29 October 2019

9-year-old boy in Amsterdam during the hunger winter of 1944-5

The Dutch famine of 1944–45, known in the Netherlands as the Hongerwinter (literal translation: hunger winter), was a famine that took place in the German-occupied Netherlands, especially in the densely populated western provinces north of the great rivers, during the winter of 1944–45, near the end of World War II.

A German blockade cut off food and fuel shipments from farm towns. Some 4.5 million were affected and survived thanks to soup kitchens. Loe de Jong (1914–2005), author of The Kingdom of the Netherlands During World War II, estimated at least 22,000 deaths occurred due to the famine. Another author estimated 18,000 deaths from the famine. Most of the victims were reportedly elderly men.

The famine was alleviated by the liberation of the provinces by the Allies in May 1945. Prior to that, bread baked from flour shipped in from Sweden, and the airlift of food by the Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces – under an agreement with the Germans that if the Germans did not shoot at the mercy flights, the Allies would not bomb the German positions – helped to mitigate the famine. These were Operations Manna and Chowhound. Operation Faust also trucked in food to the province.
More at the link, including this interesting bit:
The discovery of the cause of coeliac disease may also be partly attributed to the Dutch famine. With wheat in very short supply there was an improvement at a children's ward of coeliac patients. Stories tell of the first precious supplies of bread being given specifically to the (no longer) sick children, prompting an immediate relapse. Thus in the 1940s the Dutch paediatrician Dr. Willem Dicke was able to corroborate his previously researched hypothesis that wheat intake was aggravating coeliac disease. Later Dicke went on to prove his theory. 


  1. north of the great rivers

    This is funny literal translation that deserves explanation.

    The 'grote rivieren' / 'great/major/large rivers' is a combined term for the messy, branched network of rivers that are the end of the Rhine and the Meuse that cuts from the east to the west through the Netherlands. Over time, all those branches have got their own name (Merwede, Nederrijn, Waal...), so it's too much to name them all. Hence, in Dutch, they're called the 'grote rivieren'. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grote_rivieren

    They're quite a formidable natural barrier for invading forces. The Romans wisely decided to hang south of them and leave the barbarians and Frisians north of the rivers be. About two thousand years later, the allied forces had a similarly hard time getting across them as the Germans efficiently damaged and destroyed a bunch of the important bridges as they retreated.

    However, out of this very specific Dutch context, the term 'great rivers' makes no sense.

    I am not sure 'great' is the best translation for 'groot' here. The rivers aren't great as the Great Lakes are. Or the Great Salt Lake.

  2. It also provided some of the earliest evidence for epigenetics: https://theconversation.com/how-your-grandparents-life-could-have-changed-your-genes-19136

  3. Bit of a digression but this post recalled an devastating condition seen when starving Europeans were given large volume, high protein meals by well-meaning Allied troops and developed "Darmbrand" ("fire bowels"). A Clostridial infection and acute abdominal process with elements of intestinal necrosis and perhaps mesenteric ischemia. Similar to "pig-bel" seen in New Guinea. Diabetics are at risk (see attachment) and I've always had an occupational interest in it's possible relation to NEC in infants.


    Clostridia seems to pop up a lot in relation to Europe and the great wars of the 20th century in strange ways. I'm thinking here of the theory that the horrors of gas gangrene in WW1 were a result of fomites and spores introduced by bullets that picked up the centuries of manure in the pasture-turned-trenches as they entered some poor doughboy's thigh.

    1. Fascinating case history. My sympathies go out to the intern who had to write a 14-item problem list each day.


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