The starving city

In 1944, the food and fuel supply to the West of the country began to stagnate because of a German food embargo. From the end of the year very low temperatures added to the hunger, further disrupting daily life in Rotterdam.

Shortage of food and fuel

By order of the Dutch government in London a big railway strike took place in September 1944. The liberation was at hand and the Allies performed a great airborne operation near Arnhem. The south of The Netherlands, beneath the big Rhine and Meuse, was indeed liberated. Upon this the German occupant blocked all food transports to western Holland. The blockade lasted six weeks and caused a winter of starvation of catastrophic dimensions.

Soup Kitchens

Towards the end of 1944 many people were dependent on food of central government kitchens because the rations were getting less and less and there was barely any fuel to cook. The people were queuing at the distribution points until food was brought. From the end of December onwards it started freezing viciously, so that besides fighting hunger, cold had to be fought as well.

Shortage of fuel

The shortage of fuel forced citizens into a constant search for combustible materials. Thus, the tarred logs which were placed in between the tram rails were demolished. Trees were also illegally cut down so that streets and parks became deforested. There was no gas and electricity, nor light, heating or cooking facilities.

The alternative supply of food across water, which was initially forbidden by the Germans, came to a complete stop because the inland waterways had frozen over. In January and February in the western Netherlands more than three millions citizens suffered from famine. The shortage of food made more than 20.000 victims in The Netherlands.

Starvation journeys

Many citizens moved to the countryside on foot, with a barrow or on bike to gather food from farmers. It took sometimes nearly a week to collect a bag of rye and some eggs and bread. Very often possessions like textile, silver cutlery, and golden jewellery, were swapped for food. Among the travellers who made these so-called starvation journeys there were even barefooted children. Many farmers provided shelter to these people, but some farmers abused the situation and got rich at their expense.

“Operation Manna”

As of the end of February 1945 the situation for the citizens in the western Netherlands ameliorated because the Red Cross distributed Swedish white bread. At the end of April the Germans permitted allied food droppings. Since the food literally fell from the sky, this action was called ‘Operation Manna’ (in the Bible manna refers to food provided by God for the Israelites during their forty years in the desert).