An emaciated death camp survivor stares blankly alongside a gaunt steer. "During the seven years between 1938 and 1945, 12 million people perished in the Holocaust," the image declares. "The same number of animals is killed every 4 hours for food in the U.S. alone."
The poster forms the heart of a new national campaign launched last week by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that compares the Holocaust and the meat industry -- and that is ruffling Jewish feathers.
Dubbed "The Holocaust on Your Plate," PETA's campaign and its companion Web site, www.masskilling.com, insists the Nazi murder of Jews, gays and Gypsies mirrors "the modern-day Holocaust" that is the industrialized slaughter of animals for food.
Just as the Nazis forced Jews to live in cramped, filthy conditions, tore children from parents and murdered people in "assembly-line fashion," factory farms cram animals into tiny, waste-filled spaces, treating cows, chicken and lambs as meat-, egg- and milk-producing machines, PETA says.
"It's a direct parallel," said Matt Prescott, PETA's youth outreach coordinator and one of the campaign's creators with relatives who died in the Holocaust.
PETA cites several Jewish figures as spiritual forefathers for its campaign, including Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer and the vegetarian Torah scholar Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendelovitz. Singer was a staunch vegetarian whose fictional characters drew analogies between Nazism and man's treatment of animals.Â
PETA's tactics are raising the hackles of several Jewish groups.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, called the Holocaust comparison "ridiculous." "No responsible Jewish leader will have anything against a campaign that seeks to limit the abuse and torture of animals," Hier said. "But putting on a Web site the images of the death camps, and comparing it to chickens cooped up in a pen, it denigrates the memory of the Holocaust."
But PETA remains adamant that the "similarities" between the Holocaust and factory farming are worth exploring, Prescott said.
"We're trying to widen the circle of compassion, and sometimes a person has to be shocked before they can begin to accept their own role in an act of injustice," he said.