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Hidden Historical Fact:

The Allied Attempt to Starve Germany in 1919

Article from The Barnes Review, April 1996, pp. 11-14.
TBR, 645 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Suite 100, Washington D.C. 20003, USA.
By Fred Blahut, assistant editor of TBR;
published here with kind permission from TBR.
This digitized version © 2003-2019 by The Scriptorium.

''Germany's Children are Starving''
This drawing, done in 1924 by Käthe Kollwitz, is titled "Germany's Children Are Starving". It speaks for itself.
Even after an armistice ended World War I, the rapacious victors continued a devastating blockade of Germany.

If one word could describe Germany during the immediate aftermath of World War I, it would be "starvation." And yet, while some 900,000 German men, women and children were starving to death, the American and British public knew nothing about the reason for this holocaust, deliberately caused by the continuation of a wartime British naval blockade.

Britain's post-war naval blockade of food to Germany in 1919 matched the then current blockade of news by the American and British press. Even today, only a few non-Germans know the truth, and American and British historians, for the most part, have participated in the coverup of this most appalling crime.

The guilt of the world press in covering up the atrocity is compounded by the fact that the American and British public were told of the starvation itself, but were kept ignorant of the criminal policies of the Allies which produced it.

Newspapers carried stories of relief efforts to rescue the starving. The most famed of these efforts was directed by Herbert Hoover, later to become the 31st president.

As told by Otto Friedrich in Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, John Maynard Keynes cited the testimony of an observer who accompanied Herbert Hoover's mission to help the starving:

    You think [this] is a kindergarten for the little ones. No, these are children of seven and eight years. Tiny faces, with large, dull eyes, overshadowed by huge puffed, rickety foreheads, their small arms just skin and bones, and above the crooked legs with their dislocated joints the swollen, pointed stomachs of the hunger edema... "You see this child here," the physician in charge explained, "it consumed an incredible amount of bread, and yet it did not get any stronger. I found out that it hid all the bread it received underneath its straw mattress. The fear of hunger was so deeply rooted in the child that it collected the stores instead of eating the food: a misguided animal instinct made the dread of hunger worse than the actual pangs."

Meanwhile, the armistice terms dictated by the Allies at Versailles would assure that Germany could not recover economically even to the point of providing a subsistence livelihood for the majority of its citizens.

France was to get Alsace-Lorraine outright; she would occupy all German territory west of the Rhine for 15 years and she would take possession of the rich coal mines of the Saar district, which was to be governed by the League of Nations. Poland would get the important industrial region of Upper Silesia, most of Posen Province and West Prussia, thus establishing a "Polish Corridor" to the sea and cutting off East Prussia from the rest of Germany.

Denmark and Belgium would slice off several border regions and the League of Nations would take charge of Germany's African colonies.

Searching through garbage for food
Elderly German women search through piles of garbage for something to eat in Berlin in 1919.
If Germany did not sign, the Allies were ready to invade and occupy the country. After a number of resignations, the German government at Weimar agreed to the "unheard-of injustice" of the Treaty of Versailles.1

Immediately following the war, Germany was wracked with insurgencies, coups and counter-coups. The Bolsheviks attempted a takeover similar to the revolution in Russia. The Allies, meeting in Versailles, celebrated the unrest and destruction. And the people - particularly the American people - were kept in the dark about the continuing blockade.

Communist agents, sent by the Bolshevik regime in the fledgling USSR, were fomenting revolutions throughout the prostrate country. As Gen. Leon Degrelle points out in his Hitler: Born at Versailles:

    While the murder of defenseless civilians was carried out in Bavaria, the delegates at the Paris Peace Conference had their first meeting. Far from being horrified at such massacres, the Allies could not contain their glee. The Bavarian bloodbath was a gift from the gods, which meant that Germany would be split and more Germans would be killed. Allied diplomatic envoys were rushed to Munich to kowtow to the bloodthirsty trio [three agents sent by V. I. Lenin named Levine, Levien and Axelrod]. They offered food and money to bolster their opposition to Berlin.2

And then, Degrelle says what few historians will admit: "Although the war had ended, Germany was still under Allied blockade [editor's emphasis], which was ruthlessly enforced. The first state of Germany to benefit from a lifting of the blockade would be communist-controlled Bavaria."3

One must search diligently for historical references to the continued, devastating blockade. And when mention is found, it is usually just that - a mere mention. Diether Raff confirms the peace-time blockade in his A History of Germany - From the Medieval Empire to the Present:

    "The Allied peace terms turned out to be extremely severe, far exceeding the worst fears of the German government... The peace treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest were declared invalid and the food blockade around Germany was to continue... Thus Germany's capitulation was accomplished and an end set to four years of enormous bloodshed."4

The effectiveness of the blockade, initiated years before the entry of the United States into the war, and which led to the sinking of the Lusitania,5 has been well documented.

"It was the blockade that finally drove the Central Powers to accept defeat," says Richard Hoveth in his study of the struggle on the high seas during World War 1.6 "At first mild in its application, the blockade's noose gradually tightened until, with the American entry, all restraint was cast aside. Increasingly deprived of the means to wage war, or even to feed her population, the violent response was insurrection; apathy and demoralization the mute consequence of dashed hopes and thin potato soup."7

Basil Liddell Hart is quoted by Hoveth to the effect that, revolution and internal unrest notwithstanding, the blockade was "clearly the decisive agency in the struggle."8

Berliners exchange potato peelings for firewood
Berliners exchange potato peelings for firewood. As the grip of the Allied blockade tightened, waste materials became valuable commodities to be processed and reused.
The Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia has two poignant photos taken in Germany during the final year of the war. In one, Berliners exchange potato peelings for firewood. "As the grip of the Allied blockade tightened, waste materials became valuable commodities to be processed and reused."9 Another photo shows a large crowd of people at an outdoor soup kitchen with the caption: "Berliners crowd 'round a mobile municipal kitchen for a cheap meal - hot dinners, 35 pfennigs a portion.'"10

The Allies clearly intended to starve the German people to death, foreshadowing the Morgenthau Plan of the latter days of World War II - a plan that actually went into operation to starve and exterminate one third of the German population.

After confiscating the German merchant navy, the Allies proceeded to confiscate German private property all over the world, contrary to all precedent from previous wars when private property had been held in escrow until the ratification of peace treaties, when it would revert to its legitimate owners.

Degrelle writes: "The Allied powers reserve the right to keep or dispose of assets belonging to German citizens, including companies they control [Article 167 B]. This wholesale expropriation would take place without any compensation to the owners [Articles 121 and 279 B]."11

And, Germany remained responsible for the liabilities and loans on the assets that were taken from them. Profits, however, remained in the hands of the Allies. Thus, private German property and assets were confiscated in China (Articles 129 and 132), Thailand (Articles 135-137), Egypt (Article 148), Liberia (Articles 135-140) and in many other countries.12

Germany was also precluded from investing capital in any neighboring country and had to forfeit all rights "to whatever title it may possess in these countries."13

The Allies were given free access to the German marketplace without the slightest tariff while products made in Germany faced high foreign tariff barriers. Articles 264 to 267 established that Germany "undertakes to give the Allies and their associates the status of most favored nations for five years."14 Germany, of course, had no such equal status.

Germany was experiencing near famine conditions. It was at this moment the Allies decided to confiscate a substantial part of what was left of Germany's livestock. The American representative at Versailles, Thomas Lamont, recorded the event with some indignation:

    "The Germans were made to deliver cattle, horses, sheep, goats, etc.,... A strong protest came from Germany when dairy cows were taken to France and Belgium, thus depriving German children of milk."15

Food shortages were such that 60,000 Ruhr miners refused to work overtime unless they were paid, even in the form of butter. When it became obvious that Germany would not be able to deliver the coal ordered by the treaty, the Allies lowered the amount from 43 million tons to 20 million tons.

Degrelle points out that the virtual confiscation of German coal production led to the deaths of German children for lack of fuel for heat.

John Williams, in the epilogue of his story about the war on the home front, has this one sentence: "In Germany... still subject to the blockade, blank misery prevailed."16

In his biography of Woodrow Wilson, Arthur Walworth says that the British command in Germany reported that food shortages raised a specter of anarchy.

    "Herbert Hoover, who had gone abroad after the armistice eager to use American surpluses to feed the hungry of Europe, soon had found that the idealistic professions of individuals at London and Paris did not square with their actions as officials of electorates that were swayed by war hatred and economic necessity. Shipments had been delivered to Allies and to neutrals, but British officials had refused to break their blockade to let cargoes go into Germany. Moreover, Germany had failed to act on an agreement to turn over merchant ships before receiving food [eventually forced on the Weimar government. -Ed.] and showed no desire to pay for shipments in gold - a possibility that French financiers were thought to be opposing so that their nation might get what gold there was as indemnity."17

There is evidence that Wilson actually thought the European powers would accept his "14 Points" and feed starving Germans now that the war was over. But, of course, that was not the case as discovered by Wilson's humanitarian point man, Hoover. England's Lloyd George, meanwhile, thought that the starvation was being ameliorated. He favored - although quietly - feeding his ex-enemy.

    "Frustrated by apathy and obstruction, Hoover was brought on the carpet by [British Prime Minister] Lloyd George, who was inclined to brush him off as 'that Salvation Army man.' The prime minister, distressed by reports of famine in Germany, wanted to know why Hoover had not done his job. At this the American let him have the bitter truth. Lloyd George, feeling that tact was not one of Hoover's great qualities, asked him to give the council an expurgated version of his remarks. This was done, and a stormy and wordy session ensued."18

The food blockade was not terminated until July 12, 1919. On May 7 of that year, Count von Brockdorf-Rantzau had indignantly referred to this fact in addressing the Versailles assembly. "The hundreds of thousands of noncombatants," the German chief delegate had stated, "who have perished since November 11, 1918, as a result of the blockade, were killed with cold deliberation, after our enemies had been assured of their complete victory."19

The murderous Allied blockade, which continued for eight months after the end of the war, was one reason why a German war veteran who decided to go into politics a decade later was able to revive the seared memory of a German nation which had suffered greatly and vault himself to absolute power. His name, of course, was Adolf Hitler.


1Friedrich, Otto, Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s. New York: Harper & Row, 1972. ...back...

2Degrelle, Gen. Leon, Hitler: Born at Versailles. Torrance, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1987. P. 341. ...back...

3ibid. ...back...

4Raff, Diether, A History of Germany - From the Medieval Empire to the Present. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988. (First English edition.) ...back...

5The Barnes Review will detail the story of the Lusitania in next month's issue. ...back...

6Hoveth, Richard, The Great War at Sea 1914-1918. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. ...back...

7ibid. ...back...

8ibid. ...back...

9Cavendish, Brigadier Peter, ed. The Marshall Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia of World War I. vol. 8. New York: Young Corp., 1984. ...back...

10ibid. ...back...

11Degrelle, op.cit. (Note 2), p. 510. ...back...

12ibid. ...back...

13ibid. ...back...

14ibid. ...back...

15ibid., pp. 511-512. ...back...

16Williams, John, The Other Battleground - The Home Front: Britain, France and Germany 1914-1918. Chicago: Henry Regnery & Co., 1972. ...back...

17Walworth, Arthur, Woodrow Wilson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1965. ...back...

18ibid., p. 283. ...back...

19ibid. ...back...

More from our Archive:

A History of the Blockade of Germany
and of the countries associated with her in the Great War:
Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey

Hidden Historical Fact
The Allied Attempt to Starve Germany in 1919