On the 4th of May we remember all the people who died during World War Two and all the wars after that. On one of the sites I read a lot of articles I found this article about hunger and the hunger research during the War. The original article is in Dutch and can ben found here. I’ve made an translation (this might contain some mistakes, sorry about that). Because I feel this is still a very important issue and this might be a very good day to think about it.

Warning: this article contains pictures that can be offensive to people, they came with the article and I found it important to add them to my translation to increase the impact of this article. This is not my article!


This is Hunger

World Wars. Every pro has it’s con. It might sound cruel, but this even accounts for war. According to Rutger Bregman the Dutch welfare state is an direct result of the War. Researchers in the Netherlands, Poland and the United States used to War to gain knowledge about the consequences of malnutrition. This way they tried to give meaning to useless suffering and death. 70 years after the War, the knowledge they gathered is still being used when battling hunger and malnutrition.

Because even in 2015 over 800 people are in hunger!

And over 2 billon people suffer from ‘hidden hunger’, they have a shortage in vitamins and minirals like iron, jodium and folic acid. This limits them in fysical en intellectual growth and this undermines their health and changes on a long life. The War thought us to understand how radical the consequences of hunger are, both short and longterm.

What are the stages of hunger? When does appetite turn into hunger? When does hunger turn into malnutrition? When does malnutrition lead to death? Meanwhile, what happens to the body and mind?

Before the Second World War there wasn’t a lot of knowledge about hunger and malnutrition. How where researchers gain knowledge? It would be un-ethical to have subject starve to death without interfering. In the ghettos of Warshau there was no such limitation. Doctors didn’t have medication and food to save their patients. The War was the perfect testing ground for hunger-research.

What the doctors did in the ghettos?

In the autumn of 1940 the ghetto of Warshau was build: a walled, enclosed neighbourhood, only for the Jews. Eventually half a million Jews where stuffed together in an area only 5 by 5 kilometres in surface. The German policy was aimed at starvation. Food rations for a German was set at 2613 kcal a day, 699 for a Polish person and 184 for a Jew. For a Jew this meant a bowl of watery soup and a piece of bread a day. If they didn’t want to save the sick, at least they wanted to gain knowledge of their suffering.

How much food the residents would actually consume a day depended on what they could get on the black market. The richest would get maybe 1700 kcal a day, while the poorest would get about 800 kcal. People would litteraly drop dead on the streets. The Ghetto had two hospitals: The Cqyste and the Berson & Bauman. The director of the Czyste said that his hospital wasn’t worth the name hospital, it wasn’t even a house for the poor.

If wasn’t even humane to try and prolong the lives of the children in the children hospital. Doctors and nurses couldn’t do much for their patients because of the lack of medication and food. They watched how their patients withered and died. But if they couldn’t save their patients, they wanted to be wiser because of their agony. This might benefit future generation. This way, the inevitable death of their patients wound’t be for nothing. In great secrecy they prepared an ambitious research program. They selected 140 patients who were not sick, only malnourished.


The four stages of hunger

In the various chapters of the study doctors reported their findings. What are the first hunger symptoms in an adult? Dry mouth, increased urination, rapid weight loss and an uncontrollable craving for food.

In a later phase that crave food less compelling. Apathy which takes place along with a general feeling of weakness. Hungry curls preferably in the foetal position and has always cold. There Fluid builds up in the body cells, starting with face, feet and legs hunger oedema.

At this stage occurs in rapid aging. A young woman looks like an old crone. Her skin is pale, dry and flaky, like parchment. Everywhere on her skin appears brown pigmentation. Her hair is falling out.

In the final phase, the movements are slower and clumsier. The shadow of a man stumbles over his own feet. His heart beats slowly. His blood pressure and body temperature are low. His voice is hoarse. Wrote one of the authors of the final report, “Dying by prolonged hunger is like a candle that slowly fades.”

From autopsies on five hundred patients revealed that all vital parts of the body, only the brains lost no weight. Muscle tissue shrinks to one third on average. Heart, liver and kidneys shrivel. A sixteen year old girl mentioned the autopsy report: “Her heart was smaller than her fist.”

The results of all sub-studies were presented at a secret conference on July 6, 1942. Two weeks later began mass deportations from the ghetto to the death camps. The research data were hastily collected and smuggled out. In October 1942 wrote the lead researcher, Dr. Israel Milejkowski, in his foreword to the study report:. “Many of our fellow doctors members themselves starving. Nevertheless, no one interrupted the work and the work in silence, in all modesty, without fuss completed. ”

He concluded his speech with the words: “Non omnis moriar, ” I will not die completely” Three months later he was deported to the Treblinka extermination camp.. The study report was published in 1946 in France. The scientific and historical importance was recognized immediately.


The children of the Hunger Winter

In the Netherlands also gathered important information on hunger and malnutrition during the war. There you can easily cynical about. Hospitals in our country had their patient administration simply in order. As their congregations person registration neatly kept track. Maybe this could be picked up and disposed of a record portion of the Jewish population in the Netherlands.

In September 1944 it was already liberated south of the Netherlands. To support the Allied advance, the Dutch government from London called for a national rail strike

As retaliation, the Germans banned all food shipments by rail to the west of the Netherlands. Soon the food supplies were exhausted in the big cities. To make matters worse, the winter came early that year and he was unusually severe. Thus, the famine began that killed an estimated 20,000 lives.

The famine was not a typical pregnant woman, but she fell off. We know this from the birth records of that time, which offer detailed insight into the prevalent malnutrition. On first inspection the prospective mother weighed 68 kilos. Just before giving birth only 62 kilos or less. While her baby in the last twelve weeks, about two to two and a half kilos heavier.

Maternal malnutrition has lasting negative consequences for the health of her child. Babies who were conceived in famine or born didn’t weigh as much as babies that where born in peacetime. They were smaller and their head was smaller in size. They were at increased risk of dying at birth or in the first three months thereafter.

Since the sixties dozens of studies conducted on the basis of the birth records from the famine. The best known and most renowned studies are part of the so-called famine research that has been running for twenty years and still continues. In addition to the long-term research is: how developed the health of those men and women born during the famine in the Wilhelmina Hospital in Amsterdam? The results are startling. They show that maternal malnutrition has lasting negative consequences for the health of her child. The basis for many diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, has been placed in the womb. A baby bears the consequences of hunger last a lifetime with him.

This applies especially if the mother in the first three months after conception did not have enough to eat. During that the period the major organs such as the heart, the brains, and the liver develop. Children conceived or born in the famine are at an increased risk of mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia. Because their body into the uterus taught as efficiently as possible to cope with nutrients, they develop obesity later easily.


Voluntary starvation

From the studies on hunger in the Second World War, the experiment at the University of Minnesota’s most exotic. First of all, because there was no hunger in the United States. The researchers obviously did know of the widespread hunger in occupied Europe. She therefore wanted to explore how those starving Europeans were able to come after the liberation best on strength. What foods and what quantities were sorting the best effect?

For this experiment, they needed starving. Where could they find them? They appealed to the 42,000 American conscientious objectors who did not want to join the army because of principle or religious reasons and were being rejected by many of their countrymen. Who wanted to show that they were indeed willing to make sacrifices for their fellow man? From hundred volunteers were 36 physical and mental healthiest selected as guinea pigs.

The experiment began in November 1944 and lasted a year. In the first three months, the point was that the volunteers reached their optimum weight basis. They could eat whatever they wanted. Each day they ate an average of 3,500 calories. After that they started the hunger period of six months. During that period they received an average of 1,570 calories per day on food. The aim was that they would lose on average 24 percent of their body weight in six months. Initially, the volunteers erupted in energy and they found it extremely interesting experiment. As the hunger progressed, they became quieter and they became more obsessed by food. Their faces were narrower, their jawbones pronounced, their buttocks were dwindling. They took forever to bring a pillow, because sitting was painful.
Their wrists and ankles swelled by the oedema, which reduce their body weight in disguise. She had anaemia and middle layers in a hot summer shivering in their beds under two blankets. They no longer had the power to make their own bed. They were depressed, antisocial and nervous. They were interested in for nothing, and withdrew.

At the end of the six months period it seemed to be the worst is over, the three months recuperate begun. The daily ration was increased to 2,000 to 3,000 kilocalories. But after five weeks, the volunteers still looked as skeletal off. They hardly gained any weight or didn’t gain weight at all!. They felt even more tired and dejected. Their blood pressure and pulse rate was kept. And still they were hungry, some more than ever before.
The food portions were increased to 4,000 kilocalories per day’s lowly the first recovery started. The heart and lung capacity grew, but more slowly than the researchers had expected. The administration of extra vitamins and proteins didn’t have any effect. At the end of the three months, the volunteers still far from their initial weight. It took months for the volunteers were fully convalesced. Some worked 10,000 calories a day inside. Within a year most of them showed signs of becoming overweight.

Thanks to the Warsaw ghetto is known in detail how malnutrition body and mind gradually demolished. Thanks to the experiment in Minnesota we know that the administration of extra vitamins and proteins in the convalesce after hunger does not help. Since the war known scientific fact that prolonged hunger wreaks permanent damage.

Certainly one quarter of the world experiencing it every day.

Note: when writing this story, I made good use of the magisterial work of Sharman Apt Russell, entitled Hunger – An Unnatural History, in 2005 in New York published by Basic Books.

Original article found on De Correspondent.nl https://decorrespondent.nl/2737/Dit-is-honger/208455689596-d4a94fcd  

Published on may 4th 2015