Germany Will Try This Trick Again
Germany’s 1918 famine was a myth created to fool the Allies, and the Nazis will try the same tactics this time—Vansittart
Allan A. Michie
THE FIRST German War ended in November, 1918, with a humanitarian gesture unparalleled in the world’s history. When that war stopped, some 20,000,000 Europeans were in danger of starvation. The Germans were by no means in the greatest danger—large areas of Belgium, Poland, Serbia and France had been fought over for four years and stripped of food by the occupying Armies. In contrast, the German cities and countryside had hardly suffered from the devastation of war.
Nevertheless before the last shell had crossed the lines in France, Allied relief workers set machinery in motion to supply food, clothing and medicine to the defeated German enemy. And although Europe’s transport system was badly dilapidated after four years of bat t le, and much of the Allied shipping lay rotting on ocean bottoms, a steady flow of relief supplies was going into Germany only 134 days after the Armistice.
Germany, it should be remembered, was only
one of 20 countries in need of assistance—but in the end she received one third of the total supplies delivered to Europe.
All that remains in the public mind today of this great humanitarian work is a hateful legend —a legend that the Allies violated the Armistice agreement and deliberately starved German men, women and children by continuing the Allied blockade long after the end of the war.
“The hundreds of thousands of noncombatants who succumbed to the blockade after Nov. 11 were done to death with cold deliberation after the victory of our enemies had been secured and guaranteed,” snarled Count Brockdorff - Rantzau, the German Foreign Minister, at Versailles in 1919. Uncon trad ieted by any Allied statesman at the time, assiduously plugged by Germany’s propagandists in the years between wars, and repeated by many dupes in the U. S. and Britain who took their facts from German propaganda, this became the great German myth of the post-Armistice “hunger blockade.”
As late as 1942 Margaret Cole, the English economist, repeated it in print. “In 1919, before you were born,” she wrote in ‘A letter to u Student,’ “there was a blockade of Germany, prolonged for months after Germany had been brought, largely by starvation, to surrender. The Vansittarts of those days were eager to prolong it; their enemies then, as now, were German babies and children.”
Such stuff should be left to Dr. Goebbels, who does it much better!
Hitler, who always boasted that it was easier to put over big lies than little ones, seized upon the legend of the continuation of the “hunger blockade” and twisted it into Germany’s moral excuse for the second world war. Even at this late date millions in the U. S. and Britain believe t hat the continuance of the blockade after the Armistice of 1918 was one of Germany’s just grievances and one of the motivating reasons why Germany rearmed and once again went on t he warpath.
Documentary evidence from German sources proves that the prolongation of the “hunger blockade,” far from being a just grievance, is a legend founded upon lies. As a warning against what we must expect in the future, it is both timely and worth while now to recall that evidence from tin; past, for the Germans in their defeat this time will resort to the same old propaganda campaign to organize sympathy for themselves from the Allied publics.
The myth of the prolonged blockade is compounded of three separate allegations: (U that the Allies purposely continued to prevent food from reaching Germany for several months after the Armistice; (2) that Germany, in the meantime, had no food to keep her people from starving; and (3) that, as a direct result oí Allied cruelty, hundreds of thousands of German civilians died of hunger.
Examination of the evidence, however, demonstrates that every one of these components Ls founded on German distortion of the truth. The facts are these:
The Germans, w hen they sued for conditional surrender in November, 1918, accepted as one condition of the Armistice the continuation of
the Allied blockade. From a military point of view, this was a very necessary provision for the Allies to make, because they were not sure that the Germans would not continue the war as soon as they had recovered their breath. Actually, as late as May-June, 1919, the German High Command toyed with the tempting possibility of rejecting the Armistice and the peace terms and reopening the war.
It is not generally known that the German Government, only a few days before it signed the Versailles Treaty on June 28, 1919, secretly asked Von Hindenburg if Germany was strong enough to repudiate the Peace Treaty and continue the war. Hindenburg consulted the German generals, but the consensus was that Germany could not hope to win by reopening the war just then. The generals were willing to bide their time.
The Allied blockade, which, incidentally, was begun in 1915 only as an answer to Germany’s unrestricted U-boat campaign, was intended after the Armistice to apply solely to war materials—not food. It was to be continued until the formal signing of the Peace Treaty and then immediately lifted. That Germany had to go short of food in the meantime was the fault of no one but the Germans.
THAT needless delays occurred in supplying foodstuffs to Germany after the Armistice is undeniable. But a study of both the German and the Allied records of the food negotiations proves beyond doubt
that the delays were deliberately created and exploited by Germany’s political and military leaders in order to work up hatred among the German people against the victorious Allies and thus prepare the way for a new war.
Instead of wishing to prolong the blockade of food to Germany after the Armistice, the Allies not only agreed that Germany should be allowed to have supplies—they even offered to send relief stocks to Germany. Germany, in turn, agreed to give free access and unimpeded transit for relief supplies to the "wartorn areas on her eastern frontier, where the need was greater than Germany’s. But the Germans, as usual, went back on this undertaking, while expecting that all our good intentions toward them be fulfilled.
The main difficulty in feeding Europe was the shortage of ships. During the First German War, German U-boats and raiders had sunk some 13,000,000 tons of Allied merchant shipping, and part of the shipping available after the war had to be allocated to take home, as quickly as possible, a large part of the U S. and Canadian Armies. But, in the meantime, some 2,500,000 tons of German shipping lay idle in
German ports. The Allies requested that these ships be pooled with Allied vessels to bring in food supplies to all Europe, but for more than four months after the Armistice had been signed the German shipowners stubbornly refused to co-operate.
The official records of the commissions dealing with this idle shipping are records of German procrastination, evasion and downright lies.
In mid-December, 1918, the German Secretary of State agreed that German ships, under German ownership and with German crews, should be placed under the control of the Allied Maritime Transport Council to help carry foodstuffs into Germany. But the German shipping magnates had other ideas. They were then making a profitable dicker to charter German ships to transport overseas troops back home, and they had no intention of lending their vessels for the small-profit hauling of foodstuffs to their own people.
Because the U-boats had decimated the world’s merchant fleets, the 2,500,000 tons of German shipping was a trump card for German shipowners in the postwar scramble for business—and they were determined to make all they could out of it. At one stage in the negotiations the powerful Hamburg-Amerika Line even threatened to sue the German Government if its ships were damaged while engaged in relief work. The German shipowners, backed by the weak-willed Weimar Government, were willing to let Germany starve rather than contribute their ships for relief purposes.
On Jan. 17, 1919, the Germans signed another
agreement to pool their shipping, but there was more haggling and more delay and a month later the ships were still lying in their German ports. In the meantime a quantity of foodstuffs had been consigned to Rotterdam, ready to be shipped into Germany the moment the Germans honored their agreement.
But then the Germans tried a new delaying dodge. They refused to pay for the food they were to receive. They claimed the right to be fed for nothing, at the expense of those on whom they had made a war that cost, directly and indirectly, 25,000,000 lives. They wailed that they had no money to pay for their food. That was a lie. There was at that time more than $570,000,000 in specie in the Reichsbank—but the Germans had no intention of spending that for food. They wanted it for industrial preparations for their next war on the world.
Three months after the Armistice no food had yet gone into Germany, but still the German negotiators continued to stall. They suggested that the Allies give Germany a credit of $625,000,000 to cover relief purchases for six months. As security the Germans had the effrontery to offer the German war material
that had been handed over to the Allies at the time of the Armistice.
At long last the Allied negotiators, weary of Germany’s double-dealings, badgered by Allied public opinion that had been hoodwinked by German propaganda into believing that Germany had no food, gave in to the Germans and agreed to a compromise. The Germans were allowed to hand over their ships in installments, and the Allies agreed to accept large quantities of German raw materials as part payment for relief supplies. Four months after the Armistice, nine weeks after the Germans had originally agreed to pool their ships for relief work, the first of 21 German vessels left their harbors. Two days later, on March 25, 1919, the first British relief ship put in to Hamburg with flour and a few days afterward more food was rushed to Germany from depots in Belgium and France, the very countries which the Germans had ravaged for four years.
^I^HE German shipowners had withheld their vessels Jl for so long, however, that they were too late to help in the immediate job of feeding Europe and the first supplies had to be sent into Germany in Allied bottoms. An emergency mobilization of U. S. and British ships, at considerable hardship to other needy countries, was necessary to fill the gap caused by the deliberate delays in sending out the German ships. And, as a final ironic touch, the Allies had to send ships to the Argentine to transport quantities of wheat which the Germans had purchased and then wouldn’t collect. Meanwhile German vessels were busy making profits in their home waters.
That many Germans went hungry after the Armistice no one denies—and so did millions of Poles, Czechs, Slavs, Austrians, Belgians and Frenchmen— but the Germans went hungry, not through the deliberate cruelty of the Allies, but because of the calculated policy of Germany’s militarists, the connivance of her weak Government, and the selfishness of German shipowners. Germany’s hunger immediately after the Armistice was self-imposed. The undernourishment of the German people was deliberately exploited as a method of working up resistance to the Allies—the first step in enabling Germany to win the peace although she had lost the war.
The Weimar Government, with its militaristic string pullers in the background, purposely kept food away from the Allied-occupied area of the Rhineland so as to foment unrest and hatred of the occupying forces. Furthermore the German civil and military authorities resisted all efforts of the Allied military forces to ship food into the Rhineland and distribute it under Allied military supervision. The German Government constantly manipulated the deliveries of food to serve its own political ends—withholding it from areas where they wished to embarrass the Allies by civil disturbances staged by hungry people.
The Germans, whining all the time that the Allies were not feeding them, brazenly reneged on their agreement to allow relief supplies to pass through their country to Poland and Czechoslovakia. They not only hindered the passage of relief supplies of food and medicine to those countries; as a crowning misdeed they sabotaged deliveries and stole foodstuffs intended for the stricken areas of Poland.
At one stage of their obstructiveness they had the nerve to suggest that they would permit transit shipments through Germany only on condition that Germany be supplied first. So masterful was their propaganda that millions in the U. S. and Britain, by a strange perversion of sympathy, actually insisted that “the poor Germans” should be taken care of before their victims in the countries they had ravaged. Actually they even extracted some supplies from the France that they had devastated. Also,, they had looted all the milch cows in the devastated regions. Naturally, after the war, their victims wanted their own cows back. Did they get them? Of course not. The Germans “organized sympathy” to such an extent that they kept the cows.
In the end the authors of Europe’s woes managed, by one means or another, to get their hands on one third of the food and clothing sent in to the Continent.
The second component of the prolonged blockade myth—that Germany’s privation after the Armistice was so great that she could not prevent her people from starving—does not stand up to investigation any better than the first.
Germany’s food situation at the end of that war was far better than that of the countries she had plundered. Despite her propaganda, Germany after the Armistice was not really threatened with
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Germany Will Try This Trick Again
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immediate famine and widespread starvation. On Nov. 16, 1918. just five days after the signing of the Armistice, the German economic expert, G. Oettelshofen, investigated the German food situation for the then reputable Koelnische Zeitung and concluded: “... the danger of real famine j does not exist at all in Germany, j particularly such a short time after the ! harvest.”
Germany’s 1918 harvest, in fact, had ; been abundant, and at the time of the Armistice the greater part of it lay untouched in German granaries and warehouses. Germany, with a populaj tion of 65,000,000, had in December, 1918, immediately after the Armistice,
¡ some 17 million head of cattle and 10 j million pigs. (In contrast, Britain, with ! her population of 42,000.000, had in I June, 1918, some 7.4 million head of
cattle and 1.8 million pigs.)
And at the end of 1918 Herbert Hoover, in charge of Allied relief work, estimated that Germany had sufficient food to feed herself for eight months.
There was food inside Germany all right, but the German Government for its own political reasons refused to distribute it to the people in need. When the agrarian elements, in particular the landed Junkers of East Prussia, engaged in a sit-down strike and refused to cultivate their land or deliver food to the cities, the militarists, who worked hand in glove with the Junkers, encouraged them to withhold their food or demand such prices for it on the black market that it was out of reach of hungry people.
Although the German Army was supposedly being demobilized, the vast stocks of food accumulated for the Army were not released for the civil population. On the contrary, after the Armistice the rations for the troop were maintained at their wartime level, which was 509r above the rations of the civil population, in order to attract soldiers into the irregular
private armies and armed bands recruited to fight in the east against the newborn Polish and Czechoslovak states. All this occurred at a time when the rest of Germany was supposed to be starving.
The third leg of the triplex myth of the prolonged blockade—that hundreds of thousands of Germans died as a result of the delays in supplying food— is as much a lie as the other two.
It was exposed as such by a special study undertaken by the Carnegie Institute and published in 1928.
Moreover the official German statistics for 1919 and 1920 show a rapid drop in the mortality rate for all classes of the population, as compared with the war years.
The death rate in Germany for all classes, adults and children, was 15.0 per 1,000 in 1913, just before the outbreak of the war. In 1918 it was 24.8; in 1919, 15.6; in 1920, 15.1, and in 1921, 13.9 per 1,000. By 1921 the German death rate was therefore lower than before the war.
The German mortality rate of children between five and 10 years likewise fell from 6.1 per 1,000 in 1918 to 3.9 in 1919, and to 2.4 in 1921, as compared with 2.9 per 1,000 in 1913. In Britain, by comparison, the mortality rate of children the same ages was 5.9 per 1,000 in 1918; in 1919, 3.6, and in 1921, 2.7 per 1,000. It will be seen that by 1921 the British mortality rate for children was already higher than in Germany.
The German mortality tables for infants under 12 months show the same rapid drop in deaths immediately after 1918, that is, at the very time Germany’s propagandists contended that Germany’s children were being murdered by Allied starvation.
It is an ironic joke on the world that those same German children who were allegedly starved and stunted in infancy grew up to be the physically hard and mentally tough German soldiers who trampled all Europe into subjection in 1940.
First Peace Victory
In retrospect, Germany’s campaign to delay the delivery of food to her people, while at the same time bewailing their starvation, stands forth as Germany’s first victory in the winning of the peace that followed the First German War. It was the first step in Germany’s resistance to the defeat she was unwilling to admit, a step that led directly to the Second German War. Other steps followed in rapid succession —the refusal to hand over her war criminals or try them herself, the scuttling of the German fleet, the sabotage of reparations, her deliberate embarkation into “controlled” inflation, and the circumvention of the military clauses of the Versailles Treaty.
Germany deliberately used the issue of relief supplies as a test of Allied firmness, and when the Allies made repeated concessions, the Germans knew that it was only a matter of time, repeated pressure and incessant propaganda before they could wriggle out of every other provision of first the Armistice and then the Versailles Treaty. The protracted negotiations over food supplies also showed the Germans that the victorious Allies were far from united — that, with persistence, the Germans could succeed in driving a wedge between American idealism, French realism, and the British desire to compromise.
By their clever propaganda the Germans succeeded in placing the moral responsibility for Germany’s hunger on the shoulders of the Allies. By their falsehoods they won our sympathy.
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The trick worked wonderfully once. The Germans will try it again. We j must beware of it, for to be fooled once ’ is unfortunate, but to be fooled twice might be fatal.
This time we must not be dependent on Germany’s unwilling co-operation ; for the feeding of a stricken Europe. I The United Nations have already established the UNRRA, which will bring relief and rehabilitation to all Europe, to Germany’s victims as well as Germany. By complete Allied military occupation of the Reich we ! can make certain that food, clothing ! and medical supplies will be safely , shipped in transit through Germany to j her despoiled neighbors. And this time j the feeding of Germany in the months ! after her unconditional surrender must ! be carried out under the watchful eyes of Allied military authorities.
The Germans after their last collapse expected that they should be allowed , to wage periodic war against the world without suffering themselves. They will expect the same in this defeat.
After this war the Germans will certainly be far better off than the countries they have stripped and starved to feed themselves. “Whoever starves, Germany won’t,” proclaimed fat Goering, and the Germans have taken him at his word. There will be suffering after this war. Who will have caused it? The Germans, and only the Germans. Everything possible will be done by the United Nations to minimize this suffering all around; Allies, neutrals and enemies will be fed. But this time, if there is to be any justice in the world, the Germans will have to take their proper place, which will be at the tail and not at the head of the queue.