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  • Writer's pictureMichael Baker

The Hunger Plan

It's now abundantly clear that more people died of starvation and malnutrition in the Second World War than perished in battle. It's one reason why we describe this second global conflict as a total war, for civilians were victims of the struggle on a scale unprecedented in history. In most cases, death from hunger came about as a natural spin-off from the devastation that such a vast war brought with it - destroying as it did whole economies, entire towns and cities, as well as national and international infrastructures and transport links. But some combatant countries chose to export hunger to its enemies, using it quite deliberately as a weapon of war. The most obvious case was Nazi Germany's attempt to starve some 30 to 40 million people in the Soviet Union - a scheme labelled the Hunger Plan by its perpetrators - in order that the German forces invading the USSR from June 1941 could be self-sufficient in food. In the event, the Plan failed - forcibly requisitioning grain and livestock turned farmers against the invaders - with the result that the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front soon ran critically short of food and had to be supplied from the Reich itself, so causing further rationing among German civilians. This was not how the Plan was meant to work at all.

Social historian Lizzie Collingham tells us about the Nazi Hunger Plan and other ways in which food and its supply could create life-or-death situations in WW2. Listen to Episode 4 of the new series of Unknown Warriors - in which leading historians show how modern scholarship and fresh perspectives have transformed the received narratives of the Second World War.

If you think you know about WW1 and WW2, it's time to think again.

An Understanding History podcast

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