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Dietrich von Haugwitz

Dietrich von Haugwitz passed away June 25, 2007 and his passing is a great personal loss to some of the webmasters of this site.

Memorial page for Dietrich at:

From: Charles Patterson:

From Wehrmacht to Animal Rights

In the early 1980s Dietrich von Haugwitz was in his 50s when he turned to animal rights after experiencing what he calls "that momentous intellectual breakthrough of recognizing the species barrier as morally and rationally untenable."

Von Haugwitz's eventful life began in Silesia in eastern Germany where he grew up in an aristocratic family (hence the "von" in his name). He would have been tutored privately in the family castle in what is today Poland, but because Nazi law did not permit private tutoring, he attended elementary school with "commoners" until the age of eleven, at which time he was sent off to an exclusive upper-class boarding school. He remembers the distress his parents felt at the sight of their beloved country being run by "a bunch of vulgar thugs (as they viewed Hitler and his henchmen), and people all around them being drugged by this vile and immoral ideology which they abhorred." Von Haugwitz was too young to understand why they were so upset, "but I understand them now only too well because I am also very much out-of-step with what most people around me believe in and take for granted."

Von Haugwitz was drafted at age fifteen and a half into a pre-military anti-aircraft battalion, and then in the summer of 1944, at age seventeen, he received his draft letter commanding him to report for duty in the regular Wehrmacht on August 1. His father, a pacifist and staunch opponent of the regime, went to an old friend who was a military doctor. "Listen," he told him, "my son got his draft letter, but unfortunately he won't be able to make it because he has a bad case of appendicitis, you know (wink wink), so won't you please take out his appendix?" The doctor agreed, "so I was taken to the military hospital and they cut out my disgustingly healthy appendix."

When the next draft letter arrived for September 1, his father went back to his doctor friend and said, "Look here, we're all sooooooo sad, but my son won't be able to start serving and fighting for our final victory, because he hasn't fully recovered from the surgery. So won't you please certify that and report it to the draft board?" The doctor did. When the next draft letter came, his father had to twist the doctor's arm and add a hefty bribe of some hard-to-get meat. So it went, until the doctor finally put his foot down and said, no, he couldn't continue to lie about this, that he'd be court-martialed and shot if he was found out. So young von Haugwitz finally had to report for duty, "but we had delayed the dreaded but inevitable draft for half a year, and that probably saved my life."

On January 14, 1945, von Haugwitz had a tearful farewell with his parents ("I'm sure they never believed they'd see me alive after that") and reported to an anti-aircraft unit in the port town of Wismar on the Baltic Sea. He saw little action, but once he almost got killed when a small English plane swooped down on the cabin where he was cooking some food over an open fire with his shirt off because it was very hot. The machine gun fire shot the frying pan out of his hand and splattered boiling fat all over his chest. "There, that's how I got wounded in World War II!"

The British arrived in Wismar a few hours before the Russians, so von Haugwitz surrendered to the first British soldier he saw. "He said something like, 'I'm afraid I must ask you to regard yourself as my prisoner--do you smoke?' And he offered me a cigar! Honestly! I'm not making this up. Until then, the official image in Germany of the British was they were cruel, sadistic, blood-thirsty monsters. From that moment on, I realized that I was beginning to experience a world that was turned upside down, or rather right side up. And I fell in love with the English--a love affair that was to last forever."

The next day, as von Haugwitz was being marched with hundreds of other captured German soldiers through the countryside to a POW camp, he realized that once they locked him up in the camp, there would be no getting out. So when no British soldier was looking, he made a dash for it and ran to a nearby farm where he hid in a cattle barn for the next forty-eight hours. "For me this taste of freedom was the great turning point in my life. Everything I had taken for granted until then, everything that had controlled my life until then had come to an end." Von Haugwitz spent May, June, and July making his way through Germany toward the village of Pockau in the Erzgebirge, a mountain range in central Germany (soon to be the Soviet zone, or "East Germany"), where his parents had gone after fleeing from the family castle as the Red Army approached. Earlier they had sent letters to his military address, and a couple of them had actually reached him. On his way to Pockau von Haugwitz survived mostly on the potatoes he dug up in the fields and whatever else he could find in the woods, fields, and villages through which he passed.

Von Haugwitz found Berlin in ruins, with a terrible stench in the air from the thousands of corpses still under all the rubble and floating in the rivers and canals. At the railroad station he managed to hop a ride on the roof of a train going south toward Leipzig and then caught a local train that took him to the village where his parents were supposed to be.

Having no idea if he would ever find them, he started walking down the main street when suddenly he saw his father walking toward him. "I ran toward him and called out excitedly, 'Dad--it's me!' I remember it as if it was yesterday. He stopped, stared, and shook his head. 'No, no. It's not true. My son is dead.' It took quite a while for him to realize it was me. He was so despondent that he had given up hope that I was still alive." What followed when they reached the attic where his mother, sister, and their beloved family dog were living was "a tearful, incredible reunion."

When it came time to leave the village, the family decided it would be best for them to split up, with Dietrich going west across the "Iron Curtain" to the British zone to escape the Russians who were picking up young men and shipping them to labor camps. The plan was for his mother to go to Potsdam, near Berlin, where she had been a principal of a college before her marriage, and for his sister to go to Berlin, where they had relatives, in order to try to train as a nurse in a hospital, which would mean food, housing, and warmth for the coming winter. "My father was the problem," says von Haugwitz. "He was so despondent we thought we'd 'park' him with distant relatives not too far from where we were. He'd stay there until my mother would send for him." He did stay there for a few weeks, until October 31, 1945--the eve of his birthday--when he walked out of that house and was never seen again. "We suspect that he decided to start walking back toward our home, since he blamed himself for having left. He felt he should have stayed with the estate that had been entrusted to him, by God I guess, sort of like the captain who must go down with his ship. A matter of honor. We don't know what happened to him, and at that time there was no authority in Germany to investigate this sort of thing."

Von Haugwitz made his way to the city of Braunschweig in the British zone, which was was sixty or seventy percent in ruins. There he lived as a penniless refugee in a bombed out cellar, a railroad car, and then finally a garage, while he studied piano at the local college of music. Although he graduated, gave some recitals, and played with some city orchestras, von Haugwitz decided to leave Germany. He had lost his home, and life was depressing, since most German cities were in ruins and crowded with other refugees from the East ("seven million displaced persons!").

But mostly, he says, he was disenchanted with the Germans. "They had cheered on the Nazis when things were going well, and they showed little inclination now to come to terms with the horrible past and their general complicity, even though we now had a free press that allowed the Germans, for the first time, to know what really happened. Germans wanted no great moral debate. What they all seemed to embark on was a headlong rush into crass materialism. Everybody just wanted to regain all they had lost--and then some. The positive aspect of that, of course, was what was then called the German 'economic miracle'--the re-building of the country and its infrastructure."

After years of writing letters trying to persuade some organization in America to sponsor him, a little country church in Minnesota finally picked up on it, and in 1956, "very excited and twenty-nine years old, I sailed on the Queen Elizabeth, from Southampton in England to New York." He stayed in Minnesota only for about nine months, directing the church choir, playing the organ, teaching piano, and giving piano recitals and talks in various towns. Then, in 1957 he went to Hollywood, California, "where I had wanted to be all along." There he worked as a pianist, gave piano lessons, and did some acting on the side through friends he made in the movie industry. While acting in a German theater, he met a German woman named Eva and married her in 1960. ("I have been very happily married to her ever since.") When he realized "I had started serious piano studies too late in life to ever become another Rubinstein or Horowitz or Asheknazy, I decided not to settle for second best, especially because total dedication to nothing but music left a good part of my mind dissatisfied: I had too many other interests and inclinations."

In the 1960s, after studying computer programming, von Haugwitz worked at Southern California Financial Corporation (Great Western). He had always been an "animal lover," he says. He loved zoos, wildlife, animal films, bird watching, and adored dogs and cats. "And of course I also loved my sausages." In California "we had some cats in our house, and we were the usual (meat eating) 'animal lovers'"

That's when the first of three things happened to him that changed his life. He and his wife went on a short trip to Mexico, where they decided to do what one is supposed to do there--watch a bullfight. "When the first animal was killed, I broke down--emotionally and physically. I had never witnessed such unabashed animal torture before and simply couldn't believe what I saw--the suffering of the desperate animal and the blood lust of the cheering crowd! They couldn't wait to see the next animal brought in and tortured. I left, and the memory of what I saw haunted me for several years."

The second event happened in North Carolina where von Haugwitz worked as a computer programmer/systems analyst at Duke University Medical Center. His wife Eva, who was a volunteer and board member of the local animal shelter, decided to educate the members of the Animal Protection Society by showing them a British film she leased, called "The Animals' Film." Von Haugwitz says the film, which is over two hours long, shows in graphic detail everything the animal rights movement is concerned about--hunting, trapping, vivisection, slaughterhouses, etc. "I fell apart. I had had no idea about any of this. I now realized that the torture of the bull I saw was just the tip of the iceberg."

He tried to resolve his mental conflict by reasoning as follows: "On an emotional level, all of this is terrible, agonizing, almost unbearable, if one is compassionate--and I'm proud to be compassionate rather than unfeeling. However, feeling is one thing, but reason is quite another. And reason tells me that this is the way it is, and it must be. Top of the food chain, hierarchy of values, that sort of thing. To my knowledge, there really were no truly rational arguments against the status quo--only emotional ones."

Then he happened to hear Professor Tom Regan speak. When he went up to Regan afterwards, he told him he was impressed and asked him if he had written anything. Yes, said Regan, he had just written a book called The Case for Animal Rights. So von Haugwitz bought it and spent several months reading it, scribbling in the margins, thinking through every argument, trying to shoot holes in them, unsuccessfully as it turned out. That was the third and decisive event that turned him around. "The book changed my life. No book has ever affected me as profoundly as this one; no philosophical, social, or political theory has widened my horizon as much as this book. Here finally were the rational arguments that validated my feelings." The book was "an incredibly logical edifice of argumentation that demolished any argument defending the status quo--calmly and dispassionately. This appealed to my mind. I needed this approach. It was the only level on which I was reachable." That began what von Haugwitz calls his third, unpaid career. In 1983 he joined the North Carolina Network for Animals, a statewide animal rights organization with local chapters. Since there was no chapter in Durham, he and Eva started one. Von Haugwitz led the chapter for six or seven years and was designated "Education Director" of the statewide organization. During that time he organized--or attended--demonstrations connected with vivisection, hunting, circus, rodeo, factory farming, and other animal issues and organized many other events, often educational in nature.

He gave talks on animal rights philosophy at schools and colleges around the state and in neighboring states and appeared on TV and radio talk shows. He also wrote articles on animal rights themes and co-edited the North Carolina Network for Animals newsletter. He engaged in many hands-on activities as well, like relocating ducks from apartment complex ponds, or responding to homeowner associations where beavers were slated to be killed. "Currently we are fighting one battle in the state courts--the outlawing of pigeon shoots in the state. And we are working to force the Wildlife Commission to enforce the prohibition against canned hunting. This requires tenacious work with our attorneys."

"And, yes," he adds, "I've had to kick that addiction to those tasty sausages." As he has jokingly told Tom Regan often, he was determined to find logical flaws in his arguments, "so that I could go back to those wonderful German sausages with a good conscience, but dammit I never did succeed."

As for parallels with Germany during and after the war, von Haugwitz sees a similar mentality at work here in the United States. "I've always been upset about so many Germans I knew who, at the end of the war, said, in effect, 'But we had no idea! We really didn't know anything about Auschwitz and what happened to the Jews. There was no way of knowing. We weren't allowed to know those things. And if one talked about it, one would have been arrested.' etc. etc. etc."

"Baloney!" he says. "People knew very well that the Jews were systematically removed from everywhere and shipped off like cattle, and they lent a hand everywhere to the expulsion. As for the details of the extermination, people didn't want to know! And that is my main gripe. Rumors circulated, and some people knew some things, but most people said, in effect, 'If you know, please don't tell me. I don't want to know the details.' Because it would have been too upsetting." He sees the same denial operating today. "I have a large animal rights video collection, but it's hard to show people what goes on in slaughterhouses and in animal labs. They don't want to see it. It would spoil their appetite."

--from ETERNAL TREBLINKA, pp. 201-08
by Charles Patterson

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