

All of these personal details of Hitler must be tempered by the fact that he was a great propagandist and an astute politician who struggled to rise to power in Munich. He knew that such aesthetic ideals as good health, abstinence from alcohol and meat would support the image of the great almost mystical leader he wanted to appear. He was also a master of mis-direction: by heavily promoting fine ethical or moral ideals about animal welfare he would draw attention away from other shameful areas of his policies. Thus, in the end, it is difficult to know how much of the above is the real Hitler and how much is showmanship and Hitler's manipulation of the masses.

Sources

Colin Cross in William Armstrong (ed.), History Makers, London1969.

Traudl Junge, Until the Final Hour, Ullstein Heyne, Munich, 2002.