hunger winter

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Dutch History 1/?: The Dutch Famine or hunger winter of 1944

The Dutch famine of 1944, known as the Hongerwinter (“Hunger winter”) in Dutch, was a famine that took place in the German-occupied part of the Netherlands, especially in the densely populated western provinces above the great rivers, during the winter of 1944–1945, near the end of World War II. A German blockade cut off food and fuel shipments from farm areas. Some 4.5 million were affected and survived because of soup kitchens. As many as 22,000 may have died because of the famine, although Van der Zee estimates that 18,000 Dutch citizens died here in a 1998 book. Most of the victims were reported to be elderly men. (x)

People ate tulip bulbs and sugar beets, these are still seen as symbols of the Hunger winter.

Recipe for tulip-bulb puree

Mimeographed recipes for puree, mash, biscuits, and cake made from tulip bulbs. During the ‘hunger winter’ the Bijenkorf department store handed out recipes to their personnel, and in the lunchroom guests found tulip bulbs on the menu.

Hunger winter

During the winter of 1944-1945 the situation in Amsterdam was miserable. In December the temperature dropped below freezing and the cold spell lasted for months. In the rural areas there was still some food to be had. But as a result of the railway strike, the food embargo which followed, and the attacks on trucks and river-vessels (by Allied troops), food reached the city only in small quantities, if at all. Many Amsterdammers took the initiative and foraged for food on their own.

Sugar beets and tulip bulbs

Famine was rife in the city and there were many deaths. People ate tulip bulbs and sugar beets out of sheer necessity. Nothing was being exported and growers began selling their bulbs as food. According to doctors, flower bulbs were high in starch, and the Voedingsraad (nutrition council) provided the recipes.

The Bijenkorf

The department store must have been a depressing sight in those days. The entire stock of woolen blankets had been confiscated in December 1941 for Hitler’s Russian campaign, and supplies of other staple articles were also exhausted. There was no heating or lighting, and the interior was cold and dark. The lunchroom did do a lively business, since people could save on ration coupons by eating out. And the kitchen staff managed to make edible dishes out of bulbs. Recipes for ‘tulip-bulb puree’ were distributed among the Bijenkorf employees, and the more enterprising among them succeeded in bringing food in from outside the city. Everything was taken down to the cellar, where they even managed to slaughter a horse! The sausages were distributed among the personnel.