Dutch Famine of 1944 / Hunger Winter
burning their own furniture and books to keep warm.”
After the landing of the Allied Forces on D-Day,
conditions grew worse in the Nazi occupied Netherlands during
WWII. The Allies were able to liberate the southern part of
the country, but their liberation efforts came to a halt when
“Operation Market Garden,” the attempt to gain
control of the bridge across the Rhine at Arnhem, failed.
After the national railways complied with the exiled Dutch
government's appeal for a railway strike to further the Allied
liberation efforts, the German administration retaliated by
putting an embargo on all food transports to the western Netherlands.
By the time the embargo was partially lifted
in early November 1944, allowing restricted food transports
over water, the unusually early and harsh winter had already
set in. The canals froze over and became impassable for barges.
Food stocks in the cities in the western Netherlands rapidly
ran out. Official rations were progressively cut from 1,400
kcal/day in August 1944 to 1,000 kcal/day in December, and
ultimately to as low as 500 kcal/day in April 1945. A single
potato, a piece of bread, and a sugar beet is about 1,000
kcal. Over that winter, which has been etched in the Dutch
peoples memories as the Hongerwinter ("Hunger winter,")
as the Netherlands became one of the main western battlefields,
a number of factors combined to starve the Dutch people: the
winter itself was unusually harsh and together with the widespread
dislocation and destruction of the war, the retreating German
army destroyed locks and bridges to flood the country and
impede the Allied advance, which ruined much agricultural
land and made the transport of existing food stocks difficult.
In search of food people would walk for hundreds
of kilometers to trade valuables for food at farms. Tulip
bulbs and sugarbeets were commonly consumed. Not only was
food in short supply, but coal and other fuel supplies were
also disrupted. What trees existed in an urban environment
were chopped down to be used as firewood. When that supply
was exhausted, people started burning their own furniture
and books to keep warm. Electricity, water, sewerage and public
transport services simply disappeared (the streetcars themselves
were stripped bare for anything flammable).
The famine, known as the Hunger Winter, was
only lifted after the Netherlands was liberated in May 1945.
From September 1944 until early 1945 approximately 30,000
Dutch people are believed to have perished by malnutrition
or exposure as a result of the famine. Many also died from
toxic poisoning induced by eating tulip bulbs.
The Dutch Famine ended with the liberation of
the western Netherlands in May 1945. Shortly before that,
some relief had come from the 'Swedish bread', which was actually
baked in the Netherlands but made from flour shipped in from
Sweden. And shortly after that, the German occupiers allowed
coordinated air droppings of food by the Royal Air Force over
German-occupied Dutch territory in Operation Manna. The two
events are often confused, even resulting in the commemoration
of bread being dropped from airplanes, something that never