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The Dutch famine of 1944 (known as hongerwinter ("Hunger winter") in Dutch) was a famine that took place in the occupied northern part of the Netherlandsmarker during the winter of 1944-1945, near the end of World War II. A total of 18,000 people died during the famine.

Causes and history

Near the end of World War II, food supplies became increasingly scarce in the Netherlands. After the landing of the Allied Forces on D-Day, conditions grew worse in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. The Allies were able to liberate the southern part of the country, but their liberation efforts came to a halt when Operation Market Garden, their attempt to gain control of the bridge across the Rhinemarker at Arnhemmarker, failed. After the national railways complied with the exiled Dutch government's appeal for a railway strike starting September 1944 to further the Allied liberation efforts, the German administration retaliated by placing an embargo on all food transports to the western Netherlands.

Operation Manna - Many Thanks spelt-out in tulips, Holland, May 1945.
By the time the embargo was partially lifted in early November 1944, allowing restricted food transports over water, the unusually early and harsh winter had already set in. The canals froze over and became impassable for barges. Food stocks in the cities in the western Netherlands rapidly ran out. The adult rations in cities such as Amsterdammarker had dropped to below 1000 kilocalories (4,200 kilojoules) a day by the end of November 1944 and to 580 kilocalories in the West by the end of February 1945. Over this winter, later known as the Hongerwinter ("Hunger winter"), a number of factors combined to cause starvation of the Dutch people: the winter itself was unusually harsh and the retreating German army destroyed docks and bridges to flood the country and impede the Allied advance. As the Netherlands became one of the main western battlefields, the widespread dislocation and destruction of the war ruined much of its agricultural land and made the transport of existing food stocks difficult.

A letter of commemoration given to a grocer whose shop served as a Red Cross point giving out the "Swedish bread"
In search of food people would walk for tens of kilometers to trade valuables for food at farms. Tulip bulbs and sugarbeets were commonly consumed. Furniture and houses were dismantled to provide fuel for heating. From September 1944 until early 1945 approximately the deaths of 10,000 Dutch people were attributed to malnutrition as the primary cause, many more as a contributing factor. The Dutch Famine ended with the liberation of the western Netherlands in May 1945. Shortly before that, some relief had come from the 'Swedish bread', which was actually baked in the Netherlands but made from flour shipped in from Swedenmarker. Shortly after these shipments, the German occupiers allowed coordinated air drops of food by the Royal Air Force over German-occupied Dutch territory in Operation Manna. The two events are often confused, even resulting in the commemoration of bread being dropped from airplanes, something that never happened.

Scientific legacy

This famine was unique as it took place in a modern, developed and literate country, albeit suffering under the privations of occupation and war. The well-documented experience has allowed scientists to measure the effects of famine on human health.

The Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study, carried out by the departments of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Gynecology and Obstetrics and Internal Medicine of the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, in collaboration with the MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit of the University of Southamptonmarker in Britain, found that the children of pregnant women exposed to famine were more susceptible to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, microalbuminuria and other health problems.

Moreover, the children of the women who were pregnant during the famine were smaller, as expected. However, surprisingly, when these children grew up and had children those children were also smaller than average.

This data suggested that the famine experienced by the mothers caused some kind of epigenetic changes that were passed down to the next generation.

The discovery of the cause of Coeliac disease may also be partly attributed to the Dutch famine. With wheat in very short supply there was an improvement of a children's ward of Coeliac patients. Stories tell of the first precious supplies of bread being given specifically to the (no longer) sick children, prompting an immediate relapse. Thus in the 1940s the Dutch paediatrician Dr Willem Dicke was able to corroborate his previously researched hypothesis that wheat intake was aggravating Coeliac disease. Later Dicke went on to prove his theory.

Audrey Hepburn spent her childhood in the Netherlands during the famine. She suffered anaemia, respiratory illnesses and oedema as a result, and her clinical depression later in life has been attributed to malnutrition.

Subsequent research on the children who were affected in the second trimester of their mother's pregnancy, found an increased incidence of schizophrenia in these children. Also increased among them were the rates of schizotypal personality and neurological defects.

See also


  1. Henri A. van der Zee, The Hunger Winter: Occupied Holland 1944-1945, University of Nebraska Press, 1998. pp.304-305
  2. STEIN, Z. (1975). Famine and human development: the Dutch honger winter of 1944-1945. New York, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-195-01811-7
  3. Bibliography of Dutch Famine of 1944
  4. Dicke WK. Coeliakie: een onderzoek naar de nadelige invloed van sommige graansoorten op de lijder aan coeliakie [PhD thesis]. Utrecht, the Netherlands: University of Utrecht, 1950.
  5. Garner, Lesley. Lesley Garner meets the legendary actress as she prepares for this week's Unicef gala performance, The Sunday Telegraph, May 26, 1991
  6. , на стр. 88-93

External links

  • The Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study
  • Recipe for tulip-bulb puree at the Amsterdam City Archives


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