The German Black Market

by Daniel Russ on October 31, 2017

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The onset of world war, and a bitterly cold winter visited upon Northern Europe forced the German government to cut rations to civilians sharply in 1942, and thus began grueling civilian rituals of standing in line for rations every single day for hours, sometimes in the early AM. Neighbors and grocers formed odd alliances. They each made sure that other neighborhoods were obeying the regulations and not allocating black market foods. Sugar, coffee, tea, milk, eggs and meat were all reduced sharply until bread and potatoes comprised the largest source of calories for people. The exception was that armament factory workers were given larger portions, as they fueled the war effort. The SD, or Sicherheitsdienst des Reichfuhrers-SS, was one of the first functioning intelligence service in the Third Reich. The SD knew that around the country there was a massive morale problem that was exacerbated by the new cuts in food.

Of course, the Germans were clever and resourceful, as World War I had rendered them, they were deeply cultural and were able to find ways to supplement their food sources. Many German women lived near farmland and offered to help harvest some crops to retain a portion of them for their families. Sugar beets could be cooked down to a sweet syrup. Often home made food was traded for additional cheese or meat. Home gardens became popular and many German citizens kept chickens and hogs and rabbits to harvest as needed. Stinging nettle, once a homeopathic plant was now sold as a regular vegetable.

Police uncovered black market rackets that were extensive and quietly managed all over German cities. Black markets served every interest: sex trade, homosexual liasons, well made men’s suits, women’s fashion, cosmetics, and medical supplies and services were available in the black market. Some of these services were drugs, such as Pervitin, the meth amphetamine dose first manufactured for the Wehrmacht. People were getting addicted to it. Some of the services were abortions. But trading happened ubiquitously and robustly. Everything was traded: used toys, empty glass jars for storing foods, bandages, medicines, coffee, home grown garden variety strawberrys and rhubard, squash, and even olive oil.

But as people starved, prosecutors had a hard time pressing people into prison or paying fines they couldn’t afford. There was ample collusion looking the other way or pleading with the defendants in court for lighter sentences. Hitler railed at the black marketers and few were actually beheaded probably in the aftermath of his comments. People were given prison sentences for violating war rationing laws.

Of course Germans were wont to strip Jews of all their belonging like hyenas and just keep the pillaged fruit. And the occasional German businessman who travelled to and from other European cities often returned with suitcases full of goods, beans, coffee, liquor, cigars, smoked meats, jewelry, cinnamon, paté and other items to be sold on the side.

The networks of black market operators did not stop working class Germans. It was part of a way to get goods to all who need it, including soldiers on leave.


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