Thursday, November 12, 2015

Nazi Hunger Politics, Gesine Gerhard - a review

I have read a handful of books that focus on food in WWII because I have always sensed that much of the world was hungry through out some or all of the war, almost all because of man-made decisions.

And that tens and tens of millions died from those man-made hungers.

Interestingly, all these books have been written by women, including the latest one I am currently reading, NAZI HUNGER POLITICS, by Gesine Gerhard.

I might count Gotz Aly as one possible exception - his book, Hitler's Beneficiaries, is practically all about food !

But seriously, this severe lack of WWII food/hunger books by men should be a black mark on all males, whether or not they are professional historians.

If controlling a secure food supply was the main reason why Germany (and perhaps Japan) went to war as I believe and I think Ms Gerhard believes, an academic book here and there, read only inside the small blessed circle, is hardly enough.

Why are there no popular best-selling books on WWII hunger crises, why no movies, plays, operas ?

1939-1947 : an entire world hungry most of the time

The Greeks, the Dutch,the Bengalis, the Vietnamese, all of Eastern Europe and Russia, at times much of Africa, India, the Far East - all lost huge numbers of ordinary people from diseases caused by prolonged and acute hunger.

Even German and certainly Japanese soldiers starved to death - as their entire civilian populations began to do ,near the war's end and afterwards.

The Anglo countries and the well to do in Latin America suffered only from rationing on a few foodstuffs, not actual lack of calories.

But most of Western Europe was frequently lacking in calories, heating fuel, clothing, never having enough to be comfortable and to ward off inflection.

In Eastern Europe only the wealthy and privileged had enough food, heat and clothing.

Several million Soviet POWs in late 1941- early 1942 weren't fed anything at all - mass murder by quick starvation.

Next worst off were the Jews --- with adults were issued calorie amounts that won't feed a toddler and then kept behind barbed fenced ghettos to make sure they couldn't buy enough calories elsewhere.

Hitler and most Germans earnestly believed that food shortages, not military defeats, had defeated Germany in WWI.

If Germans ate well during his wars, no matter how many homes were bombed out and men killed in battle, the Nazis would survive, he surmised.

First, he protected his rear, by exalting the German small family run farm in endless ceremonies of praise.

Then he set out to modernize every other aspect of Germany but farming.

German food production was thus never able to feed the nation.

So Hitler invaded the most fertile breadbaskets to the east of Germany (their oil and steel mills being a mere bonus), all to settle a supposedly huge number of non-Germany born Germans eager to be farmer-soldiers in the Pioneer East.

But the pioneer lands had first to be as devoid of people as the North American West supposedly was.

Herbert Backe

Thus he willing agreed to plans, drafted from below mostly by Herbert Backe , designed to quickly starve most Slavs to death in the less fertile parts of the newly occupied East and to starve many of them in the more fertile areas.

If Backe's Hunger Plan had been taken to its extreme, it would have killed three times the number of people intended to be killed in the separate Holocaust.

Though, as Gerhard notes - Hunger and Holocaust twined around each other again and again.

And in general, Germans of all sorts proven strangely unwilling to move a part of the world where soviet partisans were eagerly looking to kill them all.

Merely maintaining the status quo in the unsuccessful invasion of Russia cost Germany far more, in terms of lives lost and marks squandered, than was ever gained in terms of coal, metals, oil and wheat.

A much more successful Plan B was to deviously extract food from the rest of Europe by skilled currency manipulation.

German soldiers were encouraged to pay good prices, in the local currency, to farmers in the occupied lands for foodstuffs to ship back home to the family.

In fact, their currency was near worthless outside their country, in terms of the German Mark.

A variant of this Plan B, by the way, was used by the British to cheat their colored colonies out of foodstuffs and raw natural resources, though not as thoroughly as practised by the desperate Nazis.

But still if the need had arose, I think the British would have matched the Nazis, squalid lie for squalid lie.....

978-1-4422-2725-5 ebook $39.99 Rowman & Littlefield September 2015

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