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Hunger: Ernst Gläser, Born in 1902 (1928)

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The shamelessness of the war had not yet reached the point where the police were allowed to search there.

The winter remained hard until the end. The war began to leap from the fronts and press onto civilians. Hunger destroyed unity; within families, children stole rations from one another. August’s mother went to church twice a day. She prayed and lost weight. The food that she was allotted she distributed to August and his siblings, and she kept only a minimum for herself. Soon the women who stood in the gray lines in front of the stores were talking more about their children’s hunger than about their husband’s deaths. The war switched the sensations that it offered.

A new front emerged. It was held by women. Against the “Entente” of military police and male civilian inspectors who could not be spared for military service. Every pound of butter that was surreptitiously obtained, every sack of potatoes that was successfully concealed at night was celebrated in families with the same enthusiasm as the victories of the armies had been celebrated two years earlier.

Soon many fathers, who were stationed in regions where food was grown and who had the power to requisition from the enemy population, were sending packages of food to their families via comrades who were on furlough. Administrators of food depots, city officials who distributed the ration cards for bread, and farmers who owned strong cattle and good land became authority-figures, whom one approached as one used to approach high-ranking and rich relatives. Whenever we entered the kitchen of a farmhouse, where fresh milk stood in large containers or a ham swung under the chimney-hood, we were overcome by the same timidity that befell August and his working-class comrades when they used to see a middle-class salon or a piano years ago.

Actually we enjoyed this change, for it awakened our sense of adventure. It was wonderful and dangerous to steal away from farmhouses with forbidden eggs, to throw oneself into the grass when a policeman turned up, and to count the minutes by one’s heartbeat. It was wonderful and grand to dupe these policemen and to be celebrated as a hero by one’s mother after a lucky triumph.

Source: Ernst Gläser, Jahrgang 1902 [Born in 1902] (1928). Berlin, 1931, pp. 290-93.

Translation: Jeffrey Verhey and Roger Chickering

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