10 June 2014

Indirect Deaths Due to Privation Induced by the War and the Occupation


Soviet scholar A.A. Shevyakov in 1991 estimated about 8.5 million Soviet civilians perished during the war due to malnutrition and disease induced by the war and occupation. Of the 8.5 million Shevyakov in 1991 reckoned 5.5 million took place in parts of USSR that suffered the Axis occupation and 3 million in parts that did not experience occupation. In 1992 he updated his estimates, now figuring that about 6.5 million Soviet civilians had perished due to war-induced privation.[38] Krivosheev in 2001 estimated there had been 4.1 million excess civilian deaths due to malnutrition and disease in the occupied USSR. He reported findings according to which 1941-45 there had been an estimated 8.5 million deaths of natural causes in the parts of the USSR under occupation, but only 4.4 million were to be expected under pre-war mortality rates. A German historian Hans-Heinrich Nolte estimated of the estimated total 27 million war deaths 7 million were indirect deaths of civilians due to malnutrition and disease. In 1972 a British writer Elliot Gil estimated 7-8 million civilian deaths due to privation.[39]

This paper so far has tallied up to 11 million deaths among Soviet citizens in military service (regular and irregular Soviet forces, POWs and non-Soviet forces), leaving at least 14,3 million non-combatant deaths. Of the latter also 6.3-6.8 million have been tallied between various causes leaving 7.5-8 million undistributed civilian deaths that may be attributed to privation induced by the war and occupation. This is without counting privation deaths of civilians in the Siege of Leingrad (up to 0.9 million), privation deaths of forced laborers in German-run Europe outside the USSR (0.2 million), privation deaths of Soviet citizens repressed in the gulag and internal exile (1 million and 0.3 million respectively), civilian privation deaths in forced evacuations accompanying German retreats, or privation deaths of Soviet civilians imprisoned by the Germans in POW camps as possible or potential soldiers.  

Almost all of 1.3 million excess deaths among children born after 22.6.1941, as well as the great majority of 1.1 million war-related deaths of people who would have died in the 1941-45 timeframe anyway but at a later date, probably occurred due to malnutrition and disease. This means some 2 million of the 7.5-8 million privation deaths in the Soviet Union during the Soviet-German War are fairly invisible to statistics. In at least one quarter of cases malnutrition and disease induced by the war and occupation took the lives of either children not yet born when the war begun, or else of the elderly who were not expected to live past 1945 even had there not been a war.

Given Krivosheev's estimate it seems likely that of 7.5-8 million privation deaths among civilians just over one half occurred in the occupied western Soviet Union and just under one half occurred in the unoccupied interior of the country. The parts of USSR that fell under German occupation were home to 77.5 million people before the war. 16.5 million of these fled or were evacuated by the authorities leaving just over 60 million in areas under German control with 130 million original inhabitants and refugees from the west in the interior Soviet Union.[40] In other words Soviet citizens under German occupation were at least twice as likely to perish due to war-related malnutrition and disease than were civilians from the interior, unoccupied Soviet Union.

By far the most important immediate reason why chronic malnutrition struck the interior of the Soviet Union was that German attack and advance had deprived it of its connection to the fertile agricultural regions of Ukraine and Russia that made the USSR into a net food producer. Soviet Union deprived of Ukraine and parts of the southern and the Black Earth regions of Russia was not a food surplus area and so there was not enough food to feed everyone. Without a doubt Soviet agriculture in the interior that was not laboring under the constraints of collectivization and central planning and possessed a more responsive (decentralized) food distribution system would have weathered the crisis better thus saving more people and allowing fewer deaths.[41] However, for the most part it is the case that the inflexible Stalinist system made its populace exceedingly vulnerable to such a crisis, but it was the German invasion that delivered the blow that threw it over the precipice and caused mass death.

Occupied, western Soviet Union was a net surplus food area, but regardless of this suffered a food crisis even more severe than that of food deficient areas of the Soviet interior. The root source of this hunger was that the Germans confiscated even larger portions of foodstuffs from the producers than the Soviet authorities had all the while distributing far less of the food back to Soviet civilians.[42]

In parallel with the German advance in 1941 the Soviets carried out a scorched earth policy in territories they were forced to yield. In the popular imagination this tactic is synonymous with destruction of foodstuffs, but actually this was a relatively small component of Soviet scorched earth compared to its evacuation aspect and had a comparatively small effect on the food supply. In Ukraine in 1941 the Soviets destroyed 0.2 million tons of foodstuffs, successfully evacuated 1.9 million tons of grain into the interior, while also leaving 0.9 million tons of grain that had already been harvested behind.[43] An even bigger evacuation effort involved the removal of agricultural mechanization and livestock. Up to one half of tractors and combines were successfully evacuated from the regions of the USSR that would fall to the Germans (24,000 from Ukraine and Belarus alone), as well as more than two million livestock — albeit the herds of the latter were soon slaughtered due to a lack of fodder for them en route and in the interior and did not meaningfully contribute to herd sizes of the interior Soviet Union in the long term.

It is safe to say the evacuation of agricultural machinery and livestock from the western USSR
had an immense impact on the ability of the western regions of the Soviet Union to grow food in itself. However, the food crisis that followed during the occupation was far more severe than could be explained by the Soviet scorched earth campaign of 1941. The latter was followed by the ruthless and exploitative (but probably counter-productive) policies of the German occupation. First of all the Germans set out to confiscate such proportions of food grown that they greatly reduced the incentive to produce. Secondly, they confiscated so much food for the needs of the Wehrmacht and the German civilians at home that what was left was nowhere enough to satisfy the needs of the Soviet civilians in territories under their control.

What is more the Germans had envisioned and planned for their confiscation policies to create a catastrophic food shortage for the Soviet civilians under their control since before the onset of the war. Given the intent of the German occupation to whithold food from much of the Soviet population it is doubtful many fewer people would have perished without the massive Soviet evacuation of food, agricultural mechanization and livestock.
Most likely the larger yields that would have been possible would have meant the Germans would have been able to extract greater quantities of food for the needs of their army and the civilians at home, but very little of this would have benefited the Soviet civilians under occupation, millions of whom the Germans had intended to eliminate by way of hunger all along.

Indeed, it has been estimated that even in thee abysmal year of 1942 the Ukraine had been able to produce a small grain surplus of 0.3 million tons above its needs of some 7.2 million tons.[44] Without German appetites occupied Ukraine should have been able to feed itself even in the disarray of the war. However, since the Germans simultaneously removed 1.2 million tons of grain and millions of horses, cattle and pigs what actually occurred was a catastrophic shortage of food and consequent chronic malnutrition, deterioration in health and widespread death of malnourished civilians due to disease.

Finally as the Germans were gradually forced to retreated west they carried out a destructive scorched earth policy of their own. Theirs was even more damaging than the hectic effort of the Soviets in 1941, because they had more time on their hands. Seeing it took the Soviets two years after the Stalingrad battle to expel the Germans from the territory they had yielded to them in 1941 in just six months, the Germans were better positioned to strip value from the land they were vacating and were just as determined to do so, as well as even more ruthless than had been the Soviets.

The categories of people who were the most likely to die of privation were young children and the elderly as the categories with the most delicate health most vulnerable to malnutrition and disease. Next were the city-dwellers in the occupied USSR whom the Germans perceived as useless eaters, the inhabitants of areas plundered in the course of German anti-partisan reprisals, the population of areas sacked in the course of German retreat and scorched earth, people whose homes were destroyed in battles between the armies, evacuees who fled the German advance into the interior, the populace of areas that received large numbers of evacuees and others.

In all the German invasion and the exploitative policies of the German occupation may be identified as the most immediate cause of privation and deaths due to privation for the vast majority of the 7.5-8 million Soviet civilians who perished in the course of the war in this way (outside Leningrad and the gulag). Soviet policies were a contributing factor for many as well, particularly in the sense they made the population more vulnerable to depredation of the invaders and amplified the negative consequences of the latter's policies and actions. For example the pre-war internal passport system and movement controls discouraged people from attempting to flee before the German advance into the interior and the collectivization of agriculture made it far easier for the German occupiers to extract vast quantities of food from Soviet peasant and leave them hungry.

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38. A.A. Shevyakov “Gitlerovski genotsid na territoriyakh SSR”, Sotsiologicheskie issiedovaniya, no. 12 (1991). A.A. Shevyakov "Zhertvy sredi mirnogo nasseleniya v gody otechestvennoi voiny", Sotsiologicheskie issiedovaniya, no. 11 (1992).

In 1991 Shevyakov figured there had been 18.3 million Soviet civilian deaths in the the Soviet-German War. (Which together with the semi-official figure of 8.7 million military deaths gives the well-known total of 27 million.) Of these of which an estimated 6.4 million direct deaths inflicted by the Germans and their allies, an estimated 2.8 million deaths among an estimated 5.6 million forced laborers deported to Germany, an estimated 0.6 million other deaths of Soviet civilians in German custody and the rest of the 18.3 million deaths due to privation caused by the war the policies of the enemy. His estimate of indirect deaths due to the war from 1992 is lower mainly because by this time he estimated there had been many more civilian deaths inflicted by the Germans directly.

39. G.V. Krivosheev et al., Rossiya i SSSR v voinah XX veka: Poteri vooruzhennyh sil: Statisticheskoe issledovanie (Moscow: Olma-Press, 2001): table 115. Hans-Heinrich Nolte, Kleine Geschichte Ru├člands (Stuttgart: Reclam Verlag, 1998) 259. Gil Elliot, Twentieth Century Book of the Dead (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972) 59.

40. Rebecca Manley, To the Tashkent Station: Evacuation and Survival in the Soviet Union at War (New York: Cornell University Press, 2009) 50. Mark Harisson, Soviet Planning in Peace and War, 1938–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) 72.

41. Indeed the Soviet authorities quickly reckonized that given the circumstances their socialist system was wholly inadequate to feed the entire population. They immediately resigned themselves to only making certain that the soldiers and the most important workers were fed enough to live off and to providing some food to other workers and their families. Everyone but the soldiers and the workers in most difficult professions needed to somehow fend for themselves just to survive, and only select few received, or could hope to secure, nutrition adequate for health just from formal channels. In a further admission of the inadequacy of the hardline Soviet system many of its restraints were temporarily lifted and policies reversed so that during the war there was more freedom in production and distribution of food than at any other time since collectivization and the end of the NEP. For example the same authorities which had previously erradicated private farms in the countryside now encouraged urbanites to plot their own private gardens in and around their cities. For more see William Moskoff, The Bread of Affliction: The Food Supply in the USSR During World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

42. Ibid., 48-50.

43. Ibid., 22, 29.

44. Ibid., 48.

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