Shortages on the “Heimatfront” 1941-45

German soldiers weren’t born as members of the Wehrmacht. They all started life as civilians, they had lives in Germany, and soldiers who deployed to combat zones had friends and family at home. It is my opinion that understanding how life in Third Reich Germany was different from life today is important for a reenactor, because it helps to avoid making false assumptions that serve as a shaky foundation for impression details.

This book “Under the Bombs” by Earl R. Beck is one I recommend very highly. It covers the period 1942-45 and gives a vast amount of detailed insight into the general situation in Germany at that time. Reading this as a reenactor, it is interesting to contrast what seem to me to be common ideas about items sent/brought from home, with realities about what was available to German civilians- and what was not available.

Shortages of many types of civilian goods began early in the war. Beer, wine and tobacco were already scarce by mid-1941, and most of the available beer had an alcohol level that was reduced to 3.5 percent. There were long lines for fruit, vegetables and potatoes. By 1942, Nazi party organization members were already combing through forests foraging for wild plants to augment food supplies. The water content in butter and margarine was increased to stretch limited supplies. Average workers were allotted less than .1 pounds of meat per day and 2 lbs. of sugar for an entire month. In 1943, household articles made of metal became subject to rationing. There were shortages of cook pots, bed linens, toilet paper, toothbrushes, bicycle tires, light bulbs, and a serious shortage of paper. Common areas in buildings could no longer be illuminated. Ration cards were being handed out for items that were no longer obtainable. Newspapers gave directions on how to store food without using canning jars that were no longer available. People were standing in line for hours to get a cake of soap. Christmas candles were not available for 1943.

By 1944 production of civilian goods was virtually suspended. Washing soap became unavailable. Food was scarce and expensive. By this time even swastika flags could only be bought with ration stamps and only for party purposes.

Clothing shortages were a severe problem. In 1941 the cost of clothing doubled or tripled. By late 1942, the prices for used clothing items were much higher than the prewar cost for new goods, as shortages became acute. Clothing ration cards for suits and coats were no longer being issued. With an increase in funerals there was a shortage of clothing for marriages and burials. The shortage of shoes was critical. People evacuated from bombed out cities were being supplied with wooden shoes. Starting in 1943 new clothing became unobtainable. People could use ration cards to buy scraps of fabric for repairing items. Some women sewed these scraps together to make dresses. By 1944 there were no longer enough clothes to distribute to those whose homes had been destroyed by bombing. Desperation became total.

The end of the war did not bring about an end to the shortages. German civilians in the summer of 1945 lived in a world where new clothes had not been available for 2 years, and where new clothing was not being produced. This is why you see so much civilian type stuff made of Zeltbahn fabric or otherwise converted military gear. They used military surplus stuff because they had no choice- it was often all that was available.