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Aaron Carine

It should perhaps be noted that historian John Farquharson thinks Gollancz's statistics on hunger and disease are full of hot air. At the time,the British Medical Journal presented sets of statistics that painted a somewhat less grim picture than Gollancz did.

Chris Knowles

Aaron, I didn’t quote any statistics in my blog post, so I wondered what you were referring to, but it is not correct to say that Gollancz's figures were all ‘hot air’.

He was certainly right when he referred to the low level of rations in Germany after the war, especially in the Ruhr. The official ration of 1,550 calories, itself significantly less than post-war British ration of 2,800 calories, had to be reduced to 1,133 in March 1946, because of the shortage of food. Actual deliveries were often less than this and fluctuated from week to week. In the Ruhr the ration fell to well below 1,000 calories in the Spring of both 1946 and 1947, so Gollancz was right when he wrote, (in a letter to the British newspaper the 'News Chronicle', reprinted in his book 'In Darkest Germany'), that those people who ‘cannot, or will not supplement the ration by a few hundred calories from the black market or other sources … have been living these last few days on anything from 400 to 1,000 calories.’

British and US sources are full of Military Government complaints about shortage of food and desperate pleas to their governments to increase the level of food imports. The total supply from internal German sources was estimated in the US Zone in December 1945 at no more than 950 calories a day, and in the British Zone in March 1946 at 400 calories a day, so imports were badly needed.

Farquharson does criticise Gollancz for exaggerating figures for cases of hunger oedema, in particular his claim that 100,000 people were suffering from this in Hamburg alone in the Autumn of 1946. This number does seem excessive. On the other hand, hunger and malnutrition was certainly a major problem, for an extended period from 1945 through to 1948. Another very well respected historian, Ian Turner, in his detailed study of the town of Wolfsburg wrote that: ‘Official German statistics for Provinz Hannover show that out of a population of 5 million, between April 1946 and April 1948 there were 18,725 cases of famine oedema, 279,821 other cases of malnutrition and 111,850 cases where people were unable to work due to malnutrition,’ and there are plenty of cases reported by the Military Government and other British visitors, let alone German sources.

What impressed me about Gollancz was not his statistics, but, as I wrote in the blog post, his tremendous humanity campaigning ‘to help suffering Germans’ rather than others, whom many people, especially in Britain after the war, may have considered more deserving.

Further references, for anyone who wants to follow this up include:

Victor Gollancz, In Darkest Germany (London: Victor Gollancz Limited, 1947)

John E. Farquharson, ‘Emotional but Influential: Victor Gollancz, Richard Stokes and the British Zone in Germany: 1945-1949’, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol.22, (1987), pp 501-519

John E. Farquharson, The Western Allies and the Politics of Food, Agrarian
Management in Postwar Germany (Oxford: Berg Publishers Ltd, 1985)

Alan Kramer, The West German Economy, 1945-1955 (Oxford: Berg Publishers Ltd, 1991)

Günter J. Trittel, Hunger und Politik: Die Ernährungskrise in der Bizone (1945-1949), (Frankfurt & New York: Campus Verlag, 1990)

Ian D. Turner, British Occupation Policy and its Effects on the Town of Wolfsburg and the Volkswagenwerk, 1945-1949 (Manchester: UMIST PhD Diss, 1984)

Aaron Carine

Yes,Gollancz was right that Germans were suffering,but Farquharson did indeed show that a lot of Gollancz's statistics were screwed up. The statistics of Turner support Farquharson's estimates rather than Gollancz's. Gollancz's claim that he had been in "many homes" were people were getting 400 calories a day is hard to believe--they would have been dead.

Chris Knowles

Food supply and distribution was uneven and while some people managed fine, Gollancz was right that others – ‘the old, the feeble, the lonely, the very poor, the hardest working and the over-conscientious’ - had to survive, for a time, on rations of between 400 and 1,000 calories a day. There was no mass starvation in Germany after the war, but some people did die, and, as Turner wrote: ‘there was ample evidence of the effects of under-nourishment.’

The US and the British got their figures wrong at the end of the war. They assumed that Germany could survive on its own resources, at a level of around 1,700-1,800 calories per day per person. This turned out to be wrong right from the start of the occupation. The official ration was set at around 1,500 calories per day, which was roughly half the level in Britain and the US, but even this low level could not be met, due to a shortage of farm-workers and materials, especially fertiliser, and the loss of agricultural land in the East. (See Günter Trittel for more on this).

The only solution was to import a large quantity of grain from the US, the only country with a sufficiently large surplus to be able to do this. Even with grain imports, it was close-run thing, and without the imports, it is highly likely that many more people would have starved, possibly millions. Between 1946 and 1948, imports accounted for over half all food available in the US and British zones.

Understandably, some, in both Britain and the US, objected to providing food for their former enemy, especially as the Germans had no means of paying for this, and people in other countries, especially in Eastern Europe and the Far East, were also suffering from famine at the time. It was only after sustained pressure from the US and British military governments in Germany, supported by campaigns at home, such as ‘Save Europe Now’ organised by Victor Gollancz, that the governments relented and approved food imports to Germany.

Victor Gollancz had many faults, but rather than criticising his use of statistics, it seems to me that he deserves credit for pursuing an unpopular cause, to save the lives and alleviate the suffering of his former enemy.

Aaron Carine

He does deserve credit,but the accuracy of one's data matters too. But I've made my point,so I'll leave the comments to others.

Edward Spalton

I have picked this up, as I recently got hold of Gollancz's wartime book "Shall our children live or die". He was a remarkable, influential and humane man, no doubt - but with a great soft spot for the Soviet Union and IMHO a deeply held belief in socialism as the answer to all the problems of the world.

With regard to the post war situation in Germany - I am just old enough to remember the immediate post war era of austerity in England and the sort of things my father, uncles and friends talked about.

Rations were reduced to lower levels than during the war so that food might be diverted to Germany. This was not very popular - to put it mildly!

Of course, I wasn't conscious of "austerity" as such - I didn't know any different and was very well looked after.

Years later, I met a former officer who had been involved in the early post war admin of the British zone. He said how extremely arrogant the former Nazis became, as soon as they realised they were not in the Russian zone! There were loud complaints about food distribution. Apart from some immediately necessary requisitions, he had to respect private property. Although many houses were stuffed with loot, he could do nothing about it, as there was no means of proving ownership.

I think public opinion in Britain would have been fairly summed up by Noel Coward's "Don't lets be beastly to the Germans" ("You can't deprive a gangster of his gun").

Nonetheless Britain made a considerable, official, humane effort to relieve the situation in Germany - at the expense of the war-weary and only just adequately fed British people.

Chris Knowles

Mr Spalton, thank you for your comment. I appreciate that many people in Britain believe that conditions in ‘austerity Britain’ after the war were as bad, or worse than in Germany, but this is myth, not reality. Conditions in Germany after the war were very much worse than those in Britain. As Noel (later Lord) Annan said: ‘hard as life was in Britain after the war, it was a paradise compared to life in Germany’ ('Changing Enemies', p217). According to figures published in the New York Times and reprinted in the British magazine News Review in May 1946, average food consumption per day in Germany was around 1,300 calories compared to 2,800 in Britain – less than half.

Rations were not reduced in Britain after the war so that food could be diverted to Germany, (although this was claimed to be the case in government propaganda). The British government did pay for supplies of wheat to be sent from the USA to the British Zone of Germany, but this did not reduce overall levels of consumption in Britain. It is true that bread rationing was introduced in Britain in July 1946, a step which (unlike Germany) had never been undertaken during the war, but as the distinguished economic historian Alec Cairncross wrote, the ration was set at a high level and: ‘the main effect was probably to reduce the amount fed to animals’ (Years of Recovery, p224). Cairncross referred to official statistics which showed that food consumption in Britain rose in the first two years after the end of the war. He also pointed out that when bread rationing was lifted in July 1948, there was no increase in consumption, whereas when sweet rationing was removed there was an immediate increase in consumption (which shows that rationing did limit consumption of sweets, but not of bread). Another distinguished historian, Paul Addison, said much the same: ‘Bread rationing was probably unnecessary. The threat to grain supplies proved less severe than expected and, since the rations allowed proved adequate there was little reduction in consumption.’ (Now the War is Over, p37). The main reason the British government introduced bread rationing was to maintain preferential treatment for Britain from the USA and Canada in securing allocations of food imports, at a time of global shortages. They were remarkably successful in this. Three days after rationing was introduced, a long-term four year agreement was signed with Canada to supply wheat to Britain. I have written about the issue of bread rationing at length on earlier posts on this blog.

Many British officials in occupied Germany made great efforts to relieve the situation in Germany. I admire these individuals and have written about some of them on this blog. Unfortunately there were others who were not so humane. In the early days of the occupation there was widespread looting by British troops. Although this was nothing like the same scale as looting, wanton destruction and murder in countries invaded and occupied by the Germans, the British were no angels. To quote the relevant volume of the (British) official history of the Second World War ‘Throughout this period reports speak of the extensive looting indulged in by British troops. There was wanton slaughtering of livestock. Museums were pillaged, banks were rifled. Churches, monuments, works of art were desecrated, archives destroyed’ (Donnison, Civil Affairs and Military Government, p212). Widespread looting by British troops was rapidly brought under control but there were other examples of corruption, some at the highest level, and a special team of British police had to be sent to Germany to investigate. There was also extensive exploitation on the black market. Paul Chambers, head of finance for the British Control Commission, wrote in 1948 in an article in the journal International Affairs that the British taxpayer had lost the massive sum of £41 million through black market scams, typically soldiers and occupation staff selling cigarettes for German marks on the black market and using the money to buy goods in forces’ canteens and shops (until the practice was stopped by issuing special vouchers for use in canteens). This meant they could live for free and save their entire wages.

Regarding Victor Gollancz, I too have read his book Shall Our Children Live or Die. It seemed to me that his main message (which had nothing to do with his socialism) was that ‘nothing but disaster can come from fostering a spirit of hatred and revenge’ (see p124). Interestingly, the same sentiment was expressed by a British army sergeant in a letter to the ‘British Zone Review’ in November 1945, as part of a debate on whether it was acceptable for the British to ‘feel sorry for the Germans.’ I wrote about this on the blog back in December 2006.
As I said then, the debate showed that there were two schools of thought among British occupation personnel in Germany. Those who believed, as one sergeant wrote in his letter, that ‘no-one can feel sorry for any members of a race that has inflicted all the horrors of a second world war within a generation….’ and others who agreed with another British army sergeant, echoing Gollancz, that ‘Humanity and justice cannot be based upon hatred and revenge.’

Edward Spalton

Thank you for this very full reply. I did not say that the food supply in Britain was as bad as in Germany and certainly did not intend to imply it.

However, as a small child brought up on the principle of children being seen and not heard, I do remember some of the things my father and his friends talked about whilst I was being quiet!

Whilst they were decent, middling sort of people, I think they would have had more sympathy with Noel Coward's "Don't lets be beastly to the Germans" rather than (say) Bishop Bell. Indeed the song mentions sending a bishop or two to Germany as a form of lease lend!

Of course, any army entering a conquered country is subject to temptation - especially when their country's sole war aim was unconditional surrender and they had been pumped full of years of hate propaganda. There were plenty of people, inured to violence and dangerous escapades, who did not immediately switch off the habits which had kept them alive for years.

One commando officer, I was later told, even stole the Danish crown jewels. It was all hushed up (I was told) because he knew too much about the rackets and the very senior officers involved whom he would have named in court.

I worked for two years in the early Sixties with the man who told me this. He was a deeply Christian man. So it was a shock to find out from our old boss just a few months ago that he had also had the duty of hanging a man (something which had preyed on his mind but which he did not burden me with).

A distant relative reputedly "liberated" a very nice cabin cruiser which he was able to sail home. As I recall, people rather admired the escapade as a piece of Elizabethan-style buccaneering.

With regard to Victor Gollancz's book - he returns repeatedly to the theme that it is capitalist greed which is the automatic cause of war
in accordance with Marxist theory.

The article from the British Zone Review shows people who had been keyed up to a high state of hatred by quite deliberate propaganda (apart from their war experiences), gradually returning to the ways of peace at rather different rates. Of course, some would remain irreconcilable.

I remember sweets coming off the ration although my pocket money was not enough to push the consumption very much higher and the children of servicemen at boarding school sometimes having BAF notes (British Armed Forces currency)
for sums like sixpence and a shilling -then equal to one or two bars of Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate.

La Dena Wise

I lived in the American occupied zone of Germany from November 1946 until April 1948. My mother, little brother and I went there on the first plane of dependents to join their soldier husbands and fathers. I was 4 and 5 years old, but remember a lot and heard a lot from my mother to sustain my memories over the years. It was bad in many aspects, and at the primal level of food an shelter, the worst. We lived next to a German Dr. and his wife and two little girls. They taught me Deutsche and I gave them candy. My mother took in two Displaced women, one Russian, one Polish (against the rules, of course), who were in bad health. I remember clearly going to the DP (displaced persons) camp, where people "lived" in small cubicles, scarcely furnished, cold and noisy. There were many uses for the black market, not just for profit or to solicit favors. Even well-to-do Germans could not get "luxuries" such as sugar, coffee and cigarettes, and would trade jewelry, artwork, and other family treasures for these and basic foods, too.
The other aspect of life, the peoples mental and emotional state, were dealt a terrible blow. The German people we met and knew were kind, humble and chagrined by the end of the war. I could write my own book about postwar Germany from an American war baby's perspective.

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