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Animals in the Third Reich: Pets, Scapegoats, and the Holocaust Paperback – June 1, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Animals in the Third Reich is not just a book about Nazis or animals but also a revealing insight into the rest of us mortals who have increasingly blurred the boundary between humans and animals in a way that betrays both as sentient beings. In the course of his fascinating study, Boria Sax has managed to uncover some very important connections between how the Nazis perceived and treated animals, and how they treated people, especially those-Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally ill and challenged-they considered to be biologically inferior." —Klaus P. Fischer, author of Nazi Germany: A New History and The History of an Obsession: German Judeophophia and the Holocaust

"In this fascinating study, Sax, an intellectual historian and author, explores the elaborate system the Nazis developed using animal symbols to characterize different types of people and in the process provides a thought-provoking commentary of man's relationship with the animal kingdom." —Book News

"It is difficult to find as aspect of the Holocaust that has not already been extensively analyzed but Boria Sax has done just that with this book on the place of animals in the development and worldview of Nazism. In so doing, he not only throws new light on the Nazis and on the Holocaust, he also forces us to confront our own uncertainties and ambivalences about what is human, what is animal and what is the difference. This is an intensely personal book, eloquently written but nonetheless full of erudition and scholarship. Sax draws the reader in and takes him or her on a smooth but demanding examination of humanity's relationship with animals and nature in the context of the Nazis and the Holocaust. He accomplishes this without trivializing either topic, which is, in itself, a remarkable achievement." —Andrew N. Rowan, Senior Vice-President, The Humane Society of America

"In Animals in the Third Reich, Boria Sax explores an aspect of Nazi ideology and policy that, to my knowledge, no one has seriously studied until now: the Nazi relationship to animals, both as mythic figures and as actual living creatures. I had come across references to Hitler's fixation on wolves in his biographies, but the authors offered no context for this fixation and tended to treat it as yet another idiosyncratic symptom of mental illness. In Sax's book, I learned for the first time the central role that animals, especially predatory animals played in the Nazi worldview, and how this colored their perception of Jews as 'pigs' and 'dogs.' This is an utterly fascinating work, enriched by Sax's wide-ranging erudition, and sure to intrigue ordinary readers, as well as inspiring scholars for years to come."
—Barbara Ehrenreich

"[An] insightful book...an informed and important book." —Forward

"Rich with evidence and story."—H-Nilas

Review

"Animals in the Third Reich is not just a book about Nazis or animals but also a revealing insight into the rest of us mortals who have increasingly blurred the boundary between humans and animals in a way that betrays both as sentient beings. In the course of his fascinating study, Boria Sax has managed to uncover some very important connections between how the Nazis perceived and treated animals, and how they treated people, especially those-Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally ill and challenged-they considered to be biologically inferior." —Klaus P. Fischer, author of Nazi Germany: A New History and The History of an Obsession: German Judeophophia and the Holocaust

"In this fascinating study, Sax, an intellectual historian and author, explores the elaborate system the Nazis developed using animal symbols to characterize different types of people and in the process provides a thought-provoking commentary of man's relationship with the animal kingdom." —Book News

"It is difficult to find as aspect of the Holocaust that has not already been extensively analyzed but Boria Sax has done just that with this book on the place of animals in the development and worldview of Nazism. In so doing, he not only throws new light on the Nazis and on the Holocaust, he also forces us to confront our own uncertainties and ambivalences about what is human, what is animal and what is the difference. This is an intensely personal book, eloquently written but nonetheless full of erudition and scholarship. Sax draws the reader in and takes him or her on a smooth but demanding examination of humanity's relationship with animals and nature in the context of the Nazis and the Holocaust. He accomplishes this without trivializing either topic, which is, in itself, a remarkable achievement." —Andrew N. Rowan, Senior Vice-President, The Humane Society of America

"In Animals in the Third Reich, Boria Sax explores an aspect of Nazi ideology and policy that, to my knowledge, no one has seriously studied until now: the Nazi relationship to animals, both as mythic figures and as actual living creatures. I had come across references to Hitler's fixation on wolves in his biographies, but the authors offered no context for this fixation and tended to treat it as yet another idiosyncratic symptom of mental illness. In Sax's book, I learned for the first time the central role that animals, especially predatory animals played in the Nazi worldview, and how this colored their perception of Jews as 'pigs' and 'dogs.' This is an utterly fascinating work, enriched by Sax's wide-ranging erudition, and sure to intrigue ordinary readers, as well as inspiring scholars for years to come."
—Barbara Ehrenreich

"[An] insightful book...an informed and important book." —Forward

"Rich with evidence and story."—H-Nilas --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Continuum (June 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826414087
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826414083
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,407,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I first became interested in the literature of animals around the end of the 1980's, not terribly long after I had obtained my PhD in German and intellectual history. I was feeling frustrated in my search for an academic job and even study of literature. By accident, I came across an encyclopedia of animals that had been written in the early nineteenth century. There, without any self-consciousness, was a new world of romance and adventure, filled with turkeys that spoke Arabic, beavers that build like architects, and dogs that solve murders. Within a few months, I had junked my previous research and devoted my studies to these texts.

Today, I shudder how nervy the switch was for a destitute young scholar, who, despite one book and several articles, had not managed to obtain any steady job except mopping floors. But soon I had managed to publish two books on animals in literature, The Frog King (1990) and The Parliament of Animals (1992). Around 1995, I founded Nature in Legend and Story (NILAS, Inc.), an organization that combines storytelling and scholarship. It was initially, a sort of rag-tag band of intellectual adventurers who loved literature but could not find a niche in the scholarly world. We put together a few conferences, which generated a lot of excitement among the few who attended, but little notice in academia or in what they sometimes call "the real world."

From fables and anecdotes, I moved to mythology, and published The Serpent and the Swan (1997), a study of animal bride tales from around the world. This was followed by many further publications including an examination of the darker side of animal studies, Animals in the Third Reich (2000), and a sort of compendium, The Mythical Zoo (2002), and a cultural history of corvids entitled Crow (2003). My most recent book is City of Ravens: London, its Tower and its Famous Ravens (2011), and Imaginary Animals will be published soon by Reaktion Books in London.

When I embarked on the study of animals in myth and literature, even graduate students did not have to mention a few dozen books just to show that they had read them. In barely more than a couple decades, the literature on human-animal relations has grown enormously in both quantity and sophistication. NILAS, I am proud to say, has become a well established organization, which has sponsored two highly successful conferences together with ISAZ.

But as the study of animals, what I like to call "totemic literature," becomes more of a standard feature of academic programs, I fear that something may be lost. It is now just a little too easy to discourse about the "social construction" and the "transgression" of "boundaries" between animals and human beings. Even as I admire the subtlety of such analysis, I sometimes find myself thinking, "So what?"

Having been there close to the beginning, part of my role is now to preserve some the sensuous immediacy, with that filled the study of animals in literature when it was still a novelty. That sort of "poetry" is not simply a luxury in our intellectual pursuits. With such developments as cloning, genetic engineering, and the massive destruction of natural habitats, we face crises so unprecedented that traditional philosophies, from utilitarianism to deep ecology, can offer us precious little guidance. The possibilities are so overwhelming, that we hardly even know what questions to ask. But neither, I am sure, did the fugitive who once encountered a mermaid in the middle of the woods.



Boria Sax

Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By plhgg on June 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In this useful and interesting book, Sax discusses the treatment of animals in the Third Reich, but the focus is broader than that; he also explores the way that metaphors from the animal kingdom became an important way of expressing the Nazi world view. In the twisted ideology of the Third Reich, there was no important differentiation between "human" and "animal" life. Instead, the Nazis tended to look on the world as a continuum. The highest position on the continuum belonged to healthy humans the "Aryan race." Animals could be found lower down on that continuum, while lower still were the humans who were considered inferior because of their racial identity or mental handicaps. As Sax put it in the introductory material, "In their nihilistic perspective the important distinction was not between "humans" and "aniimals" .... It was between victor and vanquished, between master and slave. The underlying paradigm was ... that of predator and prey." This attitude reflected the viewpoint in National Socialism that depicted nature as "a harsh and implacable power," demanding obedience.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Arnold E. Bjorn on May 29, 2014
Format: Paperback
For some it is still a shock to learn, for many nowadays an accepted truism, that even as Nazi Germany was mean to its minorities, it was also nice to animals. Perhaps influenced by Adolf Hitler himself -- An avowed vegetarian and animal-lover -- the Nazis took steps for the protection of animals and environment which, in the context of the 1930s, were indeed quite revolutionary. Numerous writers have acknowledged this in the past, but to this reviewer's best knowledge, no actual scholarly monograph on the subject has as yet been produced.

One might easily believe that this book would be the first. If so, one is bound to be grievously disappointed upon perusing it. For Boria Sax has far different intentions with this slim little tome than its cover would lead us to believe: What he is really writing about is his idea of what made the Nazis tick. Rather than history, which calmly presents the facts, this is "psycho-history" in the vein of Victor's "Hitler: The Pathology of Evil" or Waite's "The Psychopathic God Adolf Hitler" (both about as awful as their hysterical titles would suggest, and both quoted approvingly by Sax). And as is par the course for this genre, elaborate and far-fetched speculation is substituted for those same facts.

Sax uses a number of dubious claims to argue that Nazism was less a political movement than a death-obsessed religious cult inspired by Judaism. The genocidal wars of the Hebrews recounted in the Old Testament (foremost the Book of Joshua) are interpreted as human sacrifice on a vast scale (p. 151), the prototype of the Nazi atrocities.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Eros Faust on April 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who reads this book and criticizes its scholarship is suspect in my opinion. The scholarship here is excellent, its the information that is controversial. The book contains translations of many of the National Socialist Animal Rights Acts.

Animal rights activists will hate the conclusions to be drawn from this research, in the same way that they hated the Nazi War on Cancer. However, understanding that the National Socialists had a domestic problem that would appeal to many modern progressives makes it that much more fascinating.
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8 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Unfortunately, this beautifully written, morally reflective book was inadequately researched. Many of the author's anecdotes were simply culled from secondary sources (some of questionable reliability), and the book even contains lengthy sections of entirely unfootnoted assertions. Sax seems unaware of major recent work on Nazi Germany of direct relevance to the issues he addresses - Christopher Browning's "Ordinary Men," Ian Kershaw's "Hitler Myth", Paul Weindling's "Health, Race and German Politics" and Kurt Schleunes', "A Twisted Road to Auschwitz" are all missing from his bibliography. As a result, his book unfortunately adds little to contemporary scholarly understanding of the Nazi regime, despite the novelty and importance of his initial questions.
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