CBC Digital Archives

VE-Day countdown: Food prices soar in Dutch famine zone

Day by day, the news got better as the Second World War wound down in Europe. Sixty years ago, CBC Radio brought home reports of retreating Germans, freed prisoners of war, captured spies and surrender in Italy. But with the end of hostilities came dark news of hellish concentration camps, starving civilians and a rocky future for U.S.-Soviet relations. CBC Archives counts down the days to victory in Europe.

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April 21, 1945: APELDOORN, Holland -- Even as liberation looms, Holland is teetering on the edge of famine. After five months of utter deprivation -- a period of no food and no fuel dubbed the "Hunger Winter" -- food is scarce. CBC reporter Peter Stursberg is astonished when he gets a glimpse of a Dutch housewife's shopping list. A loaf of bread goes for the equivalent of $4 and sugar is $15 a pound. Coffee, if you can get it, costs $85 a pound.
• The Dutch "Hunger Winter" began in October 1944 when Nazi occupiers in Holland imposed a blockade on food and fuel entering the country.
• The blockade was the Nazis' revenge on the Dutch government-in-exile. In September 1944 the government-in-exile, based in London, had ordered a railway strike to aid the Allies in their push to take the cities of Arnhem and Nijmegen.

• In November the embargo was partially lifted to allow transportation of food by water (but not by rail or road).
• When winter came early, canals froze over and it was impossible to transport food to the cities.

• In October 1944 the supply of natural gas was cut off in Amsterdam, Holland's biggest city. Desperate for fuel to heat their homes, civilians chopped down trees in city parks and later turned to burning their furniture and tearing up streetcar tracks for the wood underneath.
• Use of electricity by civilians was forbidden in some parts of the country in December 1944.

• City dwellers walked long distances to forage for food and found ways to make tulip bulbs and sugar beets palatable. Farmers traded their food for clothing and jewelry.
• By November 1944 the typical daily adult ration in Holland was 1,000 calories. By the end of the war it was closer to 500 calories.
• In early 1945 coffee was selling for 35 to 55 cents a pound in Canada. Bread cost as little as 15 cents for two loaves.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC War Recordings
Broadcast Date: April 22, 1945
Reporter: Peter Stursberg
Duration: 4:26
Photo: National Archives of Canada / PA-145343

Last updated: September 2, 2014

Page consulted on September 2, 2014

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