Hungry Summer

American grain fattens hogs ... Denmark’s fish fleet is idle ... the Netherlanders raise lettuce ... and children of Europe starve for bread

ELIE ABEL July 1 1946

Hungry Summer

American grain fattens hogs ... Denmark’s fish fleet is idle ... the Netherlanders raise lettuce ... and children of Europe starve for bread

ELIE ABEL July 1 1946

Hungry Summer


American grain fattens hogs ... Denmark’s fish fleet is idle ... the Netherlanders raise lettuce ... and children of Europe starve for bread


ONE bright May day in this Year of the Great Hunger the American ship Jacob Luckenbach, bound for Trieste, ran aground in the St. Lawrence river. In her holds were 6,000 tons of Canadian oats, 1,100 tons of Canadian flour and one million pounds of canned meats and blood sausage.

So, although the Luckenbach was not a celebrated ship, to millions of Europeans she was more important than the greatest battle fleet in the world.

The day the Luckenbach slipped her moorings in Montreal a parcel of photographs reached London from Vienna. At UNRRA’s European Regional Office in Portland Place the photographs passed from hand to hand photographs showing nothing more than three hospital admittance cards, each bearing the diagnosis: “Starvation symptoms.”

And someone remarked: “The Luckenbach is

the only ship on the way.”

What made the Luckenbach so important a ship was this: by running aground she lost one day’s

sailing time. Austria’s food stocks were expected to give out within 10 days.

Starvation is an elusive thing. I lived in Berlin for five months this year without seeing its face. Then, on May 1, I watched the big trade-union parade along Unter den Linden. That day during the parade there were 1,400 cases of prostration.

You couldn’t blame the heat or the humidity. It was the weakness of hunger.

It is virtually impossible to arrive at the absolute truth of the European food situation. There are small truths and big truths, but the whole truth is all of these added together; and it is a sombre truth. It is true, for example, that you can eat as well today in Paris, Rome or Brussels as you can in New York. It is also true that the Chief of

Hungary’s General Staff, a man of substance in Budapest, can buy just four thin cheese sandwiches a month out of his army pay.

The fact that black marketeers and speculators in foreign currency are dining on filet au champignon in Europe today does not wipe out the bigger fact that Polish peasants have taken to eating their seed potatoes without a thought for next year’s crop.

Sweden and Denmark are the only two countries in Europe with significant food surpluses. Both have fish for sale, and Denmark offers fine cheeses, fresh eggs, milk and butter as well. Britain has contracted for large shipments of Scandinavian fish, and the United States Office of Military Government for Germany recently purchased 50,000 tons to be delivered over a five-month period. Yet the Hoover mission, while in Copenhagen, discovered that Denmark was using only one third of her fishing fleet.

The reason is easily grasped Europe no longer has the refrigeration facilities or enough transport of any kind to move perishable foods any great distance without spoiling.

Travel along a railway line in Europe today, see

the cratered marshalling yards, the blown bridges, the charred iron skeletons of boxcars, the locomotives with their cannon-punctured boilers, and you soon understand why distribution has broken down.

War’s political aftermath has added much to the breakdown. Although the Big Three agreed at Potsdam that Germany should be treated as a single economic unit, this is not done. Take those 50,000 tons of fish the Office of the Military Government of the U. S. bought in Denmark.

The contract was signed in May. The fish are now being caught. But to date shipments have not started, because there are no barrels in which to pack them. The Reich’s largest barrel factories are in the Soviet occupation zone. It took four weeks of negotiation before a shipment of barrel staves was authorized. Now that the staves have arrived in the U. S. zone they’re being shaped into barrels, and when the transport is found they will be sent to Copenhagen. Then the fish will be packed and the shipments made. Meanwhile people continue to die of hunger.

Stories have been published in the newspapers at home about the Netherlands’ large vegetable surplus. Readers have probably wondered why the surplus wasn’t sent to other European countries.

The answer is that for one thing the Germans have dug up every vacant lot and planted their own garden vegetables, at the insistence of the Military Government and with seed sent from the United States.

For another thing UNRRA and other relief agencies cannot afford to squander dollar appropriations on lettuce or celery—no amount of lettuce will save the life of a child who hasn’t seen bread or milk in many days. It’s calories that count, and green vegetables are a relatively poor source of energy.

Netherland lettuce, North American pork and Danish Blue cheese are all in the same class. Each is a striking example of waste. Each points up the lack of planning on a global scale that is greatly to blame for the present shortage.

The fancy produce that gluts markets in Rotterdam and Copenhagen now had a steady demand before the war. One reason for the prosperity of Netherland and Danish farmers was their skilled specialization in the production of luxury foods. Today Europe has neither the palate nor the pocketbook for luxury eating. Yet the farmers go on growing what they know best—and it isn’t what Europe needs.

Right now North American pork is getting most of the publicity. Britain’s Lord President of the Council, Herbert Morrison, put the matter succinctly in Washington, “It must not be said that the hogs’ troughs were full while the children’s plates were empty.” Continued on page 41

Continued from page 12

This, too, is from lack of planning. Throughout the war the U. S. Department of Agriculture placed emphssis on meat production to provide high energy content food for the fighting forces and the swelling civilian demand. But it takes approximately six pounds of grain to produce one pound of edible meat. Grain is not as perishable as meat and does not require the same careful shipping, and now that the war is history, livestock are competing with humans for the world’s meagre supply of bread grains.

According to the Agricultural Attache at the U. S. Embassy in London, the American people must decide whether to reduce livestock population or let widespread starvation thin humanity’s ranks. By killing thousands of head of livestock now, many tons of grain would become immediately available for shipment to Europe and southeast Asia. Experts realize that this is a hand-tomouth solution, but point out that the situation is hand-to-mouth too, and can be met only by the most drastic methods.

The most painful fact about the food story is that experts see no substantial improvement next year or the year after next. “I shall be very much surprised,” said Colonel Hugh B. Hester, food and agriculture chief for the U. S. zone of occupation in Germany, “if we produce as much food in 1946-47 as in 1945-46.”

Colonel Hester sees it as a threeyear problem. For Germany he predicts that, even with every acre seeded and zonal barriers wiped out, the country will not be over the hump before 1949. His reasons are these: The present crop is planted in soil that was greatly overworked during six years of war and deprived of much of its nutritive elements. Because of the world-wide fertilizer shortage farmers could do nothing to enrich it before planting. The seed itself was of inferior quality and not replenishable, because most of the German seed estates are in the Russian zone and almost no seed was shipned to the western zones.

With millions of men still prisoners of war there’s a grave manpower shortage. Agricultural implements are scarce, since many factories were converted to munitions making during the war and later destroyed by bombing. Horses, too, are short, and in many places peasants till the fields behind a pair of milk cows.

Shortages in these beaten lands

become a vicious circle. For instance, in Trostberg, Bavaria, there’s a large factory producing cyanamide for nitrogen fertilizer. When I visited it, the town manager announced that the plant was producing at 97% of capacity, which would provide 20 to 30% of the fertilizer needs of the entire American zone.

“How many tons did you ship this week?” I asked him.

“None. We have 1,500 tons in stock, but there are no paper bags to ship it in.”

There is a paper mill nearby but it is not producing—no coal. Why? Because the Ruhr miners are not getting enough to eat.

That completes the circle. The fear uppermost in many minds is that the food shortage will thus perpetuate itself and hobble the ultimate recovery of European industry. Unless this relentless cycle is broken the outlook for next year will be grimmer than even the pessimists anticipated.

By and large Germany’s handicaps apply to most European countries. Poland’s situation is similar, though not identical. The eastern provinces, which were annexed by Russia, were major food producers. In return the Poles were given a strip of eastern Germany, including the provinces of Pomerania and Silesia. The Germans were forced to evacuate and the new Polish settlers are just coming in. The majority arrived too late to plant a crop this year, and those on the spot were handicapped by the shortage of horses, seed and fertilizer.

France and Belgium, while gradually recovering out of their wartime coma, are faced with a flourishing black market which police seem powerless to crush. The farmers are reluctant to sell produce at the prices fixed by government, since currencies are unstable and the purchasing power of the franc is small.

One official, unable to convince farmers to sell their food hoardings, has gone so far as to suggest that the only way of getting it to the underfed cities would be to pay in commodities rather than currency. This reversion to barter is not being seriously considered, but many observers would not be surprised if the Government were forced to send buyers out into the country with truckloads of shoes, tobacco, and bolts of cloth to exchange for beef, butter and eggs.

Finland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia are all in the Soviet orbit, and accurate information is not available. Correspondents and diplomatic officials who have visited these countries report, however,

that disorganization of transport and distribution systems probably is more widespread than in western Europe, with resultant acute food shortages.

Greece and Italy are considered to be in a worse position, only one cut above Austria. The U. S. agriculture department’s restrained official report says that Italy is faced with the worst food situation of her recent history. And last year Rome, as an example, had only one seventh of her normal meat supply; one fifth her normal milk supply. And it will be worse than that this year!

According to official estimates only four European countries will produce enough food this harvest to keep their populations in good health. These are Denmark, Sweden, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, though only the first two are certain of a high living standard without importing food from abroad. Austria’s position is far and away the worst in Europe, since out of her own resources she can expect only 250 calories per person per day—exactly one sixth of the minimum to maintain health.

Meanwhile UNRRA is expecting the worst—starvation by September in Austria, Poland, Yugoslavia and possibly Italy, unless grain shipments for June are very much higher than in April or May.

Already UNRRA shipping officials are having to divert vessels on the high seas from one area of hunger to another where the pinch is just a bit tighter.

A case in point is the Norwegian freighter, Knut Bakke. Sailing from North America to Oslo with a cargo of herring recently, she received orders in mid-ocean to put in at Gdansk (formerly Gdynia) instead. The Norwegian Government had agreed to release the cargo when confronted with the comparatively worse situation in Poland.

For the month of April UNRRA requested 800,000 tons of bread grains from the combined food board in Washington. Actual shipments received totalled less than half— 360,000 tons. The most critical period has begun, and no real relief can be expected until the crops are harvested in August and September.

Regardless of the chance of a good crop—and this chance is remote because of the shortage of fertilizer— the next few months are bound to be painful ones. UNRRA looks appealingly at the major wheat-growing nations — United States, Canada, Australia and Argentina, but goes ahead with preparations to send starvation teams of doctors and nurses into the four threatened countries—although unless food arrives there is not much a doctor can do. He may save a life by medical means but he can’t maintain it without food.

In Britain, where there’s less to eat today than during the Blitz, the people seem more concerned about feeding Europe than those countries whose civilians knew nothing more painful in the war than rationed gasoline and a shortage of nylons. But now even the United Kingdom apparently has tightened her belt to the very last notch—Herbert Morrison’s announcement that she would sacrifice 200,000 tons of wheat during the next three months to a common pool was for the first time received with anguished protests.

All eyes now are on the yellowing fields of wheat under the fierce sun of pampas and prairie. One good crop would present no final solution, but it would certainly banish the spectre of starvation for a time and permit the nations of Europe, none of which have yet tasted the fruits of peace, to set about clearing up the crumbled brick and building a home for the future.