- Götz Aly & Susanne Heim, Architects of Annihilation: Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction (S. Fischer Verlag, 1991; A.G. Blunden transl. 2002 [Princeton University Press])
- Karel C. Berkhoff, Harvest of despair: life and death in Ukraine under Nazi rule (2004, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press).
- Burleigh, Michael, The Third Reich : a new history (2000)
- Alex J. Kay, Germany’s Staatssekretäre, Mass Starvation and the Meeting of 2 May 1941, J. Contemp. History 41, No. 4, pp. 685-700 (2006).
- Alex J. Kay, Exploitation, Resettlement, Mass Murder: Political And Economic Planning… 135 (2006)
- Gesine Gerhard, Food and Genocide: Nazi Agrarian Politics in the Occupied Territories of the Soviet Union, Contemporary European History, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 45-65 (Feb. 2009).
- Lizzie Collingham, The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food (2011)
- Frederick Taylor, Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany (2011)
- Gesine Gerhard, Nazi Hunger Politics: A History of Food in the Third Reich (2015).
- Carlisle Ford Runge & Linnea Graham, Viewpoint: Hunger as a weapon of war: Hitler’s Hunger Plan, Native American resettlement and starvation in Yemen, Food Policy Vol. 92, 101835 (Apr. 2020)
Meeting of 2 May 1941 (X million)
Plans to starve people dated back to May 1941. In a meeting about the Soviet Union early that month, Nazi state secretaries had noted that “when what we need is taken out of the country, doubtless x millions will starve.”Karel C. Berkhoff, Harvest of despair: life and death in Ukraine under Nazi rule (2004, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), p. 45
On 2 May 1941, at a meeting at which all the major ministries were represented at State Secretary level, this murderous policy was agreed. According to a contemporary report, the conclusions were as follows:Frederick Taylor, Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany 151 (2011).
1. The war can only be continued, if the entire Wehrmacht is fed from Russia in the third year of the war.
2. If we take what we need out of the country, there can be no doubt that many millions of people will die of starvation.
3. The most important issues are the recovery and removal of oil seeds, oil cake, and only then the removal of grain.
In contrast to the extensive coverage of the Wannsee Conference in the historiography, however, the meeting of 2 May 1941 and its minutes have remained fairly obscure. Given the obvious similarities between the two gatherings, this difference in treatment is rather striking. Both were in effect meetings of the relevant Staatssekretaire, i.e. ministers’ deputies. At both meetings the main topic on the agenda was the murder of millions of human beings and how this could be brought about. The target group discussed at Wannsee was over eleven million Jews spread across the entire European continent. At the meeting on 2 May, although somewhat vaguely referred to in the minutes as ‘x million’, the target group was in fact ‘many tens of millions’ of Soviet citizens, as stated in the economic policy guidelines drawn up and issued exactly three weeks later by some of those present at the meeting on 2 May.Alex J. Kay: Germany’s Staatssekretäre, Mass Starvation and the Meeting of 2 May 1941, J. Contemp. History 41, No. 4, pp. 688-89 (2006).
On several occasions in May and June the general council of the Four-Year Plan Authority discussed the problem of feeding the population of occupied Europe, working on the assumption that ‘X millions’ of people in the Soviet Union would be deliberately left to starve. On 14 July the Economic Policy Unit for the East, which reported to Göring and shared many of its staff with the Four Year Plan, called for the ‘early ghettoization’ of the Jews in those areas of the Soviet Union that had been occupied just a few days previously, in order to ‘give the trustworthy local non-Jews a look-in’. On 31 July 1941 Körner had a meeting with the aforementioned General Thomas to discuss ‘the question of organization in Russia’. The outcome was an announcement of Göring’s decision: ‘Quarter the Jews in barracks and put them to work in segregated work columns. ‘At the same time undersecretary Backe confirmed at a meeting of the Economic Policy Unit for the East that ‘only very limited supplies [are] available’ to feed the urban population in the occupied parts of the USSR. Six weeks later, with logical consistency, Goring formulated a strategy in which starvation became a recognized method of waging war: ‘For economic reasons it is not advisable to take large cities by storm. It is better to encircle and besiege them.’Götz Aly, Susanne Heim, A. G. Blunden, Architects of Annihilation: Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction, (S. Fischer Verlag, 1991; A.G. Blunden transl. 2002 [Princeton University Press]), p. 36-37.
Economic Policy Guidelines (23 May)
One of these officials [at the 2 May 1941 meeting], Herbert Backe of the Reich Ministry for Food and Agriculture, personally convinced Hitler that Ukraine’s agriculture would solve all of Germany’s food problems, and in guidelines that he sent to Economy Staff East later that month, Backe predicted ‘‘a dying off of industry” in the “East,” Part of the to-be-conquered Soviet territory, essentially present-day Belarus, was a “deficit region” whose population, particularly city dwellers, “will have to suffer great famine . . . Many tens of millions of people will become superfluous in this region and will have to die or migrate to Siberia.” Importing food there would undermine Germany and should not be allowed. With regard to the black-earth region, which included most of Ukraine and which was a “surplus zone,” Backe’s scheme “granted livable conditions” to the collective and state farm workers there. But only to them. Never before in history had there been a plan for mass murder on this scale.Karel C. Berkhoff, Harvest of despair: life and death in Ukraine under Nazi rule (2004, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), p. 45.
The conquest of Soviet Russia was not solely an ideological showdown with ‘Jewish bolshevism’, nor a gigantic form of ethnic cleansing, but also a quest for a secure long-term economic base from which to mount the bid for world power. Since the fields shimmering with wheat of Hitler’s imagining proved chimerical, German economic experts, notably State Secretary Herbert Backe, developed the simple expedient of starving millions of Russians by diverting food to the military and the German home front. This was presented as the only way out of a developing crisis whose first symptoms were a cut in the domestic German meat ration, but whose consequences were precisely the same as those elaborated in the ‘Generalplan Ost’. In other words, one could arrive at the same desired ‘solution’ through any number of formulae. The underlying pathology was fundamentally murderous whatever the rationalising gloss put upon it.
Beginning with the fact that Tsarist Russia had exported agricultural surpluses, Backe attributed the recent decline to both Bolshevik incompetence and the demand represented by a growing and increasingly urbanised population. Surpluses could be engineered for German use only by curtailing consumption, a policy rendered easier by the fact that the main areas of demand in the ‘wooded zones’ in the north (the industrial cities of Leningrad and Moscow) were far from the Black Earth region in the south which generated the surpluses. ‘Absolute clarity must reign’ in respect of the certainty that these urban populations would starve: ‘As a result, x million people will doubtless starve, if we extract what we need from the land.’Burleigh, Michael, The Third Reich : a new history 548-49 (2000)
On the afternoon of 4 October 1942, one of the most well-fed men in Europe gave a speech, recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience and broadcast live on the radio throughout the Greater German Reich and the occupied countries. In this speech he celebrated the fact that during the coming winter, as during the previous one, Germans would eat while millions of their fellow human beings would, in a quite planned and strategic way, starve.
The man was Reich Marshal Hermann Goering, the venue the Sportpalast in Berlin-Schöneberg. The occasion was the ‘Reich Harvest Thanksgiving Festival’. Of course, he did not actually say, ‘We are planning to starve and kill millions. He simply told his audience, in his firm but friendly way . . . that their rations would be increased, and that, as it approached its fourth wartime winter, Germany’s problems with food shortages were over.Frederick Taylor, Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany 149 (2011)
A report of the SS’s Sicherheitsdienst following Goering’s triumphant ninety-minute peroration at the Sportpalast quoted citizens’ conversations to show that his ‘comprehensive summary of the ever-improving food situation in the Reich . . . [has] generally consolidated the notion that when it comes to our rationing difficulties we are “over the hump” This was also, the report added, having the practical effect of improving public morale to the extent that people were ‘not worrying so much about the military situation, i.e, the duration of the fighting around Stalingrad.’ As for Germany’s women, now bearing so much of the burden on the home front, ‘the mood among women has become much better, something for which the promise of a permanently improved food and supply situation is principally responsible’.Frederick Taylor, Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany 155 (2011).
Himmler, having seen the poorly dressed Kievans for himself, had internalized the Führer’s goal that they should somehow vanish. He had seen many people in the streets and they looked awfully “proletarian.” One could “easily do without eighty to ninety percent of them.” SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Friedrich Jeckeln’s first impression of them was similar: they were “racially very bad,” During a visit to Ukraine in the fall of 1941, the leading Nazi Fritz Sauckel heard discussions that closely matched Backe’s scheme. “All German offices” — as he put it — expected “at least ten to twenty million of these people” in the region to starve to death during the coming winter.Karel C. Berkhoff, Harvest of despair: life and death in Ukraine under Nazi rule 165 (2004, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press).
Backe himself believed that the Soviet Union had a ‘surplus population’ of between twenty and thirty million that could and must be liquidated in the course of Operation Barbarossa, the campaign against the Soviet Union- this quite apart from any later post-war plans to settle the fertile Ukrainian and White Russian plains with Germans.
Himmler stated openly at a meeting of senior SS officers a few days before ‘Barbarossa’ was launched in June 1941 that in this fight to the death ‘through military actions and the food problems, 20 to 30 million Slavs and Jews will die’.
Goering himself said in November, less than five months after the invasion had begun, that the battle for Russia would bring about ‘the greatest mortality since the Thirty Years War’. He repeatedly made gloating remarks to the effect that ‘if anyone’s going to starve, it will not be Germans, but someone else’. These were echoed by a remark by Goebbels in his diary that before Germany would ‘starve… a series of other countries will have to take their turn first’.
The fact that, less than three months before Goering’s ‘harvest festival’ speech, the food situation in the Reich itself remained problematic, was further proved by a report that has survived of a meeting at Rovno, the seat of the East Prussian Gauleiter and ‘Reich Commissar for the Ukraine’, Erich Koch. In his address to his officials, Koch broached precisely that subject. The Reich Commissar, who had just returned from Hitler’s headquarters, recounted how he had tried to resist Goering’s demands for more imports from Russia. However, the Führer supported Reich Marshal Goering, and, according to the report of the meeting, that was that: “The Gauleiter came direct from the Führer’s headquarters . . . The food situation in Germany is serious. Production is already falling as a result. An increase in the bread ration is a political necessity if the war is to be continued with success. The shortfall in grain will have to be made up from the Ukraine. The Führer has made the Gauleiter responsible for ensuring that these quantities are secured. In the light of this situation, the feeding of the [Ukrainian] population is a matter of: complete indifference.”Frederick Taylor, Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany 152-53 (2011).
COL. POKROVSKY: You have told us that the Germans intended to destroy the Slav population in order to reduce the number of Slavs to 30 million. Where did you get this figure and this order?
VON DEM BACH-ZELEWSKI: I must correct that: Not to reduce to 30 million, but by 30 million. Himmler mentioned this figure in his speech at the Weselsburg.
COL. POKROVSKY: Do you confirm the fact that actually all the measures carried out by the German commanders and by the Wehrmacht in the occupied Russian territories were directed to the sole purpose of reducing the number of Slavs and Jews by 30 million?
. . .
VON DEM BACH-ZELEWSKI: I believe that these methods would definitely have resulted in the extermination of 30 million if they had been continued, and if developments of that time had not completely changed the situation.Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Volume 4, TWENTY-EIGHTH DAY, Monday, 7 January 1946, Morning Session, p. 484. (Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, General of the Higher SS and Police Leader Corps, responsible for anti-partisan warfare on the Eastern Front)
The undersecretaries who sat on the general council of the Four-Year Plan Authority were as follows: Herbert Backe (Food and Agriculture), Friedrich Landfried (Ministry of Economic Affairs), Friedrich Syrup (Ministry of Labour), Wilhelm Kleinmann (Ministry of Transport), Friedrich Alpers (Reich Forestry Office) and Wilhelm Stuckart (Ministry of the Interior). The remaining two undersecretaries, Paul Körner and Erich Neumann, represented the Four-Year Plan Authority itself.
At the same time Backe, Landfried, Syrup, Kleinmann and Stuckart each headed their own business unit within the Four-Year Plan Authority, mirroring the remits of their respective ministries. This put them in a position to recruit experts for the work of the Authority from among their own ministerial officials. In this way they were able to underpin their independence from their ministers through personal staff loyalties and thus bypass the ministerial hierarchy.Götz Aly & Susanne Heim, Architects of Annihilation: Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction 46 (S. Fischer Verlag, 1991; A.G. Blunden transl. 2002 [Princeton University Press]).
It was Backe, a cold-blooded technocrat, who had reorganised German agriculture before 1939 to make it independent of world markets, as part of the Nazis’ master plan for economic autarky, sidelining the romantic ‘blood-and-soil’ dreams of his nominal boss, Minister Walter Darre, in favour of more efficient and ‘modern’ modes of food production.Frederick Taylor, Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany 151 (2011).
After the outbreak of war, following ruthless racist logic, Backe and his experts, including leading academics in their fields, developed plans to cover the supply and feeding of the German army during the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Nazi agricultural and food politics were dominated by two men, Richard Walther Darré and Herbert Backe. The Reich minister of food and agriculture, Darré is much better known than his colleague Backe, who took over Darré s positions in the agricultural administration in 1942 and officially replaced him as minister in April 1944. Darré had brought Backe into the administration in June 1933, but Backe’s expertise and personality soon made him the most important player in food politics. Even before he became minister, Backe had de facto more power than his boss. As the head of the food commission in the Four-Year Plan administration, Backe worked closely with Hermann Göring and often reported directly to Adolf Hitler. He managed the food rationing system in the Reich, and set food rations in occupied territories in eastern Europe and for Soviet prisoners of war (POWs). By the time food policy took its most deadly turn – 2 million Soviet POWs died within a year of the attack on the Soviet Union – Backe was in charge of food distribution.
. . .Gesine Gerhard, Food and Genocide: Nazi Agrarian Politics in the Occupied Territories of the Soviet Union, Contemporary European History, Vol. 18, No. 1, at p. 46-47 (Feb. 2009).
He has been characterised as the calculating technocrat and ideologically motivated Nazi who outmaneuvered his boss, Reich minister Darré, and put himself solely in charge of food policy.
Beyond the reference in Rosenberg’s diary to consultations between Staatssekretär Backe and Gauleiter Meyer on 2 (or 3) May, there is good reason to believe that Backe attended the meeting of the Staatssekretäre on 2 May. As author of the strategy which envisaged the starvation of millions of Soviet citizens in order to manufacture food surpluses artificially to supply the invading troops and the German home front, Backe’s failure to attend such an important meeting on the subject would have been almost unthinkable. In addition, with Hitler’s knowledge and approval, complete powers over the agricultural exploitation of the Soviet territories had been transferred to him on 12 April.Alex J. Kay: Germany’s Staatssekretäre, Mass Starvation and the Meeting of 2 May 1941, J. Contemp. History 41, No. 4, pp. 693 (2006).
In postwar German historiography, Herbert Backe had received little attention thus far. He had killed himself in his prison cell in Nuremberg before he was tried by the American Military Tribunal, and his name had been forgotten. His boss of many years, Reich Minister of Food and Agriculture Richard Walther Darré, on the other hand, had survived to face trial and was condemned to seven years in prison as a Nazi perpetrator. Backe’s own crucial role in the murderous plans for the economic exploitation of the Soviet Union had only recently been unearthed.Gesine Gerhard, Nazi Hunger Politics: A History of Food in the Third Reich 2 (2015).
When he committed suicide in April 1947, Backe left behind a wife and four teenage children. The oldest daughter, Armgard, was born in 1932 followed by Albrecht (1933), Arnulf (1934), and Arnd (1936). Three of them still live in Hanover, not far from the place the Backes had called home in the 1920s and 1930s.
The central figure of this book is Herbert Backe, the second Reich Minister of Food and Agriculture. He was the Food Commissioner in the Four-Year Plan administration that prepared Germany for war and took over Richard Walther Darré’s responsibilities as Reich Minister in 1942. His name has long escaped most history books and has only recently resurfaced in public. Backe was one of the authors of the Hungerplan, a plan that foresaw the starvation of tens of millions of Soviet citizens in cities and other regions. He was not the sole mastermind behind this plan, but the examination of his role and motivation offers great insight into Nazi ideology, food policies, and their murderous consequences.Gesine Gerhard, Nazi Hunger Politics: A History of Food in the Third Reich 10 (2015).
In a short span of time, Backe rose from failed academic to influential food minister and close confidant of Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring, and Heinrich Himmler. He quickly outflanked his former boss and mentor, Reich Minister of Food and Agriculture, Richard Walther Darré. Darré felt increasingly outcast by the other Nazi leaders, even though his ideas continued to be employed and remained pillars of Nazi ideology until the final collapse of the regime. Backe was born in the Russian Empire to German immigrants and grew up in the Caucasus, a region at the border of Europe and Asia by the Black Sea. He spent his childhood immersed in Russian language and culture, but as a German, he was treated as an enemy during World War I and interned for years in a small mountain village. After this, he would turn against the people he grew up with and, as the “Russia expert” among Nazi leaders, would have the last say in determining their fate. Under Backe’s leadership, more than two million Soviet POWs died of hunger and starvation in German camps. In addition to these casualties many civilians in the cities, also cut off from adequate food supplies, finally succumbed to hunger as well.Gesine Gerhard, Nazi Hunger Politics: A History of Food in the Third Reich 12 (2015).
Definiteness of Plan
Secondary literature disagrees as to whether there was an actual plan authored by Backe that used starvation as a means to accomplish the Nazi goals in the east. Most authors conclude that Backe and the other economic planners had no qualms over the calculation that, as a result of the invasion and economic exploitation, millions of Soviet citizens would starve. This was regarded as the inevitable consequence of a war fought against their foremost enemy. However, whether the intention was to induce starvation as a means of getting rid of people considered racially inferior remains controversial.Gesine Gerhard, Food and genocide: Nazi agrarian politics in the occupied territories of the soviet union. Contemporary European History 18, (1) (02): 45-65 (2009)
Although the intention of deliberately producing mass starvation was incorporated at an early stage into occupation policy as a factor of fundamental importance, the whole notion was too insufficiently thought through to be described as a ‘plan’. It can best be defined as a concept – it seems that there was no clear idea among the economic planners as to how it was actually to be implemented. It was uncertain exactly where and, above all, how it was to be applied in the occupied Soviet territories. There can be no doubt, however, either of the significance within official policy of this exterminatory approach or of the wide-ranging agreement obtained for it in advance of the German invasion. In any case, it soon proved impossible to implement the ‘starvation policy’, at least in the form in which it had originally been intended. With limited numbers of available troops and a military situation which rapidly began to deteriorate, it turned out to be impossible to cordon off whole regions and bring about the deaths of millions of people through starvation. In the event, thousands of Soviet civilians took to the country roads in search of food and trade on the black market thrived, exactly what the economic planners had hoped and sought to avoid. The starving out of Leningrad between 1941 and 1943, to which at least 600,000 people fell victim, was an exception, and was only possible on this scale because substantial parts of two German armies were made available to take part in the siege.
As a result of this unexpected scenario, the principal victims of the ‘starvation policy’ were ultimately the Soviet prisoners of war, who were viewed by the economic planners and the military leadership alike as the German troops’ direct competitors for scarce food supplies. Although they had not been targeted explicitly prior to the invasion, it was clear to those responsible on exactly what scale the Wehrmacht could expect to capture Soviet troops, and yet they neglected to make the requisite preparations for feeding and sheltering the captured soldiers. Thus, a consensus of opinion existed within the German leadership prior to the beginning of Barbarossa to the effect that the Soviet POWs would suffer gravely as a result of undernourishment. Given the obvious limits on their freedom of movement, in contrast to the majority of the Soviet civilian population, it was possible to segregate large numbers of captured Soviet soldiers and starve them to death. Thus, from the German point of view, the Soviet prisoners became the ideal victims of a policy seeking to isolate large groups of people who would otherwise have had to be fed from German-occupied territory and to let them starve. The fact that over three million Soviet prisoners died in German captivity – the vast majority directly or indirectly as a result of undernourishment – is truly horrific, and yet the anticipated number of victims of the ‘starvation policy’, to which the Staatssekretäre committed themselves on 2 May 1941, was ten times as many.Alex J. Kay: Germany’s Staatssekretäre, Mass Starvation and the Meeting of 2 May 1941, J. Contemp. History 41, No. 4, pp. 699-700 (2006).
The Nazi Hunger Plan was a carefully laid scheme to create surpluses by denying food to native populations in producing areas of the Soviet Union, especially Ukraine. Its purpose was to support both the 1941 invasion of Russia under Operation Barbarossa (after Hitler broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Stalin) and to expand opportunities for feeding Germany’s civilian population. It was outlined in Hermann Göring’s “Green Folder” as Plan Oldenburg, calling for the seizure of all stocks of food and raw materials between the Vistula in Central Poland and the Urals in Western Russia. As part of the plan, a separate committee was created to organize the collection of food from occupied areas under Nazi military authority and, in the longer term, to promote German colonization in agricultural areas on a permanent basis.Carlisle Ford Runge & Linnea Graham, Viewpoint: Hunger as a weapon of war: Hitler’s Hunger Plan, Native American resettlement and starvation in Yemen, Food Policy Vol. 92, 101835 (Apr. 2020)
Three days before Kiev’s capture, on September 16, 1941, Hermann Göring, the Reich minister of economy, held a meeting with officials of the army and the Economy Staff East and with Herbert Backe, the acting minister of food and agriculture (actual minister from May 1942), who in May 1941 had secured support for a scheme to starve millions of city dwellers (see Chapter 2). Göring came out in support of Backe’s scheme. The “Gypsy-like population” should not be allowed to “devour” any of the food that the Germans captured. “In the occupied territories, as a matter of principle only those who work for us must be assured of the appropriate food. Even if one wanted to feed all the inhabitants in the newly conquered territory, one would be unable to do so.” For major cities, it was not necessary to change Hitler’s general view that, as Göring put it, “from economic considerations, the occupation of large cities is not desired. It is more economical to close them off.”Karel C. Berkhoff, Harvest of despair: life and death in Ukraine under Nazi rule 165 (2004, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press).
Otto Brautigam, the deputy head of the East Ministry’s Main Political Department, found that “’Kiev must starve’ was a saying that our agronomists put forward in cold blood during conferences.”Karel C. Berkhoff, Harvest of despair: life and death in Ukraine under Nazi rule 165 (2004, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press) (citing Brautigam’s post-war book So hat es sich zugetragen: ein Leben als Soldat und Diplomat (1968), p. 401).
The starvation policy assumed concrete shape in regulations. On September 4, 1941, Economy Staff East issued an order regarding food and city dwellers in the “East,” and the next day Economy Inspectorate South released it as a top-secret regulation to its economy commands while adding a warning that the “allocation” of food to civilian city dwellers must be “limited to the essentials,” payable on close supervision, and directed mainly to those in direct service of the Germans. The maximum rates per food item included a mere 300 grams of bread per person per day. On November 4, Economy Staff East replaced its September order. (As before, people in the countryside, considered self-sufficient, were left out of consideration.) The new guidelines granted that one goal was “to assure the feeding of the population, as far as this is possible without influencing the German interests ” But great problems were supposedly unavoidable. After all, the “ruthless plundering and destruction by the Bolsheviks have very severely shaken the economic and trade life in the occupied territories. Need and misery are the unavoidable result for the native population, particularly in the major cities.” Propaganda should reiterate that only the Bolsheviks were responsible. Amounts of supplied food should “be kept as low as possible in the first period, to force the population to consume its own hoarded supplies and to prevent any influencing of the needs of the Armed Forces.” For now, meat or fat were not to be distributed; turnips, beets, and carrots should replace the prescribed potatoes, and buckwheat and millet the prescribed bread. The planned maximum rates should only be reached “gradually.” These caps were very low. In the south, people with “useful work” would never get more per week than 2,000 grams of bread, 2,500 grams of potatoes, 100 grams of meat, and 100 grams of fat, and the directive added that at most 20 percent of the total native population could be eligible for these maximum rates. Hard laborers employed by firms that were in “the German interest” might get a little more (respectively, 2,500, 3,500, 200, and 150 grams); people not engaged in work “worthy of the name” got less (respectively, 1,500, 2,000, nothing, and 70); and children under fourteen years of age and Jew’s might at best get 750 grams of bread, 1,000 grams of potatoes, and 35 grams of fat. Most importantly, these rates were not targets, but maximum rates that would be acceptable in some undefined future. The agency expected a “real emergency situation” to “generally arise only later.”Karel C. Berkhoff, Harvest of despair: life and death in Ukraine under Nazi rule 166 (2004, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press).
All food was to be taken at the expense of Soviet civilians. Backe warned his men of any “misdirected pity” for the Soviets, since they were “used to hunger” and were responsible for their own misery. Backe came up with a hunger plan (Hungerplan) that divided the Soviet Union into two zones, the “surplus” zone that consisted of the naturally rich areas of the Ukraine, southern Russia, the Caucasus region, and the “deficit” zone—the industrial and urban regions of Belarus, and northern and central Russia. The deficit zone was to be sealed off from all food supplies and people were left there to starve. Germans were to exploit the agricultural production in the Ukraine and the Caucasus for their own needs and any surplus would be sent home.Gesine Gerhard, Nazi Hunger Politics: A History of Food in the Third Reich 13 (2015).
In the summer of 1941 the shortcomings of Backe’s starvation policy became apparent. The designation ‘plan’ gives an entirely false impression that the implementation of the strategy was well thought through and organized. In fact, the bureaucrats on the ground were given no precise instructions as to how the Hunger Plan should be implemented. The attack on the Soviet Union was supposed to end in victory sometime towards the end of September. This would free up plenty of troops, whom Hitler, Göring and Backe then intended to deploy in enforcing the starvation of the towns. There was no contingency plan in place for the eventuality that a military campaign would be taking place while the inhabitants of the hinterland behind the front were supposed to be starving to death.Lizzie Collingham, The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food (2011)
Obtaining grain surpluses and surpluses of oil crops, especially sunflowers, and guaranteeing the supply of the entire Eastern Army from the land constituted the concrete objectives of the economic operation. The ‘minimum aim’ set by the economic planners was the feeding of the Wehrmacht from enemy land during the third year, and perhaps additional years, of the war. This had to be achieved under all circumstances. It was foreseen in the guidelines that at least two-thirds of the Wehrmacht (i.e., the Eastern Army) had to be completely provided for out of the Eastern space – a requirement totaling four and a half to five million tons of grain – whilst the remaining third would be supplied from French contributions. This expectation diverged from the meeting of the Staatssekretäre three weeks earlier in that the feeding of the entire Wehrmacht from ‘Russia’ during the third war year had on that occasion been foreseen. This is to be explained in so far as the fraction given in the guidelines of 23 May was a ‘minimum aim’ – the planners expected this amount to be comfortably exceeded. By expecting the entire invading army of more than three million men to live off the land, the planners hoped to ease the strain on the lines of transport, which had to carry both goods from the East to Germany and certain military supplies going the other way.Alex J. Kay, Exploitation, Resettlement, Mass Murder: Political And Economic Planning… 135 (2006)