Remember our post from April 7, “When America Fed (and Led) the World”? (Here’s a reminder: There was a time, believe it or not, when America’s leaders and the rest of the free world cared about the hungry and homeless. It was called World War II. While engaged in a life and death struggle against intractable enemies on two fronts on opposite sides of the globe, the U.S. still mobilized a colossal rescue effort to feed, clothe and shelter some half a billion people from Spain to North Africa to China. In history’s darkest time, it was truly humanity’s finest hour…)
Well, from the World War II library of Luther Gulick comes this chilling counterpart, which we’ll call “When Nazi Germany Starved the World.”
While the U.S. and its allies were performing Herculean feats to save humanity, Hitler’s armies were systematically looting Europe of food to feed the Reich, consigning millions of conquered people to slow death by starvation. The grim tale is told in this 110-page book, published in 1943 by The Institute of Jewish Affairs of the American Jewish Congress and the Wold Jewish Congress. The authorship is interesting — Boris Shub, a prolific anti-Fascist and anti-Communist writer and radio broadcaster, and Z. Wahgaftig, who appears to have been Zerach Warhaftig, a prominent Zionist leader and signer of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.
Nearly four years into the war, “Germany eats by the sweat and toil of millions of subjugated Europeans,” the book declares. Even before the invasion of Poland in 1939, Nazi bullying of its neighbors was already filling the larders of the Reich, thanks to rigged trade deals that the Germans had no intention of honoring. With the fighting, the plunder soared. From one Polish province alone, Germany took up to 800,000 tons of grain a year, more than twice all of Poland’s 1938 grain exports. In its first week of occupying Holland, German troops seized 90 percent of the country’s butter, and in 1941 more vegetables than pre-war Germany imported annually from the whole world. From Ukraine, twenty trainloads carried 10,000 tons of food to Germany daily. Local officials, farmers and tradesmen who resisted faced execution while vast populations went hungry.
Lest there be any doubt, The New York Times of Oct. 5, 1942 quoted Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering boasting: “The whole German army is fed from conquered countries.”
With evil cynicism, Propaganda minister Josef Goebbels declared in 1940: “The German people as the pivot and leader of Europe’s new era must avoid the temptation to devote their energies to the good of others.”
But at home and abroad, Aryan Germans ate well. The main Krakow newspaper of Sept. 6, 1942 carried two pages of ads for fancy dining and entertainment — by Germans, for Germans in German establishments.
Others suffered, to varying degrees. Compared to Germans, the Dutch made do with a more than quarter less meat, the French with barely half. The Jews got zero.
In the town of Avenza, Italy, in 1942, two young girls were hospitalized with poisoning after cooking and eating a long-dead cat.
By 1943, Germans were still enjoying 93 percent of their pre-war diets. Their victims, declining percentages from Czechs (83%), Belgians (66%), Norwegians (54%) and Jews (20%).
Subjugated populations survived on portions of the caloric intake afforded Germans.
Clearly, the Nazi starvation policies targeted Jews with special venom — another means of extermination. On pain of arrest, Jews were only allowed to line up for rationed food at certain hours, often when supplies had run out. Germany and Poland forbade Jews from buying meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, vegetables, flour, bread and fruit. Many food stores were closed to Jews altogether. As an ultimate insult, Germany specifically barred the sale of pork to Jews, saying it was against their religious laws.
Using official Polish mortality statistics for 1941, the book puts the death toll of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto that year at 47,428, or one out of ten. With skeletal victims piling up, a Nazi writer scoffed, “The callousness of the Jews goes so far that they throw the bodies of their dead into the streets during the night.”
The 1943 book is necessarily incomplete. “What has happened since is cloaked in darkness and horror,” it concludes, noting that Hitler’s SS Minister of Food and Agriculture, Herbert Backe, had come up with “the Hunger Plan” to exterminate entire subject populations. “How far that process has already progressed only the German government knows.” Now we too know. It was only the beginning.