Some aspects of life in Germany changed immediately upon the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939; others changed more slowly. Germany did not fully mobilise at first. In fact, it was not until 1943 that Germany focussed its economy on war production. Nazi policy was not to burden the people on the home front because they feared domestic unrest; something the Nazis believed had led to Germany’s capitulation in 1918. For most Germans, life during the early stages of the war was reasonably comfortable. Germany was blockaded by Britain so there were some shortages, especially of oil, rare metals, and to some foodstuffs. General building materials had been diverted to war purposes and were also hard to get. But thanks to the Nazi-Soviet Pact, large shipments of raw materials were being sent regularly from the Soviet Union. In addition, Germany ruthlessly plundered the countries it occupied. The Nazis seized military hardware, industrial plant, railway stock, manufactured goods, foodstuffs and livestock.
After the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, life in Germany started to deteriorate. The supply of raw materials dried up and there would be a delay before arrangements could be made to plunder the Soviet Union on any meaningful scale. The retreating Soviet forces carried out a ruthless policy of scorched earth, destroying anything useful they could not carry away with them.
Rationing was introduced to Germany in late August 1939, shortly before the outbreak of war. Initially most foodstuffs were rationed together with clothing, shoes, leather and soap.
Rations were sufficient to live off, but did not permit luxuries. Whipped cream became unknown from 1939 until 1948, as well as chocolates, cakes with rich cremes etc. Meat could not be eaten every day. Other items were not rationed, but simply became unavailable as they had to be imported from overseas, coffee in particular. Vegetables and local fruit were not rationed, but imported fruits became unavailable. Ration stamps were issued to all civilians. These stamps were colour coded and covered sugar, meat, fruit and nuts, eggs, dairy products, margarine, cooking oil, grains, bread, jams and fruit jellies. Imitation coffee was made from roasted barley, oats, chicory and acorns. Various imitation foods were produced. Cooked rice mashed into patties and fried in mutton fat became ersatz meat. Rice was also mixed with onions and the oil reserved from tinned fish to ersatz fish. Flour for bread was eked out using ground horse-chestnuts, pea meal, potato meal, and barley. Salad spreads were made using chopped herbs mixed with salt and red wine vinegar. Nettles and goat’s rue were used in soups or were cooked and mixed together as spinach substitutes. Ration stamps did not entitle civilians to free hand-outs; items still had to be paid for. Food stamps were also needed to eat in restaurants.
The waiter would remove all of the stamps needed to produce the meal in addition to taking payment. Theft of stamps or counterfeiting them was a criminal offence and typically resulted in a spell of detention at a forced labour camp. As the war went on it might mean a death sentence.
As the war began to go against Germany in the Soviet Union and as Allied bombing began to affect domestic production, a more severe rationing program had to be introduced. The system allowed extra rations for men involved in heavy industry, but supplied only starvation rations for Jews and Poles in the areas occupied by Germany. In April 1942 bread, meat and fat rations all were reduced. This was explained to people at the time by poor harvest, lack of manpower for farming, and the increased need to feed the armed forces and the millions of forced labourers and refugees that had come to Germany.