World War II: Famines--The Dutch Hunger Winter / Hongerwinter (October 1944-April 1945)


Figure 1.-- The Germans after the failure of Market Garden set out to punish the Dutch. The Germans prevented food from the countryside from coming into the cities and towns. As a result, food became increasingly scarce. The Dutch now refer to it as the Hunger Winter. When the Allies finally croissed the Rhine and began to get to the occupied areas (April 1945), the Durch were starving. Here is a boy thast looked like he had been in concentratioin camp, that the Allies managd to save. The press caption read, "When the Nazis Occupied Holland: During the Spring f 945 lack of food in the province ogf Holland occupied by the Nazis made living condotions intolerable. Children suffering from starvation fell by the wayside. Many died. Here, a 15-year old Dutch boyrecieves treatent in a hospital. Bones portude from the flesh; his eyes stare vacantly ahead. The photgrap was dated May13, 1945. Ironically, the Dutch after World War I shipped food to Germany to prevent starvation there.

The Netherlands was one of the countries where the Germans at least at first conducted a 'correct' occupation. Here etnicity was a factor. The Germans wanted to incorporate the Duch people into the Greater Reich. The Germans from the beginning of the occupation (May 1940) used the Netherlands as a source of food. Rationing meant that all but the Jews and those in hiding were allocated enough food to survive which was not the case in the East. As the War went against Germany, however, rationing got more severe, but was still enough to survive on for most of the Duch people, espcially with a few black mrket purchases and the help of friends and family in the countryside. After the failure of Market Garden and the onset of the Dutch Railway Strike, the German authorities reetaliated by embargoing food transports to the Netherlands. The Germans partially lifted thre embargo (early-November 1944). They allowed restricted food on water transports--primarily barges. The early onset of a particularly harsh winter, however, disrupted barge traffic. The canals froze over making barge operations impossible. Occupation authorities instituted mneasures which virtuall stopped farmers from delivering food to cities and towns. Coal, gas, and electricity was also cut off. Dutch municipal officials did as best they could. Rations were 1,500 calories in October, but sliced to 900 in November. Further cuts were made. Availability differed from town to town, but in some places had declibned to 230 calories and even that was not always available by April. Municipal kitchens were set up, but little food was available. Old buildings were cut down as well as avaiable trees. The children an elderly especially began to exhibit symtoms of starvation (January 1945). The underground issued pleas, but crossing the Rhine was a huge military obstacle. Children were sent by their parents into the streets to steel food. City dwealers in weakened conditions treaked into the country side attemoting to trade whatever they possesed for food. Some farmers tried to help, but others saw these city people as thieves and looters. Often the food they obtained at great cost was confiscated by German patrols when the treakers tried to return home.

Race and Occupation

The Netherlands was one of the countries where the Germans at least at first conducted a 'correct' occupation. Here etnicity was a factor. The Germans wanted to incorporate the Netherlands and the Dutch people into the Greater Reich. The Dutch were seen as valuable genetic material.

German Occupation (1940)

The Germans from the beginning of the occupation (May 1940), however, used the Netherlands as a source of food. Hitler was determined that unlike World War I, the Germans would not go hungary. Here his concern was primarily the potential impact on the war effort. Food shortages had undermined morale on the German home front during World War I. Thus this time, food from the occupied countries would feed the Germans. Shipments of food to Germany mean that food had to be strictly rationed in the Netherlands. The Rationing meant that all but the Jews and those in hiding got were allocated enough food to survive which was not the case in the East. The Dutch farmers shifted their operations and the city population chnged their dietary patterns such as eating less meat and more plant-based food. One of these changes was wholemeal bread. This helped cushion the impact of the occupation. [Collingham, p. 176.] As the War went against Germany, rationing got more severe, but was still enough to survive on for most of the Dutch people, especially with a few black market purchases and the help of friends and family in the countryside.

Liberation Soyh of the Rhine (September 1944)

The Allies broke out from Normandy (May 25), luberated Paris (Auhust 25), and reached Belgium (September 1). The joyous reception of Allied troops in Belgian and Dutch towns enraged Hitler and German troops. The Dutch Government n Exile in London ordered a railway strike. Disrupting German troop transports and supplies was seen as aiding liberation and to set the stag for Operation Market Garden. Some 30,000 Dutch railway workers went on strike hoping tp prevent the deportation of the Jews that had managed to survive, The Germans saw it as treacheryy. The Germans brought in their own railway men and kept the trains running. In retaliation, the Germans deported some 50,000 Dutch men to the Reich to eork in German war industries. The Germns also halted food shioments to the cities of the western Netherlnds. The Germans also halted coal shipments to Dutch cities, leaving the Dutch in Grman occupied areas without food or fuel.

Market Garden (September 17, 1944)

The Dutch though that liberation was at hand. The Allies hoped that the Rhine could be crossed in the Netherlands allowing them to strike deep into the heart of the Reich. Supplies were diverted from the American armies appropach the Reich and given to Montgomery's forces. The Allies launched Market Garden (September 17). The Allies expected to crack the German lines and liberate the Dutch in a few weeks. The Allies suceeded in liberating large areas of the southern Netherlands. The Allies after the exolerating sweep through France miscalculated the German strength who had begun to regroup and rearm after the loss of France. German SS troops with ranks managed to stop the lightly rmed British pratroopers at Arnhem. This left the Germans one last brrier to the Allied advance--the massive Rhine River. And it left the northern Netherlands still in German hands.

German Retaliation

After the failure of Market Garden and the onset of the Dutch Railway Strike, the German authorities reetaliated by embargoing food transports to the western Netherlands. The Germans partially lifted thre embargo (early November 1944). They allowed restricted food on water transports--primarily barges. The early onset of a particularly harsh winter disrupted barge traffic. The canals froze over making barge operations impossible. Occupation authorities instituted mneasures which virtuall stopped farmers from delivering food to cities and towns. Coal, gas, and electricity was also cut off.

Rationing and Soup Kitchens

Dutch municipal officials did as best they could. Rations were 1,500 calories in October. With the arrival of a bitter winter, the food situation became desperate. The ration was sliced to 900 calories (November). This was starvation rations. Further cuts were made. Availability differed from town to town, but in some places had declibned to 230 calories and even that was not always available by April. The Dutch, including pregnant women, in the western region of The Netherlands, which included Amsterdam, received as little as 400Ė800 calories. Municipal kitchens were set up. This meant one ladle of thin gruel per person per day. One report describes how when a little gruel was spilled, people would actually licked it off the pavement. The report adds, "For the fastidious Dutch to do this is almost inconceivable." [Fillmore] The soup kitchens prevnted mass starvation, but it did not provide the food needed. The food was just not available. Old buildings were cut to pieces as well as avaiable trees chopped down to provide fuel. The Dutch endured the Winter without food, fuel, or lightening. Even water was often not avaiable. [Collingham, p. 176.]

Children and the Elderly

The children and elderly were the part of the population most at risk. We see see pictires of the children scvaging in garbage. And thee two groups began to exhibit symtoms of starvation (January 1945). The underground issued pleas to the Allies, but crossing the Rhine for the allies was a huge military obstacle. Children were sent by their parents into the streets to steal food, amything they could find. Adults looking back vividly remembered eating the food that was avaiable. One woman recalls how as a girl the family survived on dried peas their nother had pridently put aside. [Collingham, pp. 176-77.] Dutch churches found accomodations for some 50,000 malnourished city children. Some 140,000 malnourished city children were evacuated to the countryside. Tey children were moved at night. Most moved on foot but barges were the commonest trasport hen the canaklsere not frozen. They had to nove at night because Allied aurcraft attacked anyrhing tht moved during the day. Children took only a few precious possessions and often the clothes on their baxk. Desperate parents were willing to send their children into the countryside with the fresh air of the northern farms where at least some food was available. There are many moving stories. One source tells us about 12-year old Tineke Meijerís . She rembers standing beside the barge thatwould transport her. "Her mother was with her for a last farewell. In the distance, Tineke saw a girl approaching them with a doll in her arms, but soon realized it was a very small woman, and the doll was not a doll. The woman spoke urgently to Tinekeís mother: 'Can your daughter take the baby? We canít stay in hiding any more because she cries and makes a lot of noise.' Although Tineke said no, she didnít know how, her mother told her she could. In fact, she successfully hid the baby from the German authorities who were counting children. On the other side, someone came and took the baby out of her arms, to her confusion and somewhat to her sorrow. Itís almost like the Tomb of the Unknown; I wonder how many war children might be that child of unknown parents." [Fillmore] There are horendous images of starving children near death when the Allies finally arrived. The children generally had people lookin after them. This was not always the case for the ledely.

Food in the Countryside

City dwealers, many in in weakened conditions, treaked into the country side attemoting to trade whatever they possesed for food. Some farmers tried to help, but others saw these city people as thieves and looters. People were not permitted to move freely. Often the food they obtained at great cost was confiscated by German patrols when the treakers tried to return home.

Relief

The first relief came at the end of January 1945 when the Red Cross managed to obtain flour shipped by the Sweedes. The legendary Swedish white bread began to be distributed (February 1945). As reports reacged the allies of people dieing in the streets, concerns about the Germans seizing relief shipments began to weaken. The Dutch Governmnt in Exile told Churchill that he would be held responibke for deaths after the War. The American food administrators in Britain released food stocks intended for the Germans. [Collingham, p. 177.] The Allies began air drops (April 29). American, British, and Canadian planes were involved in Operation Manna (RAF/RCAF) and Operation Chowhound (USAF). The Germans agreed to not fire at the planes which haf to fly at low altitudes for the mercy missions. The Allies agreed not to bomb German positions. German military authorities in the Netherlands also began to allow Allied trucks carrying food to reach the Dutch. This was Operation Faust. Food was trucked intoRhenen (May 2). Some 200 vehicles were involved. Distribution was a problem. Mass distribution was not possible until after iberation.

Impact

Some 4.5 million Dutch people were caught in the German occupied area north of the Rhine. Many managed were affected and survived because of the soup kitchens. Some 22,000 are believed to hae starved or died of diseases brought on by malnutrition. Most of the victims were reported to have been elderly men. Most of the children survived because their parents managed to find the needed food, not the food they needed, but the food to keep them alive.

Life-long Impacts

The horrible hardship created by the NAZIs created a scientific study population. The chils survivors were a well defined group who suffered one well-defined period of malnutrition.. The immediate and long term effects of this disaterous famine have been studied in detail as it occurred in a First World country with a substantial scientifivc capability. The Dutch children who endured the Hunger Winter are thus the best studied victims of Famine. And the younger the children (including babies in utero) were, the more seriou the impavt. And as aid reached the children at the end of the war (May 1945), most survived.The numerous studies show that in addition to the obvious and previously demonstrated effects of food deprivatiom in utero on both metabolism and cardiovascular health of adults. We now know that there are demonstrable imacts on the cognitive functions of the now aging Hunger winter children. People of all social classes wr affected, but of course those with out resources to buy in the Black Market were especially impacted. The Post War recovry and the excellent diets could not revrse the damage done. We began to see imporant studies about three decaded after World Wwar II (1976). The studies according to one assessment provide, "... an almost perfectly designed, although tragic, human experiment in the effects of intrauterine deprivation on subsequent adult health. This study has provided crucial support and fundamental insights for the growing field of the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD)." [Schulz]

Nutritional Research: Celiac Disease

With the terrible suffering of yhe Hunger Winter, there was one bright spot. A Dutch pediatrician, Dr. Willem Karel Dickie, had developed an interest in celiac disease, before the War he had patients who suffered from the disease, but littl was known about. He noted that several of his patients reported that their symtoms worsened after eating bread and biscuts--foods based on wheat. Dr. Dickie began to suspect that somethinh in bread was tee cause of the disease. Withe the War and the Hunger Wunter 1944-45, bead virually disappeared in the German occupied Netherlamnds. Dr. Dickie was astonnished to note that children with ciliac reported sypmtoms moderated. Some even gained weight. At te end of the Wr and the liberation of the country north of the Rhine, food including flou and bread flooded into the Nethelands. And Dr. Dickie oberved that his patiens began to relapse. Dr. Dickie began to investigate ater the War and determined that by avoiding wheat and other grains late diarrhea and othr symptoms could be avoided. Patints flt better and ganed weight. Scientists that followed up on Dr. Dikie's observations foind that gliadin, aprotein in grains, is what triggered bowel infamation. [Adler, p. 64 and 66.] The research led to the modern glutten free foods we see in the super markets.

Sources

Adler, Douglas G. "The grim origins of Gluten-free'," Fiscover (May 2019), pp. 64 and 66.

Collingham, Lizzie. The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (Penguin Books: New York, 1962), 634p.

Fillmore, Mary Dingee. "Saving hungry Dutch kids in 1945, Hidden Amsterdam (March 19, 1945).

Schulz, Laura C. "The Dutch Hunger Winter and the developmental origins of health and disease," PNAS Vol. 107 No. 39, pp. 16757Ė16758.







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Created: 4:12 AM 7/9/2014
Last updated: 3:50 AM 5/21/2019