Skip to main content Skip to navigation

10: The Politics of Hunger

In weeks 2 to 5 of term 2, we'll study various aspects of postwar occupation, looking both at the policies pursued by the victors to manage, punish and (putatively) reform the defeated Axis populations, but also exploring some aspects of the everyday texture of being occupied as German and Japanese civilians experienced this condition. We begin by looking at the politics of food and feeding-- and also at the lived reality of hunger as a key corporeal component of defeat. Examining critical interventions by British publisher Victor Gollancz, we'll also investigate why and how the suffering of former enemies became a controversial question in postwar Britain.

Note: the Gollancz book (and slides) contain graphic images depicting emaciated and ill German adults and children, including photographs of naked subjects.

Class slides.Link opens in a new window

GobbetsLink opens in a new window

Seminar questions

  • Why did food loom particularly large as a political question in postwar Germany and Japan? If food was a political issue, what other kind of question was it for the occupiers and occupied?
  • Why does an examination of food in postwar Germany and Japan also necessarily require us to study the operations of black markets? Why did illicit economies prove so resistant to occupation authorities' attempts to eradicate them?
  • How persuasive do you find Gollancz's attempts to act as an advocate on behalf of hungry Germans?
  • How much-- or how little-- agency did "ordinary" Germans and Japanese enjoy in entitlement struggles over food?

Required Reading:

Primary Source: Victor Gollancz, In Darkest Germany (Victor Gollancz, 1947), selections [pp.23-53; 103-9]

Margaret Mead, 'Food and Feeding in Occupied Territory', Public Opinion Quarterly 7, 4 (Winter 1943):618-28

Alice Weinreb, '"For the Hungry Have No Past nor Do They Belong to a Political Party": Debates over German Hunger after World War II', Central European History 45 (2012): 50-78

Owen Griffiths, 'Need, Greed, and Protest in Japan's Black Market, 1938-1949,' Journal of Social History 35, iv (2002): 825-58 [J-Stor]

Supplementary reading:

Chris Aldous, 'Contesting Famine: Hunger and Nutrition in Occupied Japan, 1945-1952', Journal of American-East Asian Relations 17 (2010): 230-56

Irene Bandhauer-Schoeffmann, 'Women's Fight for Food: A Gendered View of Hunger, Hoarding and Black Marketeering in Vienna after World War Two' in Claire Duchen and Irene Bandhauer-Schoeffmann (eds), When the War was Over: Women, War and Peace in Europe, 1940-1956 (Leicester University Press, 2000), pp.71-86

John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (Allen Lane, 1999)

Manfred J. Enssle, 'The Harsh Discipline of Food Scarcity in Postwar Stuttgart, 1945-1948', German Studies Review 10, 3 (Oct. 1987): 481-502

Matthew Frank, 'The New Morality-- Victor Gollancz, "Save Europe Now" and the German Refugee Crisis, 1945-46', Twentieth Century British History 17, 2 (June 2006): 230-56

Mark Gayn, Japan Diary (1981)

Atina Grossmann, 'Grams, Calories, and Food: Languages of Victimization, Entitlement, and Human Rights in Occupied Germany, 1945-1949', Central European History 44 (2011): 118-48

Laura J. Hilton, 'The Black Market in History and Memory: German Perceptions of Victimhood from 1945 to 1948', German History 28 iv (2010): 479-94

Jessica Medhurst, 'Representing and Repetition: Victor Gollancz's In Darkest Germany and the Metonymy of Shoes,' German Life and Letters 69, 4 (Oct. 2016): 468-84

Filip Slaveski, The Soviet Occupation of Germany: Hunger, Mass Violence, and the Struggle for Peace, 1945-1947 (Cambridge University Press, 2013), ch.8, 'The politics of food and peaceful protest', pp.103-116

Frank Trentmann et al (eds), Food and Conflict in Europe in the Age of the Two World Wars (Palgrave, 2006) e-book

Alice Weinreb, Modern Hungers: Food and Power in Twentieth-Century Germany (OUP, 2017)

Suggested viewing:

Carol Reed (dir.), The Third Man (1949)

Roberto Rossellini, Germania Anno Zero (1948)

Further research resources:

Modern Records Centre, Victor Gollancz collection

‘Health and housing’ -

Photos -