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. A parallel is also drawn to the scapegoat sacrificed on the Jewish Day of Atonement, which the ancient Jews are said to have cursed with all their sins before sacrificing it to the demon Azazel (p. 152). Similarly, Sax writes, the Nazis sacrificed the Jews themselves to an unnamed "German God" who "bore far more resemblance to Yahweh than Jesus" (p. 153).
The potentially offensive nature of the theory thus advanced is obvious. Not only are these very extraordinary claims, advanced on the basis of very thin (or non-existent) evidence, but their relevance also escape the reviewer. What does any of this have to do with how animals were viewed and treated in Nazi Germany?
In addition to this peculiar presentation, which takes up most of its pages, the book also performs its apparently secondary function of describing actual Nazi animal rights policy poorly. On this matter, Sax even repeats some outright myths, such as the idea that German SS members were required to raise puppies and then strangle them in order to prove their loyalty to the Party (p. 169). This legend circulates in many places on the Internet, but is complete nonsense; that this book endorses it would tend to make this reviewer doubt other claims it makes, which are less well known but sound equally fantastic (and grotesque).
The one good thing about "Animals in the Third Reich" is the portions cited from an actual primary source of relevance, a compilation of all Nazi animal-protection legislation by Giese and Kahler (published by Duncker & Humboldt, 1944). As this tome is in German, and further not currently in print, it will likely remain obscure to the vast majority of non-specialists, and thus Sax is in fact making a genuine contribution to research in making a rivulet of its content available to more casual readers. (We learn, for example, that in Nazi Germany fish had to be anesthesized prior to killing -- Which, incidentally, very few countries seem to require today -- and that there were elaborate provisions made for the protection of animals during transport by train or motor truck.) There is also an appendix providing a full English translation of the original Reichstierschutzgesetz (or Federal Law for the Protection of Animals), which initiated the Nazi humane legislation, in its slightly amended form as of 1938; this too will be of great interest to non-German-speakers. These sections raise the book just above the one-star mark, making it all the more regrettable that they appear as nothing so much as an afterthought casually added to the main body of the author's pseudo-psychological ramblings.