Herbert Backe in 1942
|Reich Minister for Food and Agriculture|
23 May 1942 – 30 April 1945
|Preceded by||Richard Walther Darré|
|Succeeded by||Position abolished|
Herbert Friedrich Wilhelm Backe|
1 May 1896
Batumi, Kutais Governorate, Russian Empire
6 April 1947 (aged 50)|
Nuremberg, Bavaria, Allied-occupied Germany
|Political party||National Socialist German Workers' Party|
|Alma mater||University of Göttingen|
Herbert Friedrich Wilhelm Backe (1 May 1896 – 6 April 1947) was a German politician and SS functionary during the Nazi era. 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, 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 joined the SA in 1922 and in Hanover the Nazi Party. After the dissolution of the regional political unit (Gau) for South-Hanover Backe let his membership expire. [Source: Nach der Auflösung des Gaus Hannover-Süd 1928 ließ Backe seine Mitgliedschaft bis 1931 ruhen].
In 1927 Backe was inspector and administrator on a big farm in Pommern. In 1928 he was married to Ursula. With financial support of his father-in-law. In November 1928 he became tenant of domain Hornsen, with around 950 acres in the district of Alfeld. He succeeded to lead the farm successfully. 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.”
Arrest and suicide
After the German Instrument of Surrender, Backe was ordered by the allies, together with Dorpmüller, to fly to Eisenhower's headquarters in Reims. He was surprised to be arrested; he thought the Americans would need him as an expert to avoid hunger problems. Backe prepared himself for an expected conversation with General Dwight D. Eisenhower. In a letter to his wife on 31 January 1946, he defended national socialism as one of the "greatest ideas of all times", which found its strongest blow in the national socialist agricultural policy" [Source text: In einem Brief an seine Frau vom 31. Januar 1946 verteidigte er den Nationalsozialismus als eine der „großartigsten Ideen aller Zeiten“, die vor allem ihren Niederschlag in der nationalsozialistischen Agrarpolitik gefunden habe].
In allied captivity, Backe was interrogated during the Nuremberg trials of 21 February and 14 March 1947. In his prison cell in the Nuremberg war criminals' prison, Backe wrote two treatises: a so-called big report about his life and his work on National Socialism, and also on 31 January 1946, a testament outline for his wife Ursula and his four children. Because of his fear that he was to be delivered to the Soviet Union, he committed suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell on 6 April 1947.
- Heim 2008, p. 19.
- Joachim Lehmann: Herbert Backe – Technokrat und Agrarideologe. S. 4.
- Joachim Lehmann: Herbert Backe – Technokrat und Agrarideologe. S. 3.
- Hans Kehrl: Krisenmanager im Dritten Reich. Mit kritischen Anmerkungen und einem Nachwort von Erwin Viefhaus. Düsseldorf 1973, S. 49 f.
- 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.
- Ian Kershaw: Das Ende. Kampf bis in den Untergang NS-Deutschlands 1944/45. DVA, München 2011, ISBN 978-3-421-05807-2, S. 511 f. – Kershaw bezieht sich dabei auf: Karl Dönitz: Zehn Jahre und zwanzig Tage. Athenäum, Bonn 1958, S. 471. Dönitz selbst schreibt auf S. 470 f.: „Mitte Mai bekamen der Verkehrsminister Dr. Dorpmüller und der Ernährungsminister Backe von den Alliierten Anweisung, ins amerikanische Hauptquartier zu fliegen. Da sie in den Problemen ihres Ressorts besonders häufig mit den alliierten Kontrollbehörden in Mürwik verkehrt hatten, glaubten sie, der Flug nach Reims solle ihrer zukünftigen praktischen Mitarbeit auf ihren Tätigkeitsgebieten dienen. Wir hörten jedoch nichts mehr von ihnen. Sehr viel später erfuhr ich, daß zum mindesten Backe nicht zur Mitarbeit, sondern in die Gefangenschaft weggeflogen war.“
- Gesine Gerhard: Food and Genocide. Nazi Agrarian Politics in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union. S. 63.
- Records of the United States Nuernberg War Crimes trials Interrogations 1946–1949. (PDF; 186 kB), published 1977.
- "Arrest German Reich Heads: To Face Trial." Lodi News-Sentinel, 24 May 1945. Retrieved: 19 March 2013.
- Gesine Gerhard: Food and Genocide. Nazi Agrarian Politics in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union. S. 64; Joachim Lehmann: Herbert Backe – Technokrat und Agrarideologe. S. 10, nennt abweichend den 7. April 1947 als Todesdatum.
- 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.
- Media related to Herbert Backe at Wikimedia Commons