World War II German Homefront: Food Production

Hitler Youth World War II
Figure 1.--Hitler Youth children during the War assisted in efforts to maintain food production. Some of this was done informally. There were also mpre organized efforts by the HJ members at both HJ and KLV camps. These boys here are helping transport some geese to market. This image also suggests the lack of mechaization of German farms which of course affected productivity. This was just not the situation on the farm. Many Wehrmacht divisions at the on set of the War were not mechanized. German industry simply did not have the capacity to build all the needed vehicles.

One of the reasons Germany was defeated in World War I is that support for the War and the imperial government collapsed on the home front. The Allies also cracked the Western Front, but the German Army could have continued the War for another year. The Rhine would have been a formidable natural barrier. It was the collapse of the home front tht ended the War in November. A major reason for the collapse of the home front was the substantial decline in agricultural production. It is interesting that Hitler after the War focused on the collapse of the home front and not the battlefield defeat of the German Army on the Western Front. (This was accomplished with an American Army of only about 1 million in France. (The United States was building an army of over 4 million at the time of the German requested Armistice.) As a result, the NAZIs in World War II gave considerable attention to supplying the home front with food. This was accomplished in a variety of ways. First, the Germans looted occupied countries of food. This was done rutlessy in the East and in a more civolized, but none the less efficent matter in the West. Little consideration was given to the civilians in the occupied countries. There was , for example, a dreadful famine in Greece. Second, the NAZIs used POWs as agricultural labor. Many Polish and Soviet POWs were essentiallu y killed by exposure and starvation. The French POWs were treated more correctly. Third, the HJ was used as a source of agricultural labor. This was done in a variety of ways. The children were set up in camps for this purpose. Some of the KLV camps were also used. Fourth, an effective rationing program was established. The efforts worked to supply both the military and civilians with food. Food began to become more scarce as German military defeats began to reduce the area in the East that could be pillaged. The system, however, began to collapse in late 1944 as the Allied air offensive began to destroy the German tranportation network.

World War I

One of the reasons Germany was defeated in World War I is that support for the War and the imperial government collapsed on the home front. The Allies also cracked the Western Front, but the German Army could have continued the War for another year. The Rhine would have been a formidable natural barrier. It was the collapse of the home front tht ended the War in November. A major reason for the collapse of the home front was the substantial decline in agricultural production. Germany drafted rural workers and made no sustained effort to replace them. This and the shortage of fertilizer significantly impaired agricultural production.

American Post-War Food Aid

Highly industrialized Germany was one of the Ruropean countrie most vulneranle to food shortages. Germany wa not self sufficent in food production. It imported vast quantities of food from Russia -- the European bread basket. And also from from other countries through maritime commerce, primarily through the port of Hamburg. Going to war with Russia and Britain which had the naval power to blockade the North Sea (thus shutting down the port of Hamnburg) was thus a very risky undertaking. Kaiser Wilhelm decided to take yjat risk, calculating that the powerful German Army could gain a quick victory--as his grandfather had achievd in the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71). He was very nearly correct--almost. This time Germany bit off more than even its Army could achieve--war with Bitain, France, and Russia as well as other contries, and the Miracle on the Marne (September 1914) meant that there would be no quick victory,but rather a war of attriction. The Brutish immediately imposed an air tight North Sea blockade cutting off food and other citically needed resources. Germany did not have the resources the Allies had and could import food and raw materials from America and the Empire. The food situation is the reason that the Germany Army as they marched through Belgium, seized the civilian food supply--creating a humanitarian crisis. This fundamentally changed the image of the German nation around the world, most importantly the United States which had a huge German ethnic population and might have been expected to be sympthetic to Germany. Germany attempted to deal with the food situation, introducing government controls on both food production and dustribution. Many of these policies proved to be badly thought out and only worsened the developing shortages. Germany did not even effectively utilize the capacity of its agricultural sector. Conscripting farm workers and not maintaining inputs into the agricultural sector (fertilizer, livestock, machinery, etc.) mean that harvest levels declined. The Germans produced substitute (ersatz) foodstuffs from a variety of unappealing ingredients. Not only did the Germans not like them, but their nutritional value was negligible. Food shortages began to develop very quickly in Germany and became steadily worse. The Germans expeienced the dreadful Turnip winter (1916). But unlike Belgium, there was no country motivated to help them. Thy had cut themselves off from Russian food and maritime imports because of the British North Sea Blockade. As a result, not only did shortages develop, but significnt malnourishment became a problem by 1916. By the end of the War Germaby was starving along with much of the Continent that the Germans had occupied. America had not attempted to help the Germans duing the War. This changed, however, with the end of the War and the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty (1919). The German food experience during the War was understood by Hitler and would become part of his planning for World War II. He was detemined that thee would be no food shortages in Germany again.

Hitler and NAZI Assessment

It is interesting that Hitler after the War focused on the collapse of the home front and not the battlefield defeat of the German Army on the Western Front. (This was accomplished with an American Army of only about 1 million in France. (The United States was building an army of over 4 million at the time of the German requested Armistice.) The NAZIs chose to inore this massive American Army, both the Army in France and the even larger Army being trained in America. Rather the NAZIs stressed the 'stab in the back' conspiracy theory, blameing Germany's defeat on Jews and Socialists. Hitler who was in the Army could not except the proposition that the German had been defeated. So in his planning for World War II, he sought to keep the homefront well supplied to mke sure that there would no collapse of civilian morale.

Hitler's Food Vision: The East

Hitler unlike the Kaiser managed to keep the German reasonably well fed until the last year of the War. He did this by looting occupied countries where in the East people were essentially left to starve. The first food crisis occurred un Greece (1941) in the run up to Barbarossa. Hitler explained more than a decade before the War that the answer to Germany's problems lay in the East. And Hitler made no secret about it from the very beginning. He wrote, "... we National Socialists must hold unflinchingly to our aim in foreign policy, namely, to secure for the German people the land and soil to which they are entitled on this earth. And this action is the only one which, before God and our German posterity, would make any sacrifice of blood seem justified: before God, since we have been put on this earth with the mission of eternal struggle for our daily bread, beings who receive nothing as a gift, and who owe their position as lords of the earth only to the genius and the courage with which they can conquer and defend it; and before our German posterity in so far as we have shed no citizen's blood out of which a thousand others are not bequeathed to posterity. The soil on which some day German generations of peasants can beget powerful sons will sanction the investment of the sons of today, and will some day acquit the responsible statesmen of blood-guilt and sacrifice of the people, even if they are persecuted by their contemporaries." [Hitler, Mein Kampf: Volume One - A Reckoning, Chapter XIV: Eastern Orientation or Eastern Policy] And he intriduced aacial element. And he made this even clearer in his second book which he had second thoughts about publihing because he was even more frank. The idea of Lebensraum was central to his thinking. He believed that an Eastern European empire was essential which meant war and conquest. He rejected the idea that agricultural technology could resolve Germany's food problem. In Hitler’s “Second Book,” which was composed in 1928 and not published until after the War. He wote that hunger would outstrip crop improvements and that “the scientific methods of land management” had already failed. He was convinced that no conceivable scientific advances would allow Germany to become self sufficent in food. Hitler, Second Book.] The very idea that peace and plenty could be achived through science he charged was just one more Jewish plot, esigned to distract Germans from the necessity of war. “It is always the Jew who seeks and succeeds in implanting such lethal ways of thinking.” [Hitler, Mein Kampf.] And thus as the war developed, the sollution to feeding the Reich was in part just as Hitler had envisioned--seizing territory in the East and the agricultural production that went with it. Only contrary to his expectaions, the food did not come from the East--except Poland. The German conquests in the East with Brbarossa barely managed to feed the huge German and allied Axis forces deployed there. Very little was left over to feed the Reich. The food feeding the reich mostly came from conquests in the West, especially France. One researcher estimates that some 40 percent of the bread and meat eaten by the Wehrmacht and civilians was harvested and produced in the occupied territories or by workers deported from these countries along with POWs to replace conscripted German agricultural workers. [Collingham]

Pre-War Food Supplies (1933-39)

A misconception we hear repeated over and over again is the huge economic success of Hitler and the NAZI regime. It is true that he put Grmns back to work, but the idea that Germans prospered under NAZI rule is a fiction. And this is particulre true in the area of food production. One scholar writes, "The implementation of the Nazi ideology into agricultural institutions and the suppression of private consumption had a stronger impact on German food production and consumption than has hitherto been thought. We argue that the reforms of agrarian institutions reduced the growth of total factor productivity in German agriculture between 1933 and 1938 considerably. This exacerbated the restrictive effects of prioritizing the armaments industry to the detriment of the consumer goods industry and private consumption. As a consequence of less efficient food production and of consumption constraints, German consumers were forced to a diet and thus to a material standard of life that were much more frugal than national income figures suggest." [Streb, p.1] Hitler rose to power in part on the back of the rural vote. The workers in big cities like Berlin voted primarily for the Socialists and Communists. Richard Walther Darré popularized the 'Blut und Boden' (Blood and Soil) ideology as the NAZIs were rising to power and caught Hitler's eye. He played a key role in delivering the rural vote to the NAZIs. Hitler rewarded him by appointing Darré minister of agriculture. Hitler wanted the rural, vote but his vission for Germany did not include directing resources to the farm sector to increase domestic food production. After World war I, many countries pursued policies designed to guarantee a domestuc food supply. One might think that Hitler would pursue sych policies, especially givn all his rural supporters. In fact he did not. There was a far greater priority in Hitler's mind than food production--industrial Rearmament. The focus on arms production, conscription, the requisitioning of huge tracts of rural land for military purposes all adversely affected food production. The shift to militry production reduced German export earnings. At the same time, expanded arms production increased the need for imported raw materials. The resuslt was that strict foreign exchange controls had to be imposed. This meant much les foreign currency was avilble to import food. Germany was not self sufficent in food and imports were n importnt part of the dood supply. Thus during the pre-War NAZI era there was a curb on food imports and a substantial increase in food prices--essentialy a form of rationing. The NAZI Givernment responded by freezing prices (1936). The Government than introduced formal rationing for butter, margarine, and fats (January 1, 1937). The Govrnment than restricted consumption of imported foods (coffee and citrus fruit) (early-1939). The NAZIs this had the German civilian economy on a war footing long before launching the War. It should not be though that Hitler was not interested in the food question. It is just that he saw the war he was planning for the sollution to Germany's food needs. The wehrmct would eize the vast ahricultural lands of the East so Germans could collonize it.

War Time Food Production and Distribution Efforts (1939-45)

As a result of the World War I experience, the NAZIs in World War II gave considerable attention to supplying the home front with food. There was no real effort to increasing domestic food production by investing in the agriculture sector. Rather availble resources were funneled into the rearmament effort. Hitler's view was that the war he was planning for would be the sollution to the food problem. This was pursued in a variety of ways. First, Hitler planned to seize vast areas of prime agricultural land in the East which after the local population was killed or enslaved would be colonized by German farmers. Here Himmler took apecial interest. This would permnently solve Germany's food problem. This was not the only gialnthat drive Hitler East, but it was an important one. This did not work out for Hitler. While the wehrmacht suceded in seizing much of the prime black soil area of the Soviet Union, they failed in their primary mission--destoying the Red Army. This meant that Hitler had to maintain and feed a huge army in the East. As a result, the food obtained in the East was mostly used to feed the military fighting there. And because the war in the East after the first wildly sucessful months was a fierce series of battles eventually going against the Germans. The Germans were, as a result, unable to colonize it. And because of the Soviet burned earth campaign and the German attrocities on civilians, farm production plummeted. Second, the Germans looted occupied countries of food. This was done ruthlessy in the East and in a more civilized, but none the less efficent matter in the West. Little consideration was given to the civilians in the occupied countries. There was , for example, a dreadful famine in Greece even before the Germans began starving people in the East. While little food came from the east except Poland, large quantities of food was obtained in the ocupied West--especially France.. Third, the NAZIs pursued a deadly policy if starving millions of people to conserve availble foods for the Germn military and civilians. Fourth, the NAZIs used POWs and enslaved workers as agricultural labor. Many Polish and Soviet POWs were essentially killed by exposure and starvation. The French POWs were treated more correctly. Then after killing many Polish and Soviet POWS, the NAZIs began seizing workers in the East and deporting them for lbor in the Reich. This included agrivultural labor. Fifth, the Hitler Youth and children in general were used as a source of agricultural labor. This was done in a variety of ways. The children were set up in camps for this purpose. Some of the KLV camps were also used. We believe some of it may have been done more informally, simce as HJ boys and girls helping local people. Sixth, an effective rationing program was established. Seventh, there was some effort at addressing the food problem through technology such as developing new protein sources. These efforts interested Herbert Backe, the defacto Minister of Agriculture. [Wieland] They did not, however, interest Hitler who was set on conquest and possession of the East. As a result, Backe is best known for the NAZI Hunger Plan.

NAZI Hunger Plan

The German Hunger Plan (der Hungerplan) also called der Backe-Plan or Starvation Plan was a NAZI World War II food management plan. It is sometime called the Backe Plan, after its primary advocate. He played a critical role in planning and implementing the plan. Herbert Backe was an official in the Ministry of Food and eventually appointed to that post. The Ministry was responsible for the German rationing program. Actually there was no single centrally coordinated plan, but several separate if some times related operations. Germany's World War I experience encouraged the idea of using food as a weapon. Hitler was not the first in this arena. Stalin preceded him by about a decade with the Ukrainian famine (1932-33). We are not sure to what extent NAZI officials were aware of this. The NKVD did an efficient job of preventing details from leaking out to the West. And Western Socialists and Communists, including those in Germany did not want to believe the rumors. The desire to use food as a weapon. This combined with the NAZI regime's rush to acceptance eugenics theories as scientific fact resulted in a genocidal brew of genocidal policies. NAZI food policies were different than the Allied blockade policies which were designed to win the War. Part of Hitler's war objectives were the murder of millions of people which sometimes were given a priority over the war effort. The Hunger Plan was not a policy designed to help win the War, although sometimes presented as that. Many of the individuals killed were working in war industries supporting the German war effort. This actually impeded the war effort as a labor shortage developed in Germany requiring the introduction of forced labor to man German war industries. Rather the killing of millions Jews and Slavs was a primary German war goal. Hitler asked officials in the Ministry of Food, the agency responsible for rationing, to develop a Starvation Plan, sometimes referred to as the Hunger Plan. The Minister was one of the chief advocates for eugenics in the NAZI hierarchy. The largest elements of the Hunger Plan were: 1) Occupation policies in Poland, 2) Ghetto policies, 3) Starvation of Polish and Soviet POWs, 4) Generalplan Ost. Scholars studying the Hunger Plan provide a somewhat varied list of its elements, largely because there was no single, well coordinated NAZI effort, but rather the work of various officials with similar objectives and values. These include besides Backe, Reichmarshal Göring, Reichführer SS Himmler, SS Obergruppenführer Heydrich, and Minister of Food Darré.

Food Crisis (q944-45)

The NAZI efforts worked to supply both the military and civilians with food worked well in the first years of the War. German families had better food supplies than the Briish. The liberation of France before the 1944 harvest wass especially important. At the same time the intensification of the Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign creating further problems. Of course you can not effictely bomb farms. But the Allies began hitting the transport system. This meant as the transport system was destroyed, the Germans had no way of gerring avilable food from the farms to the cities where it was needed. It would take 3 uears to even minimally reoair the damage. Adding to the problem was the huge numbers of refugees flooding in from the East as the Red Army breeched the borders of the Reich. The only good news for the Germansas that the 1944 harvest was completed before the Allies and Soviers entered the heartland of the Reich. One researcher tells us that the German people at the time tended to blame the Allied bombing. Few say tht they were aware of the extent to which their Government was exploiting foreign food sources and denying food to people in the occupied teritories. The rapidly falling food stocks forced NAZI authorities to reduce civilian bread rations from 12.5 kilograms (kg) (May 1944) to 9.7kg (August 1944), 8.9kg (December 1944), and 3.6kg (April 1945). The meat ration was also reduced drastically. It fell from 1.9kg to 0.6kg over the same time period. This was substntially above ghetto rations for Jews, but no one could live on even the German allocations. And this does not even take into account thecfact that the allocated rations were notvlways availble. A thriving illegal black market developed, despite draconin punishments. The black marketeers included foreign workers and criminal gangs. There were r shootouts with the Gestapo as the NAZI state began to desintegrate. Cases of diseases like tuberculosis associated with mlnutrition increased (1944). By the end of the war, the food distribution systm had broken down entirely. The German people became dependent on the western allies and Soviets for their food. What did not occur was shipping food out of Germany.

Sources

Collingham, Lizzie.

Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf (1924).

Hitler, Adolf. Second Book (1928).

Streb, Jochen. "Guns and Butter – But No Margarine: The Impact of Nazi Agricultural and Consumption Policies on German Food Production and Consumption, 1933-38" Paper prepared for the XIV International Economic History Congress, Helsinki, Finland, August 21-25, 2006.

Wieland, Thomas. "Autarky and Lebensraum. The political agenda of academic plant breeding in Nazi Germany," Host-Journal of History of Science and Technology Vo. 3 (Fall2009).







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Created: 7:01 PM 8/24/2007
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