The Dutch Hunger Winter 1944-45

The Hongerwinter was a major famine that took place in the Netherlands, particularly in the Nazi-occupied western part of the country. From November 1944 until the liberation of the Netherlands by the Allies on 5 May 1945, 22,000 people died and 4.5 million were affected by the direct and indirect consequences of the famine. The “Dutch Hunger Winter” was caused by a number of reasons: in addition to an exceptionally harsh winter, bad crops, and four years of brutal war, the Nazis imposed an embargo on food transport to the western Netherlands in September 1944 in retaliation for the exiled Dutch government supporting the Allies in liberating southern parts of the Netherlands. The population was forced to live on rations of 400-800 calories per day; to survive, people had to eat grass and tulip bulbs. Besides the aftereffects on the Dutch survivors such as poor physical health, the famine resulted in long-term effects on the descendants of the Hongerwinter generation. Babies born during this period were conspicuously small and extremely vulnerable to diabetes, schizophrenia, and lung diseases.

Contributed by Dorothea Föcking
Deutsches Museum München

Further Readings: 
  • Henri A. van der Zee, The Hunger Winter: Occupied Holland 1944-1945. Lincol: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.