Herbert Backe in 1942
|Reich Minister of Food|
|Preceded by||Richard Walther Darré|
|Born||Herbert Friedrich Wilhelm Backe
1 May 1896
Batumi, Russian Empire
|Died||6 April 1947
Nuremberg, Allied-occupied Germany
|Alma mater||University of Göttingen|
Herbert Friedrich Wilhelm Backe (1 May 1896 – 6 April 1947) was a German Nazi politician and Obergruppenführer in the SS. He developed and implemented the Hunger Plan that envisioned death by starvation of millions of Slavic and Jewish "useless eaters" following Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union.
This plan was developed during the planning phase for the Wehrmacht (German Armed Forces) invasion and provided for diverting of the Ukrainian food stuffs away from central and northern Russia and redirecting them for the benefit of the invading army and the population in Germany. As a result, millions of civilians died in the German-occupied territories. Arrested in 1945 and due to be tried for war crimes at Nuremberg in the Ministries Trial, he committed suicide in prison in 1947.
Herbert Backe was born in Batumi, Russian Georgia, the son of a retired Prussian lieutenant turned trader. His mother was a Caucasus German, whose family had emigrated from Württemberg to Russia in the early 19th century. He studied at the Tbilisi gymnasium (grammar school) from 1905 and was interned on the outbreak of World War I as an enemy alien because he was a citizen of Prussia. This experience of being imprisoned for being German and witnessing the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution made Backe an anti-communist.
Backe moved to Germany during the Russian Civil War with the help of the Swedish Red Cross. In Germany, he initially worked as a labourer, and enrolled to study agronomy at the University of Göttingen in 1920. After completing his degree he briefly worked in agriculture and then became an assistant lecturer on agricultural geography at Hanover Technical University. In 1926, he submitted his doctoral dissertation, titled The Russian Cereals Economy as the Basis of Russian Agriculture and the Russian Economy (German: Die russische Getreidewirtschaft als Grundlage der Land- und Volkswirtschaft Russlands), to the University of Göttingen, but it was not accepted. Later, after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Backe self-published his dissertation with a print of 10,000 copies.
Backe was an SA member from 1922. He joined the Nazi Party in February 1925. Finally, he joined the SS in October 1933. He undertook various duties in the administration of Nazi Germany, succeeding Richard Walther Darré as Minister of Food in May 1942 and becoming Minister of Agriculture in April 1944. Backe was a prominent member of the younger generation of Nazi technocrats who occupied second-tier administrative positions in the Nazi system such as Reinhard Heydrich, Werner Best, and Wilhelm Stuckart. Like Stuckart, who held the real power in the Interior Ministry (officially led by Wilhelm Frick) and Wilhelm Ohnesorge in the Reichspostministry (officially led by the conservative Paul Freiherr von Eltz-Rübenach), Backe was the de facto Minister of Agriculture under Darré, even before his promotion to that post.
Backe was personally nominated by the Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, Alfred Rosenberg, as the Secretary of State (Staatssekretär) of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine where he could implement his strategic policy, the Hunger Plan (Der Hungerplan also Der Backe-Plan). The objective of the Hunger Plan was to inflict deliberate mass starvation on the Slavic civilian populations under German occupation by directing all food supplies to the German home population and the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. The most important accomplice of Herbert Backe was Hans-Joachim Riecke, who headed the agricultural section of the Economic Staff East. According to the historian Timothy Snyder, as a result of Backe's plan, “4.2 million Soviet citizens (largely Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians) were starved by the German occupiers in 1941–1944.”
From April to May 1945, Backe continued as Minister of Food in the short-lived post-Hitler Flensburg Government led by Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz. On 23 May 1945 he was arrested by British forces along with other members of the Flensburg government, including Dönitz and Albert Speer. Backe was held in American custody and was due to be tried for war crimes at Nuremberg in the Ministries Trial. He committed suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell on 6 April 1947.
- Heim 2008, p. 19.
- Gesine Gerhard: Food and Genocide. Nazi Agrarian Politics in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union. In: Contemporary European History Volume 18, Issue 1 (2009), p. 49.
- Heim 2008, p. 20.
- Gesine Gerhard. Food and Genocide. Nazi Agrarian Politics in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union. In: Contemporary European History Volume 18, Issue 1, 2009, pp. 50-54.
- Tooze 2007, p. 669.
- Timothy Snyder: Bloodlands. Europe between Hitler and Stalin. The Bodley Head, London 2010, p. 411; compare Gesine Gerhard: Food and Genocide. Nazi Agrarian Politics in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union. In: Contemporary European History Volume 18, Issue 1 (2009), pp. 57-62.
- "Arrest German Reich Heads: To Face Trial." Lodi News-Sentinel, 24 May 1945. Retrieved: 19 March 2013.
- Gesine 2009, p. 64.
- "Ex-Nazi Aide Hangs Himself. Food Chief Backe Was Awaiting Trail." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette , 7 April 1947. Retrieved: 19 March 2013.
- Gesine, Gerhard. Food and Genocide. Nazi Agrarian Politics in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union.(PDF Abstract) Contemporary European History Volume 18, Issue 1, 2009, pp. 45–65.
- Heim, Susanne. "Calories, Caoutchouc, Careers." Plant Breeding and Agrarian Research in Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institutes, 1933–1945. New York: Springer, 2008. ISBN 1-40206-718-6.
- Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. London: The Bodley Head, 2010. ISBN 978-0-224-08141-2.
- Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy. London: Viking, 2007. ISBN 0-670-03826-1.
- Zentner,Christian and Friedemann Bedürftig. The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. New York: Macmillan, 1991. ISBN 978-0-1431-1320-1.