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.
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. He was a major force in the Ministry even before being actually appointed Minister (May 1942).
The German Government agency responsible for World War II rationing was the Reichsminnisterium für Emährung und Landeswirtschaft (RMEL). That translates something like Reich Ministry for Nourishment and Land Districts. We also see references to the Reich Ministry for Food and Agriculture. The logo of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture consisted of n eagle and swastika with the words, 'Blut und Boden' (Blood and soil) This refers to an important tenant of NAZI ideology adopted from a popular 19th century slogan. 'Blut' refers to ethnicity descent of the Volk. (Boden refer to homeland (Heimat). It celebrates the relationship of the German people to the land they live on and and cultivate. The NAZIs from the beginning placed a great value on the virtues of rural Volk and life style. . The Minister was Richard Walther Darré. Darré popularized the 'Blut und Boden' phrase as the NAZIs were rising to power He wrote a book titled Neuadel aus Blut und Boden (A New Nobility Based On Blood And Soil) in 1930. He was a strong proponent of eugenics. He saw breeding as the solution to the problems of the German Volk. Darré was an influential NAZI and and played a major role in developing race theory. Darré helped popularize the NAZI Party in rural areas. RMEL not only was responsible for issuing ration books to German citizens, but also foreign workers when not interned in camps. The actual quotas assigned in these books wee set by General Plenipotentiary for Labor Deployment Ernst Friedrich Christoph 'Fritz' Sauckel who was tried as a war criminal after the War. RMEL was not only involved with rationing as part of its war duties. It was also involved with developing the Starvation Policy which was implemented in the East. Staff members of RMEL and the Reich Food Estate developed policy recommendations as part of the planning for Barbarossa (late-1940). Staatssekretär Backe took the lead role in this matter. Darré was apparently not informed of the Barbarossa planning. Darré was both the RMEL Minister and the Reich Farming Leader (Reichsbauernführer). After the launch of Barbarossa, Backe informed Darré that he received instructions that the Führer did not want planning conducted in the Ministry, but rather transferred as a Four-Year Plan task. This meant turned over to Reichmarshal Göring who was Plenipotentiary for the Four Year Plan. Of course secrecy was a factor, but Hitler seems to have been concerned about Darré when it came to such a radical matter as the Starvation Policy. [Kay, p. 53.] Government Agency: Reichsministerium für Emährung und Landeswirtschaft
Actually there was no single centrally coordinated plan, but several separate if some times related operations.
Using food as a weapon was nothing new. It seems as old as warfare. There are many instances in ancient and medieval warfare of besieged towns being starved into submission. Germany's World War I experience encouraged the idea of using food as a weapon. The Hunger Plan was distinctive because it was not designed to win the War, but to eliminate people which was a primary German war effort. 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 calibrated with its racial policies 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 or could have been mobilized to work in 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. There were elements in the NAZI firmament, especially in the Ost Ministerium, who advocated more pragmatic policies, at least temporarily until Germany won the War. There were also pragmatic voices in the Wehrmacht. Hitler had, however, made up his mind before the War. Just as with policies on the Jews, he decided on the more radical policies.
Hitler asked Herbert Backe in the Ministry of Food, the agency responsible for rationing, to develop a Starvation Plan, sometimes referred to as the Hunger Plan. Apparently he did not think the Minister, Richard Walther Darré, would be prepared to take such a radical step. The Minister was one of the chief advocates for eugenics in the NAZI hierarchy. Hitler by he time of World War II no longer felt compelled to hold back the hotheads, such s the SA, who once threatened his success. He began to give his backing to really radical policies brought to him. This was a major difference between Hitler and Stalin. Stalin appears to have dreamed up many of the most appalling policies himself, such as the Ukrainian Famine and Great Terror. Hitler on the other hand seems to have selected from various projects brought to him. In this case, th Hunger Plan involving the elimination of millions of Slavs in the east matched hi thinking perfectly. He told associates, "Our guiding principle must be that these people have but one justification for existence--to be of use to us economically. We must concentrate on extracting from these territories everything that is possible to extract." [Hitler, p. 343.]
We see four major elements to the NAZI Hunger Plan. Scholars studying the Hunger Plan provide a somewhat varied list of its elements Other scholar discuss various numbers of elements organized in different ways. We note one example who lists three elements. [Welsh] These variations are largely because there was no single, well coordinated NAZI effort, but rather the work of various officials, but with similar objectives and values. RMEL, the SS, and the Wehrmacht were the major units responsible. NAZI Party occupation authorities, the Ostministirium and other agencies played important but subordinate roles. The largest elements of the Hunger Plan as we see it were: 1) Occupation policies in Poland (RMEL and NAZI Party Occupation officials), 2) Ghetto starvation policies (SS), 3) Starvation of Polish and Soviet POWs (Wehrmacht), 4) Generalplan Ost--the starvation of Soviet citizens (RMEL and Wehrmacht). We would welcome reader comments on this. The responsibility of the SS and NAZI Party organizations is not surprising, but note the prominent role of the Wehrmacht. After the War, Wehrmacht commanders in book after book, claimed that they were not responsible for the war cries, blabbing them on Hitler and his coterie. The historical records tell a very different story.
These include besides Backe, Reichmarshal Göring, Reichführer SS Himmler, SS Obergruppenführer Heydrich, and Minister of Food Darré. The two officials most directly associated with the Hunger Plan was Backe and Göring. Backe in the Ministry of Food (REEU) is generally seen as the author of the Hunger Plan which is sometimes referred to as the Backe Plan. He was powerful force in the Ministry even before he was finally appointed Minister (May 1942). Hitler appears to have more confidence in Backe than the original minister, Darré. Many of the NAZI war criminals are very well known. The Hunger Plan which may have killed 4-5 million people, mostly Soviets, was one of the great crimes of the War. Yet outside historians specializing in NAZI history, he is virtually unknown. Hitler had even more confidence in Göring for the radical process if implementing the Hunger Plan. Göring had enormous responsibilities for managing the German economy as part of a 5 Year Plan. Details for the Hunger Plan were developed in what became known as the Green Folder.
The two countries most affected by the NAZI Hunger Plan were Poland and the Soviet Union, including Byelorussia, the area of eastern Poland seized by the Soviet Union (September 1939). This included most, but not all of the areas included in Generalplan Ost, but not of it. The draconian measures enforced in Poland and the Soviet Union were not implemented in the Baltics and Czechoslovakia. The Poles experienced extreme privation during World War II, but outright starvation was rare, with the exception of the Jewish ghettos where people did stave in large numbers (especially by 1942). Outside the ghettos, rations levels for Poles were also very low (but higher than Jewish ration levels) , but the non-Jewish Poles had options that the Jews did not. Poland did not have many large industrial cities like the Soviet Union and the Germans were not as intent in destroying Polish industry as was the case in the Soviet Union. They wanted to use it for the war effort and to eventually eliminate or deport the Pole. The Soviet Union was thus the country that the NAZI Hunger Plan had its most disastrous impact on the population. Here the moralities were not only the result of German deliberate denial of food to the civilian population, but also war damage, actions impeding production, unrealistic expectations of harvest levels, and damage done as a result of the Soviet Scorched Earth policies. As a result, many Soviet citizens died during the NAZI occupation. Byelorussia and the Ukraine were especially had hit. Greece and the Netherlands were tragic special situations.
NAZI authorities were never able to fully implement the various elements of the Hunger Plan. The Hunger Plan as it was conceived was premised on the destruction of the Soviet Red Army in one massive summer campaign. The failure to destroy the Red army limited the implementation of the Hunger Plan. Even so millions of Eastern Europeans perished. The NAZIs had to adjust or postpone the efforts to implement the various elements. One Wehrmacht staff officer put his finger on the inherent contradiction of the Hunger Plan in starkly brutal words, "When we shoot the Jews to death, allow the POWs to die, expose considerable portion of the urban population to starvation and in the upcoming year also lose a part of the urban population, the question remains to be answered, who is actually supposed to produce economic values?" The implementation of the major elements of the Hunger Plan varied. 1) The Polish element could not be implemented because it was disrupting preparations for Barbarossa and subsequently war production. 2) The ghetto element was implemented and 0.4-0.5 million Jews in the NAZI ghettos died, either from starvation or starvation-related diseases. But the SS was surprised as just how difficult it proved to starve people. And the ghettoized Jews proved remarkably inventive in their efforts to survive. The Jews did not die fast enough for Hitler. He ordered Himmler to spead up the process. Himmler and Heydrich launched the even more radical option of immediate annihilation through shooting and gassing in specially designed death camps. 3) The mistreatment of POWs (starvation and exposure) was pursued for more than a year until the war went against the Germans and severe labor shortages developed. Military reverses meant that workers needed to be conscripted for both the Wehrmacht and the War economy. Thus the POWs were needed for the work force. 4) The starvation of Soviet citizens was pursued, ultimately resulting in about 4-5 million deaths. Many large Soviet cities were depopulated. It ultimately failed because the Wehrmacht was unable to destroy the Red Army and occupy the Russian heartland of the Soviet Union.
The images of starving people throughout the NAZI Empire are bloodcurdling. The effort to kill hrough staevation is usully ssociated with Jews and the Holocaust. In fact many other people were starved. The best known episodes are the Greeks and th Dutch Hunger winter. But people suffered and starbed throughout the Eastern European Bloodlands. This is in shrap contrast to Allid efforts to feed the people of Europe and prevent starvation, including the Germans. The allies at first gave priority to the occupied countries, but food supplies in Germany were maintined at resonable levels. The principal source for all the food that flowed into Europe was the United States.
Brzeska, M. Through a Woman's Eyes (London: 1945).
Hitler, Adolf. Secret Conversations.
Kay, Alex J. Exploitation, Resettlement, Mass Murder: Political and Economic Planning for German Occupation Policy in the Soviet Union, 1940-1941.
Leykauf, Maj. Gen. Hans. Memo to General Thomas (December 2, 1941). Thomas was the head of OKW's economic staff. Doc. No. 3257-PS , p. 996. A copy is published in Office of United States Chief of Counsel for Prosecution of Axis Criminality. NAZI Conspiracy and Aggression Vol. 5 (GPO: Washington, D.C., 1946).
Madajczyk, Czesław. Polityka III Rzeszy w okupowanej Polsce Vol. II (Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warszawa 1970).
Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books: New York, 2010), 524p.
Welch, Steven R. "The Annihilation of Superfluous Eaters": Nazi Plans for and Use of Famine in Eastern Europe," MacMillan Center Genocide Studies, No. 17 (2001).
"The food rationing system in Poland," Polish Fortnightly Review Vol. 55 (November 1, 1942), p. 7.
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