The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Holocaust Survivor Alex Hershaft’s Journey from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Animal Rights Movement

Posted on May 28, 2015 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Myrial Holbrook

Dr. Alex Hershaft, Holocaust survivor, vegan, and animal rights activist, delivered a moving personal account of his journey from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Animal Rights movement at a meeting of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America in Baltimore recently. The Vegetarian Resource Group served as a sponsor, so as an intern, I had the opportunity to listen to Hershaft’s story. He recounted his experience in the Warsaw Ghetto, the struggles of his family for food, his later escape from the ghetto with his mother, his near-capture by the Gestapo, and his eventual arrival in America. Suffering inconsolably from survivor’s guilt, Hershaft sought to find a purpose for his life in order to make some effort to honor those who had perished as victims of the Holocaust. He began in environmentalist and other social issue groups, but he still yearned for some greater cause. Then, when he was sent to a meat factory to examine water waste management, he found it.

Suddenly surrounded by the disembodied organs and flesh of animals, Hershaft vividly recalled the images of the discarded shoes, suitcases, and hair of Holocaust victims, of whom only piles of ashes remained. This moment catalyzed Hershaft’s journey as a forerunner in the animal rights and vegetarian movements.

I was amazed at Hershaft’s dedication to these movements. What particularly struck me about the presentation was Hershaft’s emphasis on the oppressive mindset. Each instance of oppression is unique—one cannot compare the experiences of the victims. However, the common denominator in each instance of oppression is the oppressive mindset—the willingness to ignore ongoing cruelty or to perpetuate it through conscious or unconscious action.

This comparison is stark but accurate. When I became a vegetarian at age six, it was because I wanted to save animals. Since then, I’ve tried to convert my friends and family, believing that anyone who truly witnesses the cruelty of the meat industry would not be able to go on supporting it. I was wrong. Most people would see the evidence, then try to ignore or forget it. And there it is, the oppressive mindset—ignorance and willful forgetfulness. But this can change. As an eighteen-year-old, I have little credence in the eyes of society when I try to persuade others to become vegetarian. Dr. Hershaft’s story of survival and activism, however, gives greater urgency and import to the animal rights and vegetarian movements. His work proves that people can realize their oppressive mindset and make the appropriate changes. I have learned from his experience and will share his testimonial with others in the hopes of promoting the vegetarian lifestyle for a more humane world.

Dr. Hershaft’s life has been a remarkable journey, and he’s still continuing full-force. As a vegan for over forty years, he is the picture of vitality and robustness, and credits his youthful energy to his well-balanced vegan diet and exercise. Hershaft is also an incredible agent for change. As he says, if we all do our part and stop supporting the practice of eating animals for food, we can end the most widespread example of oppression in our world right now. All it takes is a simple choice in grocery stores and restaurants.

For more information on the Jewish Vegetarians of North America, visit:

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