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The Holocaust History Project.

A Policy of Deliberate Starvation

Adapted from an essay written
for Usenet on June 20, 1995
by Jamie McCarthy.

I. The Belsen Camp
II. The Food Store
III. The Policy

I. The Belsen Camp

Over and over, Jeff Roberts (Jeff@stumpy.demon.co.uk) has told us that the Third Reich had "no deliberate policy of starvation," "still no evidence of a deliberate policy," etc. Many other "revisionists" believe this as well.

This despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The Belsen camp, at the time of its capture, was filled with 60,000 inmates at the brink of death from starvation. Meanwhile, the Wehrmacht was hoarding hundreds of tons of food a mere two miles away. (Belsen was the first camp discovered by the Western Allies; if you've seen movies of bulldozers pushing emaciated corpses into mass graves, they were probably taken at Belsen.)

When confronted with this fact, Mr. Roberts responded that the inmates:

...did not die of starvation. Most died of disease. And that food was about one weeks supply. The question is about food. But most of the inmates died of typhus, not starvation.

(Roberts, Jeff. Usenet article "Re: Food supplies in the camps", id 800597924wnr@stumpy.demon.co.uk. June 15, 1995)

So far, Mr. Roberts is being pretty disingenuous. It's common knowledge that poor nutrition lowers one's immune system, and starvation drastically so. Whether an inmate managed to resist disease long enough to die from sheer weakness is an issue only to those who will seize upon any excuse to defend the Nazis.

And such flawed argumentation is not unique to Mr. Roberts. More recently, another "revisionist" pooh-poohed the idea that starvation was to blame for the hideous death toll, and issued this callous challenge:

Find me one picture of an emaciated inmate with the requisite swollen belly of the starving. You won't find one. The inmates are emaciated because they were passing their bodily fluids anally to and past fatal levels. Literally, they shit themselves to death as a side effect of the epidemic raging at Belsen.

The argument, boiled down to its essense, is that typhus is an act of God. Because inmate deaths were "a side effect" of this, the Nazis -- who had imprisoned them in a filthy, overcrowded camp with little food or medicine -- are not culpable. This is an apologetic of the worst kind.

But Mr. Roberts, unlike his colleague, was at least honest enough to allow how withholding food might reduce resistance to disease:

Typhus is caused by lice. Healthy people will not catch it. But people on short rations, [the rations had been reduced from 1000 to 600 calories at this time], in overcrowded conditions, and poor sanitation, and not de-loused, will die very quickly.

This is correct. The problem was that 60,000 people were fed insufficiently, and this problem manifested itself with a variety of symptoms: from emaciation, to lowered immunity, to typhus, to death.

We must not let the varying symptoms blind us to the root causes. One of the major problems was the lack of sufficient food. Others were the overcrowding and the lack of sanitation.

All these problems were caused by the Nazis' policy of forcing innocent people, far too many people, into too-small camps, with too-little attention paid to their care. There is no denying this. This is the real crime of the Nazis; exactly how the victims died is a detail.

II. The Food Store

But specifically regarding starvation, we turn to the large supply of food found outside the Belsen camp. Even if the food was only one week's supply, the question is: why was it not given to the inmates? The Nazi soldiers found in the area were not starving. There is a famous photograph of the plump SS women who were captured at Belsen.

To be sure, food was not plentiful, but the hoard that was discovered was excess food, food that was not eaten by the German army or civilians. It was not part of the stream of food that flowed from croplands into people's mouths; it was just sitting in a huge storehouse, not being eaten.

Even if would have prolonged life for everyone at Belsen by just one week -- that week would have been enough time to save many lives.

But would it have been just a week? Perhaps Mr. Roberts thinks so. Mr. Roberts, however, has not done research into the caloric content of the various foods in that storehouse. I have.

My figures below come from Margo Feiden's The Calorie Factor, by Margo Feiden, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1989. I've done all the arithmetic to convert tons to pounds etc., and I've divided the results by 60,000, the number of people in the camp at liberation. All figures given, if they err, err conservatively -- I'm taking into account the poor quality of nutrition available in central Europe in early-mid '45.

There were 600 tons of potatoes, which would have provided 5180 calories per person.

The 120 tons of tinned meat would have provided 4140. I'm using a figure for standard-grade beef, unboned, on the theory that the tinned meat was deboned but that the tins weighed about as much as the bones would.

The 30 tons of sugar, 1680 calories per person.

The 20 tons of powdered milk, 850.

The bakery could produce 60,000 loaves daily, and a small loaf of bread is about 800 calories -- I'm unsure whether to include that, because a source of grain for the bakery was listed as being in the store, but not quantified. We know Kramer got 10,000 loaves a week, which is 150 calories per person per week. Note that the 10,000 loaves a week was nowhere near the full production of the bakery. I'm assuming that the remaining 97.6% production capacity of the bakery was not fully usable due to lack of flour. I actually do not believe this is true, since that same bakery was feeding the Wehrmacht. I suspect that more that 2.4% of the capacity could have been siphoned off to the camp, if it had been a priority.

Of course it was not a priority, because the Untermenschen in the Belsen camp could not receive food before the racially-pure German people in the Wehrmacht and in the nearby towns and villages.

I won't count the unquantified "cocoa, grain, wheat and other foodstuffs," though cocoa powder ranges from 28 to 46 calories per inmate per ton, depending on its fat content. Each twenty tons of cocoa powder would have been another day of life for 60,000 people.

That's a total of 11,850 calories per person, excluding the meager weekly bread supply.

Generally speaking, the number of calories per person per day, counting only the supplies found in the store and the known output of the bakery (which is 40 times under its capacity), are 21+11850/d where d is the number of days the food is spread out.

Mr. Roberts notes that the inmates' food supply had been reduced to 600 calories per day. It's also worth noting that Hans Frank's diary mentions that figure as the caloric allotment for the Poles which was leaving them open for disease:

Obermedizinalrat Dr. Walbaum expresses his opinion of the health condition of the Polish population. Investigations which were carried out by his department proved that the majority of Poles eat only about 600 calories, whereas the normal requirement for a human being is 2,200 calories. The Polish population was enfeebled to such an extent that it would fall an easy prey to spotted fever...

Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Vol. IV, p. 909, document 2233-PS, diary entry of September 9, 1941

The last line could be a premonition of what would happen in Belsen and other Nazi camps a few years later:

If the food rations were to be diminished again, an enormous increase off the number of illnesses could be predicted.

So using 600 calories per day -- starvation rations -- we solve for d and get 20.5 days.

Three weeks' worth of food for 60,000 people was locked up two miles away from Belsen. Horrible. At least three weeks of food, because it doesn't include the cocoa, grain, wheat, or the remaining bakery production capacity.

If this is not de facto evidence for a policy of starvation, I don't know what is. The camp commandant talked about sending out five trucks to pick up food, but being denied because it was reserved for the Wehrmacht. But even without the commandant's testimony, it's obvious that only orders from above could have prevented a camp official with a heart from simply taking the trucks and delivering food to the camp. Or, if the Nazis cared about the inmates at all, they could have released a few hundred healthy prisoners under guard, and had them carry food to the rest.

III. The Policy

But if the aim is to prove Nazi intent to starve undesirables, we do not need to rely on the facts in evidence when the camps were freed. The Nazis' own documentation makes the case against them.

The case is laid out in other entries of Hans Frank's diary, as cited above. Italics appear in NCA, but boldface is my emphasis.

p. 893:

FRANK DIARY, Conference Volume,

Cabinet session in Cracow on 24 August 1942

Cabinet session in the Great Conference Room of the Government Building in Cracow

Monday, 24 August 1942

Subject: A new Plan for seizure and for food [Ernaehrung] of the General Gouvernement

The General Gouvernement was Nazi-occupied Poland.

p. 894:

A few days ago a meeting with the Reich Marshal took place in Berlin. The Reich Marshal had the reports concerning the almost catastrophic developments in the food situation in Germany. According to all confidential reports of the police, as well as of the Gauleiter, which, as he expressed himself, also confirmed by his own experiences, the situation is as follows: unless a considerable improvement in the food situation in Germany can be achieved in a short time, serious consequences to the health of the people, especially the German working people, would result. [...]

Under these circumstances you probably will not be surprised that the saying now has become true: Before the German people are to experience starvation, the occupied territories and their people shall be exposed to starvation.

p. 895:

The new demand will be fulfilled exclusively at the expense of the foreign population. It must be done cold-bloodedly and without pity; for this contribution of the General Government is still more important this year since the occupied Eastern territories -- Ukraine and Ostland -- will not yet be able to make an important contribution toward the relief of Germany's food problem. For this reason I wanted to acquaint you, Gentlemen, here in this governmental session with the decisions which I have made known today to Party member Naumann. You will essentially find an addition increase of the quota of foodstuffs to be shipped to Germany and new regulations for the feeding of the population; especially of the Jews and of the Polish population, whereby, if possible, the provisioning of the working people, especially of those working for German interests, shall be maintained.

p. 896:

The feeding of a Jewish population, estimated heretofore at 1.5 million, drops off to an estimated total of 300,000 Jews, who still work for German interests as craftsmen or otherwise. For these the Jewish rations, including certain special allotments which have proved necessary for the maintenance of working capacity, will be retained. The other Jews, a total of 1.2 million, will no longer be provided with foodstuffs.

p. 900:

In whatever difficulties you observe some place here, in the form of the sicknesses of your workers, the breakdown of your associations, etc., you must always think of the fact that it is still much better when a Pole breaks down than that a German succumb. That we sentence 1.2 million Jews to die of hunger should be noted only marginally. It is a matter, of course, that should the Jews not starve to death it would, we hope, result in a speeding up of anti-Jewish measures.

I point out incidentally that the document ends with very explicit reference to the Final Solution:

p. 902:

Not unimportant manpower has been taken from us in form of our old proven Jewish communities. It is clear that the working program is made difficult when in the middle of the program, during the war, the order for complete annihilation of the Jews is given. The responsibility for this cannot be placed upon the government of the General Government. The directive for the annihilation of the Jews comes from higher quarters.

As conclusion, I'd like to read from Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, Collier Books, New York, 1993, p. 74. From chapter 7, "A Good Day."

But how could one imagine not being hungry? The Lager is hunger: we ourselves are hunger, living hunger.

On the other side of the road a steam-shovel is working. Its mouth, hanging from its cables, opens wide its steel jaws, balances a moment as if uncertain in its choice, then rushes upon the soft, clayey soil and snaps it up voraciously, while a satisfied snort of thick white smoke rises from its control cabin. Then it rises, turns half around, vomits backwards its mouthful and begins again.

Leaning on our shovels, we stop to watch, fascinated. At every bite of its mouth our mouths also open, our Adam's apples dance up and down, wretchedly visible under the flaccid skin. We are unable to tear ourselves away from the sight of the steam-shovel's meal.

Sigi is seventeen years old and is hungrier than everybody, although he is given a little soup every evening by his probably not disinterested protector. He had begun to speak of his home in Vienna and of his mother, but then he slipped on to the subject of food and now he talks endlessly about some marriage luncheon and remembers with genuine regret that he failed to finish his third plate of bean soup. And everyone tells him to keep quiet, but within ten minutes Bela is describing his Hungarian countryside and the fields of maize and a recipe to make meat-pies with corncobs and lard and spices and...and he is cursed, sworn at and a third one begins to describe...

How weak our flesh is! I am perfectly well aware how vain these fantasies of hunger are, but dancing before my eyes I see the spaghetti which we had just cooked, Vanda, Luciana, Franco and I, at the sorting-camp when we suddenly heard the news that we would leave for here the following day; and we were eating it (it was so good, yellow, filling), and we stopped, fools, stupid as we were -- if we had only known! And if it happened again ... Absurd. If there is one thing sure in this world it is certainly this: that it will not happen to us a second time.


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