Historical note on hunger as a weapon

The Hunger Winter In Holland
from Holland in World War 2

As the Germans cut off all food and fuel imports into Holland the privations of the Dutch people worsened swiftly as winter approached. In Amsterdam there was gas for only ninety minutes a day, no trains nor phones nor electricity. Children played football in the streets, empty of all vehicles save those of the German army. Sixty-six thousand of Holland’s 100,000 cars and 3,800 of the country’s 4,500 buses, together with half of its four million bicycles, bad been removed to Germany. There was no fuel for those motor vehicles which remained. People queued ceaselessly for the smallest trifles. In the Hague, communal kitchens were feeding 350,000 people a day with such provisions as were available. People in the capital were ordered to surrender any remaining blankets and clothing to the Germans. All Netherlanders became reluctant to walk far, became walking wore down shoes, and these were almost unobtainable.

There was no legitimate source of fuel to heat our offices, schools and homes. During the icy winter, trees were felled, fencing torn down. Even the wooden sets in the roads were torn up. In the manic quest for fuel, graveyards were ransacked not to rob the dead but to seize their coffins for firewood. The Germans needed more slaves, both in Holland and in the Reich. When they demanded labour to dig defences at Venlo, no one reported. In consequence twenty local hostages were shot, the same happened in Apeldoorn. These examples produced a reluctant trickle of workers. Vastly more men were required, however, for industrial labour. Fifty thousand Rotterdammers were rounded up and shipped to Germany. Women offered butter, chocolate, brandy, even their own bodies, to their rulers, if their men could be spared. Families slept in terror of the tramp of German boots on cobbles in the night, and the cry of ‘Aufmachen! Aufmachen!’ — ‘Open up! Open up!’ — which signaled the seizure of husbands and sons. In total some 500,000, ten percent of the Dutch population at the time were seized for slave labour. Some managed to escape back to Holland where officially — and for ration purposes — they did not exist and had to spent months in hiding, unable to anything but read the same few books over and over again.

By November, the weekly ration for Dutch people had fallen to 300 grams of potatoes, 200 grams of bread — five slices — 28 grams of pulses, 5 grams each of meat and cheese. In total, this was about a quarter of normal human food intake. ‘Too much to die on, but too little to live by,’ the Dutch observed bleakly. The ration allocation provided just 900 calories, against the 2,500 of the British people, who were suffering hardship enough. People ate nettle soup, chaff and rye bread. Willem van den Broek’s mother, who was pregnant, ate the starch she used for ironing in a desperate attempt to strengthen her body. Dogs and cats disappeared, as they were eaten by their owners or anyone capable of capturing them. I remember my mother was crying all the time, she couldn’t bring herself to eat even when there was food. All our energies were devoted to survival. Bleeding and tortured Holland was falling apart while being tormented by the Germans. …

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