Hunger games: or how the Allied blockade in the First World War deprived German children of nutrition, and Allied food aid subsequently saved them

Mary Elisabeth Cox
Published Online:
22 Sep 2014
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 68 Issue 2

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At the onset of the First World War, Germany was subject to a shipping embargo by the Allied forces. Ostensibly military in nature, the blockade prevented not only armaments but also food and fertilizers from entering Germany. The impact of that blockade on civilian populations has been debated ever since. Germans protested that the Allies had wielded hunger as a weapon against women and children with devastating results, a claim that was hotly denied by the Allies. The impact of what the Germans termed the Hungerblockade on childhood nutrition can now be assessed using a newly discovered dataset based on heights and weights of nearly 600,000 German schoolchildren measured between 1914 and 1924. Statistical analysis reveals a grim truth: German children suffered severe malnutrition due to the blockade. Social class impacted risk of deprivation, with working‐class children suffering the most. Surprisingly, they were the quickest to recover after the war. Their rescue was fuelled by massive food aid organized by the former enemies of Germany, and delivered cooperatively with both government and civil society. The ability of former belligerents to work together after an exceptionally bitter war to feed impoverished children may hold hope for the future.

© Economic History Society 2014

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