When Hitler was 22 years old and living in Vienna, he first experimented with a vegetarian diet in an attempt to cure a chronic stomach ailment. In a 1911 letter Hitler wrote: "I am pleased to be able to inform you that I already feel altogether well....It was nothing but a small stomach upset and I am trying to cure myself through a diet of fruits and vegetables." Biographers Robert Proctor and John Toland propose that Hitler may have interpreted his stomach cramps as an early sign of cancer, a disease that killed his mother Klara Hitler when he was 18. Proctor describes Hitler as "a vegetarian, of sorts" who ate meat on occasion: "Hitler was indeed, for the most part, a vegetarian — though he did occasionally allow himself a dish of meat."
Hitler's little sister Paula was interrogated by the US Army in July 1945 after the war. She stated: "My brother did not live on a special diet in his youth. Our mother would never have permitted that. He never cared much about meat. I suppose that he later became a vegetarian because of a stomach ailment."
There is some anecdotal evidence that Hitler continued to eat meat after his experiment with a vegetarian diet. Dione Lucas's 1964 Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook included a recipe for squab (four week-old fledgling pigeon) with a short anecdote: "I do not mean to spoil your appetite for stuffed squab, but you might be interested to know that it was a great favorite with Mr Hitler, who dined at the hotel often. Let us not hold that against a fine recipe though."
After the war Rudolf Diels (who headed the early Gestapo for a year before narrowly avoiding execution) wrote that Hitler sometimes ate Bavarian Leberknödel (liver dumplings) but only when they were prepared by his photographer friend Heinrich Hoffmann.
Historian Thomas Fuchs reports that Hitler's experiments with vegetarianism as a young adult were "far from absolute in his adherence": "In the early, frantic days of Nazi organizing, he was often too busy to sit down to a full meal. He ate on the run, gnawing chunks of sausage...in September 1931, he manifested an active loathing for meat," which followed the suicide of Geli Raubal, "the niece with whom Hitler had been in love".
Biographies by the German journalist Joachim Fest and British historian Ian Kershaw also state that Hitler almost became a vegetarian after the 1931 death of Geli Raubal, an event which is said to have left Hitler in great distress. American author and historian John Toland concurs, noting that after Raubal's death Hitler almost became a vegetarian: "...he meant it. From that moment on, she [Frau Hess] said, Hitler never ate another piece of meat except for liver dumplings. 'Suddenly! He ate meat before that. It is very difficult to understand or explain."'
However, accounts differ as to the exact nature of Hitler's "vegetarianism". Six years after Raubal's death, Hitler was still said to be eating the occasional dish of meat, including pork and fish eggs. In a May 30, 1937 article in The New York Times entitled "Where Hitler Dreams and Plans", Otto D. Tolischus wrote: "It is well known that Hitler is a vegetarian and does not drink or smoke. His lunch and dinner consist, therefore, for the most part of soup, eggs, vegetables and mineral water, although he occasionally relishes a slice of ham and relieves the tediousness of his diet with such delicacies as caviar, luscious fruits, and similar titbits. He is outspoken about having a sweet tooth and loves confectionery, especially chocolates."
In private conversations, Hitler often recited the benefits of eating raw vegetables, fruit, and grains, particularly for children and soldiers. In an attempt to disgust dinner guests and provoke them into shying away from meat, he reportedly told graphic stories of visits he had made to a slaughterhouse in the Ukraine. Food writer Bee Wilson notes: "It amused him to spoil carnivorous guests' appetites... As they put their forks down in disgust, he would harangue them for hypocrisy. 'That shows how cowardly people are,' he would say. 'They can't face doing certain horrible things themselves, but they enjoy the benefits without a pang of conscience.'"
In a November, 1938 article for the English magazine Homes & Gardens describing Hitler's mountain home, The Berghof, Ignatius Phayrethe wrote, "A life-long vegetarian at table, Hitler's kitchen plots are both varied and heavy in produce. Even in his meatless diet Hitler is something of a gourmet—as Sir John Simon and Anthony Eden were surprised to note when they dined with him in the Presidial Palace at Berlin. His Bavarian chef, Herr Kannenberg, contrives an imposing array of vegetarian dishes, savoury and rich, pleasing to the eye as well as to the palate, and all conforming to the dietic standards which Hitler exacts."
In a diary entry dated April 26, 1942, Joseph Goebbels described Hitler as a committed vegetarian, writing, "An extended chapter of our talk was devoted by the Führer to the vegetarian question. He believes more than ever that meat-eating is harmful to humanity. Of course he knows that during the war we cannot completely upset our food system. After the war, however, he intends to tackle this problem also. Maybe he is right. Certainly the arguments that he adduces in favor of his standpoint are very compelling."
Martin Bormann, who as head of the Party Chancellery (and private secretary to Hitler) is considered by most historians to have been the second most powerful Nazi official in Germany, built Hitler a large greenhouse at Berchtesgaden in order to keep him supplied with fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the war. Personal photographs of Bormann's children tending the greenhouse survive, and by 2005 its foundations were among the only ruins associated with the Nazi leadership still visible in the area. Finally, in his personal life Hitler showed anti-meat tendencies. Hitler disapproved of cosmetics since they contained animal by-products. He frequently teased his mistress Eva Braun about her habit of wearing makeup.. In his post-war reminiscence The Enigma of Hitler, Belgian SS General, and friend of Hitler's, Léon Degrelle wrote: "He could not bear to eat meat, because it meant the death of a living creature. He refused to have so much as a rabbit or a trout sacrificed to provide his food. He would allow only eggs on his table, because egg-laying meant that the hen had been spared rather than killed.
Traudl Junge, who became Hitler's secretary in 1942, reported that he "always avoided meat" but that his Austrian cook Kruemel sometimes added a little animal broth or fat to his meals. "Mostly the Fuehrer would notice the attempt at deception, would get very annoyed and then get tummy ache," Junge said. "At the end he would only let Kruemel cook him clear soup and mashed potato."
There is also a question as to whether or not Hitler's state policies supported vegetarianism. Hitler persecuted and closed German vegetarian organizations and associations like "Vegetarier-Bund Deutschlands” (closed by Nazis in 1936), whose members were often arrested and died in Nazi death camps. "Vegetarier-Bund Deutschlands" only started its legal activities after the Nazis lost World War II in 1945.
From 1936 almost until his death by suicide in 1945, Theodor Morell, Hitler's personal physician, gave him "quack supplements" which contained animal components. Morell gave Hitler daily injections of various commercially prepared tonics containing animal by-products including Glyconorm, an injectable compound containing vitamins B1, B2 and C, cardiac muscle, adrenal gland, liver, and pancreas. Other injected preparations contained placenta, bovine testosterone and extracts containing seminal vesicles and prostate to combat depression. At the time, extracts from animal glands were popularly believed to be "elixirs of youth".