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One could be forgiven to think that the pictures in this blog are pictures of a famine in a 3rd world country, as we have seen so often before. However, these pictures are from one of the richest countries in the world, the Netherlands
Towards 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 became increasingly bad in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. The Allies were able to liberate the southern part of the country, but ceased their advance into the Netherlands when Operation Market Garden, the attempt to seize a bridge across the Rhine at Arnhem, failed.
The obvious and literal cause of the famine was a German blockade enacted in retaliation to a Dutch railway strike that aimed to help the Allied invasion of the country. The German army blocked water and road routes into the Netherlands and only lifted the water blockade when temperatures had already fallen too low to allow boats to operate in the icy water.
Most of the south of the country had been liberated by the end of September 1944.
The Allied campaign failed, and the Nazis punished the Netherlands by blocking food supplies, plunging the Northern half of the country, above the great rivers, into famine. By the time all of the Netherlands was liberated in May 1945, more than 20,000 people had died of starvation.
The starvation was particularly intense in cities — after all, in the countryside, most people lived around farms. That didn’t mean that they didn’t experience food shortages, but the survival rates were much higher outside of urban areas. For the Netherlands’ mostly city-living population, times were hard.
Rations decreased in calorie content over the long winter. In big cities like Amsterdam, adults had to contend with only 1000 calories of food by the end of November 1944 — but that dropped to 580 calories a day by February 1945. Even the black market was empty of food.
People walked long distances to farms to trade anything they had for extra calories. As the winter wore on, tens of thousands of children were sent from cities to the countryside so that they, at least, would get some food. When it came to heating, people desperately burned furniture and dismantled whole houses to get fuel for their fire.
The Dutch Hunger Winter has proved unique in unexpected ways. Because it started and ended so abruptly, it has served as an unplanned experiment in human health. Pregnant women, it turns out, were uniquely vulnerable, and the children they gave birth to have been influenced by famine throughout their lives.
The effects of the 1944/45 famine are still felt to this day.
When they became adults, they ended up a few pounds heavier than average. In middle age, they had higher levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. They also experienced higher rates of such conditions as obesity, diabetes and schizophrenia.
By the time they reached old age, those risks had taken a measurable toll, according to the research of L.H. Lumey, an epidemiologist at Columbia University. In 2013, he and his colleagues reviewed death records of hundreds of thousands of Dutch people born in the mid-1940s.
They found that the people who had been in utero during the famine — known as the Dutch Hunger Winter cohort — died at a higher rate than people born before or afterward. “We found a 10 percent increase in mortality after 68 years,” said Dr. Lumey.