Photo of the Day

Boy with a Pan. Everyday Life in The Netherlands. Photo by Emmy Andriesse (1940s). Emmy Eugenie Andriesse (1914 – 1953) was a Dutch photographer best known for her work with the Underground Camera group during World War II.

Hungerwinter

The Dutch famine of 1944, known as the Hongerwinter (“Hunger winter”) in Dutch, was a famine that took place in the German-occupied part of the Netherlands, especially in the densely populated western provinces north of the great rivers, during the winter of 1944–45, near the end of World War II. A German blockade cut off food and fuel shipments from farm areas. Some 4.5 million were affected and survived because of soup kitchens. As many as 22,000 may have died because of the famine. Life in the ruins became nearly unbearable for many. The food situation was catastrophic. Record low temperatures froze the waterways so that ships with perishable foods imported from abroad were trapped in the harbors. A bad harvest meant less fresh food sent from the agricultural parts of Germany to the cities.

Almost every story and discussion about the bitter Dutch Hungerwinter of 1944-45 would feature the photo above, Boy with a Pan (“Jongen met het pannetje” in Dutch) — an iconic image of life under Nazi occupation and civilian suffering during the Second World War as well as that of a famine that hit a developed country. It was instantly controversial when it was published — many Allied soldiers and generals had it in their quarters to underline the brutality of a war whose ending could not come early enough. The famed Dutch artist Piet Zwart declared it illustrates “a period of social suffering in a way that was legible for everyone of every era.”

It was brutal few months to cap a brutal war. Parts of the country had already been liberated, but in the chaos and disruption of war, agriculture and food supplies broke down. Gas and electricity supplies also ran out, ushering in a hungry and cold winter. In that sense, the Hungerwinter, the last famine to have occurred in a developed country, was a case study on how fragile logistics and agriculture supply chains are, and how they could be easily disrupted and destroyed in chaos and hysteria.

Butter disappeared in October 1944, followed by vegetable fats, cheese, and eventually meat. Bread and potato rations were tightened again and again. Even the black market ran out of food, and people resorted to eating leaves and tulip bulbs. In some places, the weekly calorie ration fell below the daily calorie allocation recommended. Over 16,000 Dutch people died, mostly old people and children. Many others who grew up during the famine suffered other diseases such as anemia when they grew up.

The photo above encapsulated those bitter days — widely reprinted perhaps because it looked more allegorical than other more harrowing pictures that came out of this famine (of gaunt emaciated children). It could also be contrasted with how later famines in less developed parts of the world were reported and photographed. The boy in the photo was small, his legs boney, his hands clutching the pan tightly in a clawlike grip. He stood on an empty street and stared into the distance, in an image that brought to light the worst of Dickensian horrors. In May 1960, on the fifteenth anniversary of the liberation, the Dutch magazine Margriet claimed that the boy was Willem (Pim) van Schie, whose family lived in The Jordaan neighbourhood of Amsterdam, but Pim said he could not remember it.

The photographer was Emmy Andriesse. Andriesse was the only child of liberal Jews Abraham Andriesse, textile company representative, and Else Fuld. At age fifteen, she lost her mother, and since her father travelled internationally for work, she was raised by several aunts.

From 1932 to 1937, after high school, Andriesse studied advertising design at the Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague founded in 1929 by designer Gerrit Kiljan. At the academy she belonged to a group of students around left-wing designer Paul Schuitema. She attended an experimental class taught by Paul Schuitema and Gerrit Kiljan, where she learnt photography and the use of photographs in posters, advertising and newspaper articles.

She was a member of “The Underground Photographers” (De Ondergedoken Camera), a Nazi resistance group unique to the Netherlands which contributed to the war effort by taking photos of the occupation from their cameras hidden in briefcases, clothes, newspapers, and shopping baskets.

In June 1941 Andriesse had married graphic designer and visual artist Dick Elffers (with whom she had two sons, one who died young), but as a Jew during the Nazi occupation Andriesse was no longer able to publish and she was forced into hiding. At the end of 1944, with the assistance of the anthropologist Arie Froe she forged an identity card and re-engaged in everyday life, joining a group of photographers, including Cas Oorthuys and Charles Breijer, working clandestinely as De Ondergedoken Camera. The photos that Andriesse made under very difficult conditions of famine in Amsterdam include Boy with pan, The Gravedigger and Kattenburg Children are documents of hunger, poverty and misery during the occupation in the “winter of hunger” of 1944-1945.

Her photos of Hungerwinter, like others taken by De Ondergedoken Camera were smuggled out to be reprinted abroad. Andriesse developed cancer and died young in 1953, leaving behind 14,000 negatives and contact sheets which were never published until the 2000s.

Everyday Life in The Netherlands by Emmy Andriesse (1940s)

14 May 1940. A German bombardment of less then a quarter of an hour destroys the centre of Rotterdam. The city burns for days. Later the periphery of the bombardment is coined: Fire Boundary.

The bombardment on Rotterdam of May 14th was carried out by approximately 90 Heinkel bombers of the squadron ‘Kampfgeschwader 54 Totenkopf’ (KG 54), under the command of ‘Geschwaderkommodore’ Oberst Walter Lackner. Between 13.27 hours and 13.40 hours the big surface bombardment took place on the centre of Rotterdam, Kralingen and the north of Rotterdam. More than 30.000 buildings were destroyed. In total 800 to 900 people died as a result of this bombardment.

Immediately after the bombardment everywhere in and around the centre of Rotterdam fires broke out. A strong wind stirred up the fire and the fire brigade couldn’t do anything useful in this situation. There was a lot of material damage, blocking the streets, and many springs were out of reach. Ten thousands of civilians flee from the city centre, which was transformed into an inferno. Nearly eighty thousand citizens of Rotterdam lost their homes and possessions. In Kralingen and at the Coolsingel the blaze spread even more across the city. With the turning wind fanning the fire during the night, other parts of the city fell prey to the flames as well.

The bombardment was followed by the city‘s capitulation under colonel Scharroo. German demands were complied with, amongst which the immediate distribution of a proclamation, carried out by the mayor mr. Oud, who was present at the moment of surrender. The mayor had to declare that he would vouch with his own life for tranquillity in the city, that the combats with the Germans would come to a halt, and that further resistance was of no use. An appeal was made to the Dutch nation to “continue one‘s ordinary work as before as much as possible”. Due to a power failure the mayor’s proclamation was printed on a manual printing press.

All together 25.479 dwellings were lost in which 77.607 people were housed. Besides that, 26 hotels, 117 boarding houses and 44 lodgings, in which some 2000 people lived, had been destroyed. In total 79.600 persons, who represented 12,8 % of the population of Rotterdam, were left homeless. Of these people, as from June 15th 1940 onward, 20.887 were accommodated in other municipalities, while others, at that moment, had found a temporary shelter within the boundaries of Rotterdam. A lot of industrial premises were also destroyed: 31 department stores and 2.320 smaller shops, 31 factories and 1.319 workshops, 675 warehouses and storage companies, 1.437 offices, 13 bank buildings and 19 consulates, 69 school buildings and 13 hospitals, 24 churches and 10 charitable institutions, 25 municipal- and government buildings, 4 station buildings, 4 newspaper buildings and 2 museums, 517 café’s and restaurants, 22 cinema’ s and 184 other business accommodations.

Hungry and cold, Amsterdam (1944-1945) Photographer Emmy Andriesse. Collection Illegal Photography During German Occupation.

Woman collects firewood from a demolished city building during the hunger winter, Amsterdam (1944-1945)

Towards the end of World War II, food supplies became increasingly scarce in the Netherlands. After the landing of the Allied Forces on D-Day, conditions grew increasingly worse in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. The Allies were able to liberate the southern part of the country, but their liberation efforts came to an abrupt halt when Operation Market Garden, their attempt to gain control of the bridge across the Rhine at Arnhem, failed. The seizure of the approaches to the port of Antwerp (the Battle of the Scheldt) was delayed due to Montgomery’s preoccupation with Market Garden(a Bridge too far).

The southern provinces had already been liberated in September 1944. After the national railways complied with the exiled Dutch government’s appeal for a railway strike starting September 1944 to further the Allied liberation efforts, the German administration (under Wehrmachtbefehlshaber Friedrich Christiansen) retaliated by placing an embargo on all food transports to the western Netherlands.

Two women walk in hunger winter with a baby carriage full of food over a country road near Amsterdam (1944-1945) Collection Illegal Photography During German Occupation.

Conditions in the uterus can give rise to life-long changes in genetic material. People in their sixties who were conceived during the Hunger Winter of 1944-45 in the Netherlands have been found to have a different molecular setting for a gene which influences growth. It now appears that the limited food intake of mothers who were pregnant during this period altered the genetic material of embryos in the early stages of development.

Audrey Hepburn was one of the twentieth century’s greatest movie stars. Stylish, elegant, and with a delicately lovely, almost fragile bone structure, she became an icon in her role as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, even to those who have never seen the movie. It’s startling to think that this wonderful beauty was created by terrible hardship. Audrey Hepburn was a survivor of the event in World War II known as the Dutch Hunger Winter. This ended when she was sixteen years old, but the aftereffects of that period, including poor physical health, stayed with her for the rest of her life.

The Dutch Hunger Winter lasted from the start of November 1944 to the late spring of 1945. That was a bitterly cold period in Western Europe, creating further hardship on a continent that had been devastated by four years of brutal war. Nowhere was this worse than in the western Netherlands, which at this stage was still under German control. A German blockade resulted in a catastrophic drop in the availability of food to the Dutch population. At one point the population was try­ing to survive on only about 30 percent of the normal daily calorie intake. People ate grass and tulip bulbs, and burned every scrap of furniture they could get their hands on, in a desperate effort to stay alive. More than 20,000 people had died by the time food supplies were restored in May 1945.

Residents wait during the hunger winter at the fence of a gourmet kitchen, Amsterdam (1944-1945). Collection Illegal Photography During German Occupation.

Group of cold and hungry children with family in the hunger winter in a room around a stove, The Hague (1944-1945)

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. By order of the Dutch government in London a big railway strike took place in September 1944.

In response to the railway strike, food transports to the western Netherlands were banned. After six weeks the ban was withdrawn, but the supply remained frozen because of the dismantled railway network and the German requisitioning of goods.

The transport of coal from the liberated south also ceased. Gas and electricity were shut off. People chopped down trees and dismantled empty houses to get fuel. The amount of food available on ration dropped steadily. City dwellers went on hunger expeditions to the countryside. They traded their valuables with the farmers for food.

‘My linens, all my silverware, my carpet, a Smyrna stair-carpet — I traded everything for food. In the long run the farmers wouldn’t accept any more linen goods. Some of them even put up signs that said, “No more linen goods”.’ 

‘There used to be a Crisis Controle Dienst [CCD, Crisis Control Service]. They’d stand at bridges and confiscate things. Whenever they’d show up someplace the news spread like wildfire. Then you’d have to go by another road. Many people on hunger expedition would complain about the mean farmers. It never occurred to them that they might have been number two thousand and that the farmers had nothing to give anymore.’

Portrait of two hungry children on the street during hunger winter, Amsterdam (1944-1945)

Man is so hungry he collapses on the street in the hunger winter, Amsterdam (1944-1945)

Searching for food in the hunger winter for fuel and food at an illegal landfill in Amsterdam-South (1944-1945)

Everyday Life in The Netherlands by Emmy Andriesse (1940s)

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.

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.

Various initiatives were taken to deal with the severe food shortages. The churches of the northern and eastern Netherlands together found lodgings for 50,000 malnourished children from the cities. At the end of January 1945, the Red Cross imported flour by ship from Sweden. It would be another month before the legendary Swedish white bread could be distributed.

In April, Allied planes dropped food parcels over the Netherlands with the permission of the Germans. On May 2nd, Allied lorries carrying food were also allowed in. But organising a fair distribution was not easy. Most of the food could not be distributed until after the liberation.

An Amsterdam resident wrote:
‘… today again the engines of the heavy bombers could be heard over a jubilant Amsterdam, When will this food be distributed? A start has already been made on handing out the items from parcels damaged after they were dropped. For the moment, 7,000 parcels have been distributed among those suffering from hunger oedema.’

A small box of potatoes was sent to the Bontekoe family. Daughter Anneke can still clearly remember the hunger.
‘Fortunately our relatives in Groningen occasionally sent us boxes of potatoes by post. We had heard that you could save up the peels, take them to the farmers and trade them for milk for example. But when my father went to a farmer with the peels, the farmer claimed they were rotten.’

A number of factors combined to cause starvation of the Dutch people: the winter itself was unusually harsh and the retreating German army destroyed docks and bridges to flood the country and impede the Allied advance. As the Netherlands became one of the main western battlefields, the widespread dislocation and destruction of the war ruined much of its agricultural land and made the transport of existing food stocks difficult. As an alternative to onions, tulip bulbs were used as a source of food. Apparently they are quite delicious.

Everyday Life in The Netherlands by Emmy Andriesse (1940s)

Everyday Life in The Netherlands by Emmy Andriesse (1940s)

Hungry woman and child sit by a door on the street during hunger winter, Amsterdam (1944-1945)

This story was submitted to the People’s War website by a volunteer.

I was a teenager and lived in Arnhem in Holland and on the 10th May the Germans came into Holland and from then on we were under German occupation. On the date of the Bridge Too Far — the 16th September 1944 there was a battle going on but the South of Holland was free but the centre and the West was still occupied. It was called the Hunger Winter. There was no food left and people were starving. We were evacuated from Arnhem into the West and that took 9 months. After 9 months when the war was over in the May when Hitler was dead we were able to go back.

For 5 years everyone was hoping the war would be finished, so we were full of ambition, whatever sacrifice we went through we thought would be worth it to be free. We had nothing but in the end we didn’t mind as we were free.

On the 16th September 1944 we were told at 10 o’clock in the morning by a bulletin that the town had to be empty by 6 otherwise you’d be shot — whoever you were. My mother couldn’t walk as she was an invalid and it was hard getting out as the Germans took everything — bikes and cars. So we needed to get my mother out so we went to the greengrocers and got a wheelbarrow and took her out that way. We had to walk between 5 and 7 miles and we stayed with friends just outside of Arnhem. After a fortnight more bulletins went up and the evacuees were told to leave. So for 3 days we walked to the West and along the way we had to sleep on floors in factories. As we made our way there were between 6 and 7 horse and carts and they were full of people who were unable to walk, my mother was one of them but my father, sister and me all had to walk. Planes came across and ducked thinking we were a German convoy but we waved our white flags at them and then they realised we were evacuees. At the time everyone thought it would only be for a couple of weeks but that turned out to be 9 months.

The Hunger Winter was terrible. There was no food, children used to go through bins to find food. In the night you could hear children going to the farmers trying to get food, you could hear them walking. One time it was early in the morning and a boy was out walking with a little buggy and it was covered up. They said to him “you have done well, what have you got?” and he took the cloth off and it was his mother, collapsed as she was too weak to go to the farms to get food. That happened a lot!

When we were evacuees my sister and I stayed with some hairdressers and my mother and father stayed with some other people, they had to take in evacuees there was no choice for people. And my brother went to church and he had paces to hide from the Germans as he was little.

You weren’t allowed radios, you couldn’t read newspapers. The only news you got was if anyone had a quiet radio and you got news from England. Then it had to be secret. You could pass the news on but very carefully. My brother was once stopped by the Germans, he had nothing on him, they questioned him but let him go.

Sometimes the Germans came into homes looking for young men to take them away. So the word was spread as much as you could and then they hid the men as best they could but if they were found they were taken away, so luckily they didn’t find my brother as he was hiding in the church.

People sometimes say — you were occupied by the Germans weren’t you afraid they would make a nuisance of the girls, but there was some discipline and if you went out in the black outs they wouldn’t attack the young girls.

My brother in law was taken by the Germans and asked why he wasn’t working for them; my brother in law said “What! I will never work with the Germans”. So he was taken off and had to dig holes. He made out he had mental problems and caused all manor of trouble. The Germans said he wasn’t worth having so he escaped. He walked miles and miles to get back to us. He was only away for between 3 or 4 weeks but by the time he had got back to us his head was full of lice, he had a beard and he was dirty as nothing had been washed.

As we came back into Arnhem the Germans had been organising taking everything good out of the homes to take back to Germany but they must have been disrupted as when we went back things were left on the footpaths. I remember seeing a row of sewing machines outside in the street. We got ours back but it was rusty as it had been out a long time.

My father had a hair dressing shop and because he had a shop we were one of the first to be allowed back into Arnhem after the war. We had no food, but very slowly as the businesses came back in life carried on. The Swedish Red Cross had a kitchen there for the first few weeks so we were able to eat. The city of Arnhem was ruined by the Germans.

Also all the girls who were friendly with the Germans during the occupation were gathered up by the police. They had their hair shaved off and they were sent to prison — I think to camps in Germany.

My eldest brother was picked up from another part of Holland where he was living with his wife, 2 children and a baby and taken away by the Germans. It seems unbelievable but it is true. His wife had a sister who had a husband who got in the army for the Germans so she had some benefits getting to the authorities, which she did and she told then about my brother so he was freed.

Portrait of a scarce clad boy for a door on the street in the hunger winter, Amsterdam (1944-1945)

Victim of hunger winter lies on a bed in a house, Amsterdam (1944-1945)

Searching for food, Amsterdam-South (1944-1945)

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.

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.

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).

Hungry and cold children. Amsterdam-South (1944-1945)

Amsterdam during the hunger winter. Two children carry a pan in the hunger winter, Amsterdam (1944-1945)

MAY 1945

The news of Hitler’s suicide on April 30th, reaches Rotterdam the very same day. Since on that day the massive food droppings at Terbregge have begun as well, the population finds itself in an elated state of mind, reminiscent of the situation during Dolle Dinsdag (‘Crazy Tuesday’). Hundreds of people ignore curfew at evening hours and venture to go into the streets. On May 1st as well, there is a humming of rumours about the approaching liberation, and once again many citizens of Rotterdam stay out in the streets in the evening. To everyone’s disappointment, the liberation fails to occur. The festive mood soon disappears when patrolling German soldiers begin to shoot and there are casualties.

The capitulation of Germany ultimately takes place in the night of 4th May 1945. At 20.30 p.m. the news about the German surrender can already be heard in a Flemish broadcast of the European Service of the BBC. Although the possession of radios has officially been declared forbidden by the occupant, the great news also reaches Rotterdam very quickly. In all parts of the city the news causes quite a stir. People are dancing in the streets and also various bonfires are lit. In Kralingen many people go to the house of Mayor Oud, who had kept his residence at the Hoflaan after his resignation in 1941. On 6th May, when Mayor Oud himself raises the national flag in front of his house, he is once again given a thunderous tribute. Oud, who is still popular with the population, and who had been secretly involved in city matters, is picked up at his home by car on 7th May. Oud arrives at the Town hall, together with the new superintendent of police, the commanders of the Forces of the Interior and others. At that time Mayor Müller of the NSB (the Dutch National Socialistic Movement), has already been arrested. Thousands of people at the Coolsingel witness the return of their own beloved Mayor, who, later on, appears on the landing.

Since the Germans in Rotterdam still have not surrendered officially, there is, besides euphoria, also chaos and confusion during the days after 4th May. The Dutch Forces of the Interior have already been active in the city since 5th May and here and there they are involved in combat with German troops. The Germans only want to officially surrender to the Allies, and on 6th May, they request the Forces of the Interior to maintain rest and order in southern Rotterdam. In this part of the city there is even a shoot-out between the armed resistance and the Kriegsmarine. On 7th May the German commander still has not capitulated, but commanders of the Forces of the Interior work their way into the Town hall. The Mayor and councilmen of the NSB and some other head men who collaborated with the Germans are arrested.

The Allies’ plan is to advance to the west on 7th May, but they have to postpone that plan one day. By Jeep, Prince Bernhard however, does pay a flying visit to some cities, amongst which Rotterdam. On 8th May the liberator finally makes its entry in Rotterdam. The German capitulation is a fact and the retreat of the German troops finally begins. The march into the city of the Canadians results in a delirious joy. There is a swaying with handkerchiefs and flags and people are throwing flowers and ticker-tape. Especially youngsters are climbing onto the tanks and lorries, which are riding in the streets while everybody is cheering. In the Town hall the Mayor Oud appears on the landing with general-major Forster of the 1st Canadian army, and once again it is swarming with people at the Coolsingel. Most Canadians pitch camp along the Heemraadssingel that day.

The oppression which lasted for years evokes feelings of revenge with some citizens of Rotterdam. After the liberation, at several places in the city, one begins to bring in moffenmeiden (kraut girls). These women and girls, of whom it is known that they associated with Germans, are not very lucky. During a kind of people’s tribunal the women’s hair is cut off and their bald heads are sometimes rubbed in with tar or red lead. After that, the woman are driven through the city on wagons. These unedifying spectacles last for several days.

From 7th May onward members of the NSB are picked up everywhere by arrest teams of the Dutch Forces of the Interior. Leader Mussert ends up in the prison of Scheveningen. On 10th May already 700 members of the NSB and collaborators have been caught in Rotterdam. Already a few days later a number of them are put to work. They must help clear the Maastunnel, which is barricaded by the Germans who also placed explosives there. In mid-June the arrest teams of the Forces of the Interior are dissolved; at that time approximately 5000 men and women have been arrested in Rotterdam and its surroundings. As a shelter for these NSB members serves the Marines’ Barracks at the Toepad.

Later on citizens of Rotterdam who collaborated are locked up in meat factory Vianda in Hoek van Holland. Their children end up in school buildings especially equipped for this purpose, from whereon they are placed in special homes later on.

Soon after the liberation festivities have somewhat calmed down, the day arrives on which the war began five years earlier. On the site, where the Marines’ Barracks used to be, on 10th May 1945 at 10 a.m. a private commemoration service is held for all victims, civilians as well as military men. Around a simple, wooden cross with the inscription For those who gave their lives, many people participate in a floral tribute. At the General Cemetery Crooswijk a big commemoration of the dead, amongst which the perished members of the Rotterdam Police, takes place in the afternoon. On 14th May, Mayor Oud visits the places where political prisoners have been executed in the previous months and at the Crooswijk cemetery he lays a wreath on the grave of a head of an resistance group.


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