Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

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Jon G.
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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Jon G. » 14 Aug 2008 08:34

Adam Carr wrote:... Until 1945 the Germans were the best fed people in Europe, far better than the British, as a result of systematic looting of the rest of Europe. German soldiers in occupied countries, in particular France, Belgium and Denmark, bought up all the food they could find, using the artificially over-valued RM, and sent it home to Germany...
Does Götz Aly explain how German soldiers posted to occupied countries obtained rationed food without being issued with food ration stamps for the country they were posted to? Soldiers generally aren't responsible for procuring their own food. Or, if they were issued with ration stamps, how did they obtain goods above what ration cards entitled them to?

Not to say that looting of food didn't happen - it did, but on a national scale; eg. Danish transfers of food to Germany were organized as part of the occupation costs levied on Denmark, not as private enterprise looting by individual soldiers. Food transported to Germany presumably went into ordinary German food rations.
...So Germans were able to eat butter, cheese, bacon, ham and citrus fruit long after these things were officially unavailable...
Precious few citrus fruits in occupied Europe, though. A very nice place to have a relative was aboard the Hilfskreuzer auxiliary cruisers - the crews of these ships had access to good tobacco, exotic fruits and, most wanted of all, real coffee, which fetched astronomical sums on the black market.

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Adam Carr
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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Adam Carr » 14 Aug 2008 10:07

Yes Aly explains it all at great length. German troops were issued their pay in the form of Reich Credit Bank (RKK) certificates which were dominated in RM and looked like RM notes, although they were not legal tender in Germany. These were pegged to the local currency at an artificially high level. In France, a RM1 RKK certificate was worth FF20. The soldiers used these to buy up whatever they wanted, either from shops, from black marketeers or directly from farmers. French rationing laws did not apply to German troops. The French recipients then presented the RKK certificates to their bank, which passed them to the Banque de France, which was obliged to redeem them in francs. The RKK certificates were then returned to the Wehrmacht which issued them over again. This was in other words a disguised form of looting. By 1941 the Reich mint had produced RKK certicates with a face value of RM5.4 billion. Aly estimates the purchasing power of the RM at $US12 at 2006 values. In other words the soldiers could buy $US65 billion worth of food at today's prices - a lot of food. (Of course they bought other consumer goods as well as food, particularly wine, soap, clothing and footwear.) In one month, August 1943, German private purchases in occupied France came to RM125 million, or $US1.5 billion in current values. This is a large part of the reason why France, which was a net food exporter before the war, was starving by 1944.

There were citrus fruits in Greece, in Italy and southern France. The point about citrus fruits is that they keep long enough to be sent by train to Germany.

Of course there were also official transfers of food from the occupied countries to Germany, such as dairy products from Denmark.

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Adam Carr
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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Adam Carr » 14 Aug 2008 10:23

Some happy shoppers (from Götz Aly, p96)
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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Jon G. » 14 Aug 2008 10:23

I know about the forced, artificially low franc to Reichsmark exchange rate. As you say, that made it eminently possible for anyone with Reichsmarks to purchase French goods and services at equally artificially low prices.

What you haven't established is how much, if any, of this private initiative plunder accounted for food transfers from (eg.) France to Germany. The total value of plunder which you provide does not tell us anything about that.

Incidentally, France wasn't a net food exporter prior to the war. There are many threads about that around the forum - see the collection of links provided by my moderator colleague David Thompson upthread - but this post by member DrG provides a nice overview http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic. ... 60#p754260

...or 83% food self-sufficiency for France. Take French North Africa out of the equation, and the number probably drops further.

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Adam Carr
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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Adam Carr » 14 Aug 2008 10:58

Are you asking me what the total value of the food transferred from the occupied countries to Germany was? I don't think Aly gives a figure, and I doubt it would be possible to calculate one given that much of the buying was done on the black market. But the topic here is the level of nutrition in Germany, and the point I am making is that this was not just a matter of the official rations, because millions of Germans got additional food sent to them by relatives in the Wehrmacht.

Some points from Aly: In October 1940 Göring issued the "schlep decree", which removed all restrictions on the amount of goods soldiers could post or carry home. In November soldiers' pay was increased by 50% in Poland, Norway and the Netherlands, by 20% in France and Denmark and by 25% in Belgium. As a result of these two measures, the number of packages sent by military post to Germany quintupled, to an average of 3.1 million packages a month. Some soldiers sent large packages every week. Soldiers in Ukraine got their families to post them old clothes and other goods which they traded for food. Soldiers sent home crates of eggs, honey, peas, semolina, flour, and cooking oil, plus sausage, ham and bacon (which kept better than fresh meat). Some families received much more food than they needed, so they sold or bartered the surplus, thus spreading the dietary benefit further into the German population. All this relieved pressure on Germany's own food stocks, which could be distrubuted to the poor in a form of "war socialism," thus keeping up civilian morale.

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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Jon G. » 14 Aug 2008 11:28

My problem isn't with your assertion that German soldiers in occupied Europe bought food and sent it back home. I also do not have a problem with the beneficial exchange rate which gave anyone with Reichsmarks abnormal purchasing power. Rather, my problem is with the bombastic conclusions you draw from that:
...Until 1945 the Germans were the best fed people in Europe, far better than the British, as a result of systematic looting of the rest of Europe. German soldiers in occupied countries, in particular France, Belgium and Denmark, bought up all the food they could find, using the artificially over-valued RM, and sent it home to Germany...
Best fed? yes, better fed than most of occupied Europe when measured against official rations. But in relative terms, how many German soldiers would have the time and the opportunity to act as private food merchants? Which market forces come into effect if all of the butcher's uniformed customers can afford the entire store for the small change in their pockets, rations be damned? And what would the consequences be for the butcher (or whatever) who sold off all his stock to the occupiers, leaving nothing for his regular customers and their ration cards...?

As long as the amount of individually acquired food can't be measured, your assertion remains unprovable. German rations were better than most - but not all - of occupied Europe. I can agree with you that most German families had relatives in the Wehrmacht, but it doesn't follow that all these relatives had the means and the opportunity to acquire food, and further that they also sent that food back home. By a straight head-count most Wehrmacht soldiers were stationed on the Eastern Front, in an area where food was already scarce. How much food did they send home?

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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Annelie » 14 Aug 2008 11:48

I can agree with you that most German families had relatives in the Wehrmacht, but it doesn't follow that all these relatives had the means and the opportunity to acquire food, and further that they also sent that food back home. By a straight head-count most Wehrmacht soldiers were stationed on the Eastern Front, in an area where food was already scarce. How much food did they send home?
Quite right. My Father was stationed in Kreta in 43 and no food was sent home. The Greeks themselves were
starving, in fact he often gave food to his future wifes family in Athens.

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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Adam Carr » 14 Aug 2008 12:07

I don't think there's anything particularly bombastic about what I have said. Obviously not every German soldier was able to send food home. I doubt those in northern Norway could, and maybe Crete was another such place. But as I have said, that must be balanced against the fact that soldiers in relatively food-rich areas such as France and Ukraine sent home much more than their own families needed, so that food was then sold or bartered to other German families. Food smuggling by soldiers eventually became a virtual business, and there was eventually a crackdown. I stand by the assertion that the Germans were the best fed people in Europe during the war. They were certainly on average better fed than the British, and the people in the occupied countries. Who else was there? Maybe the Swiss ate better, I don't know. I can't quote the whole of Aly's book here - I suggest you read it. Adam Tooze's book in the German economy goes into this as well. Having read Aly I have no doubt that both official food transfers and food packages sent and carried by German soldiers meant that the German civilian population was sheltered from the nutritional consequences of the war far better than the population of any other European combatant nation, and also far better than they were in World War I. Göring said quite openly: I don't care if Europe starves, so long as Germans don't go hungry. This was an important political factor in maintaining civilian morale and thus in sustaining the war effort until 1945. The best evidence for this is surely the terrible shock the Germans got in 1945 when they suddenly had to live in official rations, and nearly starved for the next three years.

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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Jon G. » 14 Aug 2008 12:32

OK, I'll file your claims under the unsourced category. I'm unimpressed with your inability to seperate individual initiative plunder of food from other German plunder of occupied countries.

I gave you a link to a post upthread according to which France only covered 83% of her own food needs - and that figure might include French North Africa. That doesn't make France food-rich. I'm going to post some numbers on average German rations later when time permits and the forum becomes more stable. Ukraine was food-rich only in relative terms, and much German loot from the Ukraine was oil seeds (sunflower seeds and the like which are mighty good for feeding cattle) and live cattle, both of which are rather unhandy items for the postal services.

Rations in occupied Denmark were larger than German rations, and some items weren't rationed at all, such as most meat products, although you had to register your meat purchases, a measure which was introduced to prevent hoarding.

I'm unsure how Hungarian and Romanian food rations compared to German rations - but with these two countries both being net food exporters prior to the war, they might well have been better off than the Germans from a food perspective.

Also, the food stream wasn't wholly one-way. At one point the Germans in fact imported food to Norway in order to stave off the worst effects of a growing food crisis. Perhaps - perhaps - that also shows a general dim view towards black marketing held by German high command; IIRC General von Hanneken, at one time the Wehrmacht commander in Paris, narrowly escaped court-martial over charges of black marketeering.

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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Adam Carr » 14 Aug 2008 12:59

"I'm unimpressed with your inability to seperate individual initiative plunder of food from other German plunder of occupied countries."

OK well the onset of cheap sarcasm is usually a good time to depart an argument. I made no attempt to "seperate individual initiative plunder of food from other German plunder of occupied countries" because it isn't relevant to my point.

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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Jon G. » 14 Aug 2008 14:27

I wasn't being sarcastic. You made a claim that
...Until 1945 the Germans were the best fed people in Europe, far better than the British, as a result of systematic looting of the rest of Europe...
...which you couldn't back up. As long as we don't know how much food was channelled back to Germany via private channels, we can't know to which degree - if any - that private food imports contributed to Germany's overall food situation.

You're also being sloppy on the details - German rationing was near-total, whereas many items (for example potatoes) weren't rationed in Britain; France wasn't a net food exporter prior to the war as you claim, and average rations in occupied Denmark (admittedly a special case since Denmark was a net food exporter) were higher than in Germany. Have you bothered comparing post-war German rations with wartime rations?

I'm not rejecting that the Germans could only sustain their ration levels thanks to food imports from occupied Europe - but those imports went via official channels, and are thus already in evidence in German ration allowances.

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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by phylo_roadking » 14 Aug 2008 14:33

My Father was stationed in Kreta in 43 and no food was sent home. The Greeks themselves were
starving, in fact he often gave food to his future wifes family in Athens.
Annelie - Crete was a very extreme circumstance, as you know. Actually - the situation there is the exception that proves the rule about individual German soldiers plundering...for from 1943 on to liberation in 1944 this is EXACTLY what happened.

Not only was no food sent home - but from early 1943...VERY little food was being sent TO to Crete, either through military logistics for the garrison, OR civilian channels for the population. by Mid 1943 the situation was VERY bad; and the German garrison...which had always plundered basically at will...organised a number of LARGE foraging parties in the shape of anti-partisan sweeps, like the large "offensive" through the relatively prosperous Valley of the Amari in the second half of 1943. Almost ALL anti-partisan activites since 1942 had involved clearing properties first of anything edible before destruction - and by 1943 had turned into livestock sweeps. The situation got SO bad for both the natives AND the Germans that by late 1943 the garrison withdrew into its enclave on the north coast, with just occasional forays by the Germans to gather supplies.

The suffering of both the natives - any by extrapolation the Germans, can be read in The Cretan Runner by George Psycoundakis. George as you probably know was an amazing character, and apart from his autodidact education and his immense breadth of Classical learning and knowledge, the one thing that the reader can see in his account of the war years on Crete is his basic humanity - EVEN for the German occupiers. It's an account that is in no way coloured by any innate hatred for the occupying Germans - and its obvious that the garrison as the years progressed beagn to suffer privations every bit as bad as the locals...and basically cut off from resupply on an island - reacted in the only way they knew how and foraged from the hinterland.

What isn't however clear is what happened THEN to the scavenged supplies. Certainly AFTER the withdrawal into the enclave - and in the mass foraging sweeps just before that - I would assume ALL available food supplies came under VERY close management...but BEFORE that, with individual groups and units pillaging - and on the bigger raids there's no other way to describe it - I can't make any assumption from George's account of what happened on return to barracks i.e. was this "policy", or private enterprise; were foraged materials "pooled" and stored , or did individuals/groups units use what they obtained themselves.

Sadly - the ONE thing we're missing from that theatre is a good comprehesive account of the occupation of Crete from the GERMAN side. As you know - most are "anecdotal", dealing with major security incidents, or are too subjectively focused to the individual - or are FJ accounts dealing with the invasion only, like von der Heydte's. In the absence of such an account - we have nothing to "dovetail" with the various good accounts on the other side of the lines. From the Allied and local side, events on Crete - incuding the Hunger - are relatively well recorded. We have Billy Moss' two accounts, including "Ill Met by Moonlight", George's own masterly account, two books IIRC by Xan Fielding and one by "Sandy" Rendell.
Last edited by phylo_roadking on 14 Aug 2008 15:00, edited 1 time in total.

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Annelie
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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Annelie » 14 Aug 2008 14:42

I haven't read the Creten Runner by G. Psycoundakis but it seems I should.

I know things were pretty tough there.

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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Simon K » 14 Aug 2008 18:18

By contrast, the (UK) economic section, concerned about inflation and influenced by the German point system, produced a radical alternative proposal, namely points rationing. This scheme, which had been adopted for clothes by the summer of 1941, allowed an extension of rationing to non perishable commodities supplies of which were limited and demand for which was infrequent
Austerity In Britain - OUP I. Zweiniger-Bargielowska p20
There DOES appear to have been a German points system in operation. Im unable to find further details though, at the moment.

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Re: Wartime Rationing in 3rd Reich

Post by Simon K » 14 Aug 2008 18:23

Unfortunately the source is not clear whether the German system was for clothes or clothes AND food.

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