From Holocaust to Famine

The Fellowship  |  April 19, 2021

Russian children during WWII who suffered through air raids and famine
Russian children during WWII who suffered through air raids and famine

We hear it again and again from the Holocaust survivors who we help – the famine that followed World War II proved nearly as horrible as the Nazi atrocities they had just endured.

When the war ended in 1945, many Jews from the Soviet Union not exterminated by Hitler’s regime tried to return to the homes and lives from which they’d been ripped years earlier. But within a year, they again found themselves fighting to survive.

Millions Lost to WWII

The Holocaust left 6 million Jews dead, many of them from the Soviet Union. But the region itself lost TWENTY million people during World War II. With ten million of those being young men killed in battle, that left few young men for Soviet young women – Jew or Gentile – to marry. And so today, far too many elderly Jewish women in the former Soviet Union (FSU) have spent decades completely alone, with no family to love or care for them.

This loss of millions of young men severely damaged the region’s agriculture – no farmers to grow crops after the war, and no infrastructure to support the production and distribution of food.

Think of the Children

But the men who did return home led to a spike in births, the same as what happened in postwar America, leading to the Baby Boomer generation. So, more children to feed and less food to feed them with set the stage for famine.

Children born before and during World War II also faced dire challenges. Millions lost one or both parents. Hundreds of thousands of homeless orphans wandered city streets and empty rural fields.

At the same time, 1946, the year after World War II ended, saw severe drought across Europe. While so much had gone wrong for the world during the war, at least the war years proved to be friendly, weather-wise. But 1946 proved dry and infertile. And millions of hungry mouths across the Soviet Union could find nothing to eat.

The Failure of Communism

Throughout World War II, European Jewry had been hunted down and exterminated by Hitler’s Nazi regime – throughout Western Europe and into Eastern Europe. And while those who survived the Holocaust outlasted the Final Solution, they now faced the evil Stalinist policies across the Soviet Union.

First, Stalin raised food prices, but refused to raise the wages of workers. Now, what little food people found during the famine, they could not afford.

But Stalin did not want to admit the failures of communism. With the Cold War underway, admission of failure might appear as weakness. So the Soviet Union kept up appearances by continuing to export food, further starving its people. But it would not allow international aid organizations to import food to feed them.

Serving Those Who Have Suffered

Thus, a perfect storm of famine descended on millions of people, many of them Jews who survived the Jewish people’s darkest hour.

While historians still debate how many died during the postwar famine, at least one million people perished.

So, today, when we visit the homes of elderly Jews in the FSU, we find so many of them not only still haunted by the Holocaust – in which they lost loved ones because of their faith – but by the years of starvation and desperation that followed their survival. And that is why we cannot forget these survivors, these precious children of God, who have suffered through so much, but who can count on The Fellowship, count on you, count on US, to provide them with food and love during their final years.

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