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Gesine Gerhard is a professor of European history at Pacific. She will sign copies of her new book, "Nazi Hunger Politics: A History of Food in the Third Reich", at the Barnes & Noble in Stockton on November 21.

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New book explores genocide by starvation in Nazi Germany

Dec 3, 2015

Millions of Soviet soldiers in German captivity died of hunger during World War II - but their deaths were not the unexpected consequence of a war that took longer than anticipated, argues Gesine Gerhard, professor of history at University of the Pacific.

"It was the calculated strategy of a small group of economic planners who worked with Herbert Backe, the second Nazi Reich Minister of Food and Agriculture," Gerhard writes in a new book, "Nazi Hunger Politics: A History of Food in the Third Reich" (Rowman & Littlefield, 186 pages, $40).

Gerhard used diaries and letters from Backe's family to piece together the picture of a man who was charged to deliver sufficient food rations to Germans at home and on the Eastern front. She is the first historian to have seen these historical sources in their entirety.

Herbert Backe
Herbert Backe, Reich Minister of Food and Agriculture in Nazi Germany.

In her book, Gerhard argues that Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, was driven by concerns over food. The invasion's success expedited mass murder and genocide on the Eastern front.The book has earned early praise in the United States and Europe. Translations in Polish and German are in the making.

"I wanted this book to be of interest to my undergraduate students, to scholars of the Holocaust as well as people who like to read about World War II," said Gerhard. "During my research I interviewed the Backe family-children of the Nazi Reich Minister Herbert Backe-and this definitely added a personal dimension to my writing that I never would have expected," Gerhard said.

"This is an important book for historians of rural Europe in the 20th century and for anyone who still wonders why Hitler invaded the Soviet Union," said Paul Brassley, a research fellow at University of Exeter in England.

"As a historian, most of the people and sources I study are deceased," said Gerhard. "The memories of World War II, however, are still very much alive in Europe and in the US today."

Gerhard teaches European history at Pacific.

She will read an excerpt from her book and sign copies from 1 to 4 p.m. on Nov. 21 at Barnes & Noble, 4950 Pacific Avenue Space 319, Weberstown Mall, Stockton, CA 95207. The event is free and open to the public.

Her book is available for purchase on amazon.com.

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