Adolf Hitler's Alligator - Saturn

What Happened To Adolf Hitler’s Alligator? – Mythbusting Berlin

It is often said that you can tell a lot about a person by their relationship with animals; that owners often come to look and behave like their pets. Or is it perhaps more that people choose their pets to correspond to their personality? Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's love of dogs, for example, is well documented but what is there to make of his relationship with reptiles?

In a landmark article printed in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 1963, a doctor named John Macdonald first proposed the existence of three factors that would come to be known as the triad of sociopathy, or the homicidal triad. The presence of two out of three of these factors in childhood being considered to be predictive of the development of homicidal, sociopathic, or psychopathic tendencies later in life.

Macdonald’s article, titled ‘The Threat To Kill’, theorised that a youthful fascination with starting fires, persistent bedwetting beyond a certain age, and cruelty towards animals are all precursors to potential violence towards humans and psychopathic behaviour.

The understanding that one factor in particular, intentional animal torture and cruelty (IATC) – as it is currently commonly referred to in psychological literature – is a stepping stone to inflicting harm to humans is popular knowledge. Macdonald’s theory of the homicidal triad remains an influential and widely taught hypothesis. 

But this particular aspect understandably receives more focus than the two other factors, as it is infinitely more shocking.  

In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) profiling unit has, since behavioural profiling began to emerge in the 1970s, consistently highlighted that animal cruelty is common behaviour among serial murderers and rapists. 

Charles Manson, Edmund Kemper, Jeffrey Dahmer… In the UK, Jamie Bulger’s murderer, Robert Thompson, abused household pets; Moors murderer, Ian Brady, killed animals in his youth; and child killer, Mary Bell – the subject of two books by Austrian-British author Gitta Sereny – was known to torture pigeons to death.

The list goes on.

Sereny spent her entire professional career contending with the question of why people are motivated to commit acts of cruelty and examining the phenomenon of the immoral act. In confronting the uncomfortable truths of German history, she contributed greatly to the study of the National Socialist mentality.  

Her books profiling Treblinka death camp commandant, Franz Stangl (Into That Darkness), and Adolf Hitler’s court architect, Albert Speer (Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth), are widely considered to be important contributions to the historical canon.

The moral dilemma as expressed by St. Paul in the Bible (For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do) is largely irreconcilable with the contemporary understanding of what motivated the greatest crimes in Nazi Germany. The casual misapplication that it describes a far cry from the state-organised genocide and wanton cruelty unleashed by a political Party that held violence and domination as extenuatory characteristics.

The men who committed the Holocaust played with their children, kissed their wives, and petted their dogs.

Coming to terms with the legacy of these ‘ordinary men’ was one of the most important lessons of the 20th century.

That the monster can sleep soundly at night; and these warm-blooded killers, in this instance, can favour warm blooded friends.

Hermann Göring - Animal Welfare
Vivisection would be banned in Nazi Germany - with those who "still think they can continue to treat animals as inanimate property" sent to concentration camps.

The Fuerher's Furry Friends

It remains a surprise to many that improving animal welfare was seen as a high priority by the Nazi government – in some ways an essential part of the Nazi Party political platform.

Not only was Adolf Hilter himself a vocal advocate for animal rights, rarely far from his beloved German shepherd – Blondi – but his regime was also groundbreaking in the progress it made instituting laws that made the animal: “an object of protection going far beyond the hitherto existing law” (“Objekt eines weit über die bisherigen Bestimmungen hinausgehenden Schutzes”), according to the Reichstierschutzgesetz (Reich Animal Protection Act) of November 1933.

Germany, for instance, became the first nation to ban vivisection in August 1933. 

A year after seizing power, Nazi Germany hosted an international conference on animal welfare in Berlin the likes of which had never been seen before. 

Restrictions on hunting were introduced by Prussian prime minister, Herman Göring; commercial trapping was banned; as was the boiling of lobsters and crab. 

Nazi Germany even became the first state in the world to place the wolf under protection. 

Although progressive, these laws, of course, were also hardly free from the rationale of National Socialist ideology. Hermann Göring was not only prime minister of Prussia, he was also Reich Master of the Hunt and Master of the German Forests. His prohibitions on hunting underpinned by that quintessentially Nazi logic of do-as-i-say rather than do-as-i-do. Hunting may have been heavily restricted for the ordinary citizen, but Göring hardly considered himself ordinary.

Not long before the prohibition of vivisection, a regulation concerning the slaughter of animals was introduced – specifically targeting kosher butchering. 

No animals were to be slaughtered without anesthetic.

This law, introduced in 1933, naturally has to be considered in light of the objection-free approach to the use of concentration camp prisoners to conduct medical experiments. Jews, for instance, may have also loved their pets – as painfully illustrated in Victor Klemperer’s diaries, where Klemperer dwells on the terrible realisation that he will have to give away his cat when felines are declared Aryan by the Nazi state and only for ‘true German’ households – but that does not mean that they are free from being treated worse than animals.

Of all the images available, it is significant that Heinrich Hoffmann – the Nazi leader’s personal photographer, tasked with propagating the ‘Hitler Myth’ – would choose one of Hitler accompanied by a sheepdog in the mountains for the dust jacket of the important propaganda book ‘Hitler like nobody knows him’ in 1932. 

The natural political order expressed by the Nazi Party would be presented alongside an image of the natural order of nature.

What better illustration of this than the Nazi leader depicted alongside his favourite companion. 

Loyal, obedient, and ferociously protective of its owner.

Although Hitler’s dog Blondi, given to him in 1941 by his loyal assistant Martin Bormann, has become his most recognised canine companion, he did in-fact have a number of German shepherds – including one acquired in 1921, during his years of poverty. The loss of the stray Fox Terrier named Fuchsl he rescued whilst serving in the First World War he would later reference as being one of the most distressing experiences of his time in the trenches.

The vile – just as much as the virtuous – can be pet people too.

Hitler's Alligator - Saturn
'Hitler's Alligator' - Saturn - on his way to Berlin, according to the Moscow Zoo, being mistreated by "evil Americans"

See You Later Alligator

As Nazi control of Germany turned into a concerted attempt to subjugate the European continent, matters of cruelty against animals – and the manner in which animals are butchered  – would take a backseat to the practical issue of survival. 

Rationing would become more restrictive, and by the time the Soviet army reached Berlin in April 1945, the slaughter of horses on the street for meat would become a common sight. The more dangerous animals at the Berlin Zoo would even be euthanized  in case they managed to escape and attack the people in the city.

In 1943, a rather peculiar incident occurred at the Zoo in west Berlin. 

A British raid had heavily damaged the crocodile enclosure, killing at least four of the alligators and crocodiles, and littering the streets near the aquarium with animal remains. The resourceful zoo employees were quick to make alligator stew out of the left-over meat that lasted for the next two days but those that survived the bombing were found prowling the area looking for food.

It is thought that one of these alligators – known as Saturn – said to have been given to the city in 1936, after hatching in the wild in the US state of Mississippi, would end up surviving the war and live until his 80s – becoming the so-called ‘last German in Russian captivity’.

In 1945, the Berlin Zoo ended up in the British Occupation Zone of the city. At some point, British soldiers are said to have discovered Saturn – presumably still wandering around the street of the city – and decided to give him to the zoo in Leipzig, part of the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany.

From there Saturn ended up in the Moscow zoo, where the rumour of his connection to Adolf Hitler took off.

Cold-blooded, predatory, and prone to insincere displays of emotion, it is easy to see why the crocodile might easily be considered the Nazi leader’s spirit animal. The alligator is a close relative to the crocodile, with the two defined as much by their similarities as their differences, but is the distinction really necessary here?

The idea that Hitler and Saturn might have been personally acquainted and shared a special connection would prove too attractive to ignore.

Even when there is no evidence of the two having ever met.  

Saturn lived in Moscow from 1946 until 2020 – thought to have reached an incredible 84 years old. 

His death would be reported internationally with indication that the reptile had in someway belonged to the Nazi leader. The Moscow zoo webpage that previously described the alligator’s relationship with Hitler is now offline. It is now suggested elsewhere that Hitler visited the Berlin Zoo a number of times, and possibly saw the alligator. Thus the two were acquaintances. A tenuous connection at best. There exists, however, no evidence to suggest that Saturn belonged to the Führer, as has been rumoured. 

The records of the Moscow Zoo were destroyed in the 1950s during a fire, so there remains no documentation of Saturn’s journey to Russia from Berlin. Similarly the records of the Berlin Zoo did not survive the Second World War, so it unknown what sort of life Saturn had during the Nazi period, beyond his possible escape in 1943.

It was not until the 1950s that the aquarium was re-opened – and a Mississippi alligator named Snappy introduced as the first resident in the new Crocodile Pit

The post-war part of Saturn’s biography, put forward by the Moscow Zoo, suggests that he was a gift from the Brits – but it is entirely possible that he was relocated to Leipzig after the attack in 1943 and made his way to Moscow from there. 

Relations between Great Britain and the Soviet Union were not great in 1946 and there is little reason why the British would want to give an alligator – that they are suspected of having found somewhere in Berlin – to Stalin.

The long-time archivist of the Berlin Zoo, Dietmar Jarofke, believes it is possible that Saturn comes from a private collection, saying: “Back then there were enough crazy people in Berlin who kept animals like this at home. It wasn’t forbidden.”

The bigger question here is where did this rumour of the Hitler-Saturn connection come from – and why? Certainly it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of understanding for the Moscow Zoo to simply connect the dots – that Saturn came from Berlin and had been there in the 1930s and 40s; adding the claim that Hitler would have been aware of his presence. 

The rumour no doubt helped increase ticket sales.

Such a shame to think that this poor innocent alligator might be cast the villain of his aquarium  habitat – held accountable for the deeds of a man he had likely never met. The veritable scapegoat of the Moscow zoo – in reptilian form.

Does inaccurately associating Saturn with Hitler not constitute some form of animal abuse in-and-of-itself?

For that matter, what condemnation should there be of those who exploit the reputation of this poor alligator – reducing him to an object of morbid curiosity and suspicion, at best – for profit?

Certainly, Hitler himself was aware of the significance of what an animal was as much of what it meant. 

It is no surprise that, although there exists no documented connection to Saturn the alligator, the Nazi leader should so obviously favour German shepherd dogs. Considering they were coveted as “germanische Urhunde” (original German dogs) during the so-called Third Reich.

***

To learn more about the history of Nazi Germany and life in Hitler’s Third Reich, have a look at our Capital Of Tyranny tours.

Think you already know enough about the rise and fall of the Third Reich? Take our Capital Of Tyranny Quiz and find out how much you really know about Nazi Germany.

Sources

Clemens Giese and Waldemar Kahler (1939). Das deutsche Tierschutzrecht, Bestimmungen zum Schutz der Tiere, Berlin, cited from: Edeltraud Klueting. Die gesetzlichen Regelungen der nationalsozialistischen Reichsregierung für den Tierschutz, den Naturschutz und den Umweltschutz, in: Joachim Radkau, Frank Uekötter (ed., 2003). Naturschutz und Nationalsozialismus, Campus Verlag ISBN 3-593-37354-8,

Dominick III, Raymond H. (1987) The Nazis and the Nature Conservationists. The Historian Vol. 49, No. 4 (AUGUST 1987), pp. 508-538 (31 pages) Published By: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

Kershaw, Ian (1998). Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris. Penguin Press. ISBN 0-393-320359.

Macdonald, John M. (August 1963). “The threat to kill”. Am J Psychiatry. 120(2): 125–130. doi:10.1176/ajp.120.2.125

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