Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930). His Fram expedition had reached 86°13′ N in 1895. Undeterred by the failure of the 1919 relief offer, he would try again, with some more success, in 1921.
May 15 1919, Moscow–After the idea of a conference on Prinkipo fell through, the Allies had little contact with the Soviets, apart from an American mission which was ignored, and Smuts’ very indirect approach via Béla Kun. In large part, this was because they did not want to; the French hated the Soviets, as did much of Lloyd George’s coalition. News from Russia was limited and of exceedingly poor quality (The New York Times printed headlines in May claiming that Petrograd had fallen to the Finns), but what little there was suggested a humanitarian crisis in a country now completely cut off from the outside world. Hoover, head of food relief in Europe, suggested that food relief be extended to the Soviets as well–this would help the people of Russia and possibly help bring Russia back into the community of nations.
To avoid the perception that this would be yet another Allied intervention in Russia, Hoover proposed that Russian food aid be organized via a prominent neutral–Fridtjof Nansen, the famous Norwegian explorer. Under Nansen’s leadership, Norway and other neutral countries would deliver food and medical aid to Russia, provided ceasefires were arranged in the civil war. The offer went out from Berlin (as the Allies refused to send it), and on May 15 the Soviets responded. Lenin had instructed Chicherin and Litvinov to be “extremely polite to Nansen, extremely insolent to Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau,” and they were, rejecting outright the idea of ceasefires without a formal peace conference. The Allies would do nothing else that attempted to reach out to the Soviets during the remainder of the Paris Peace Conference.
“We were still on French rations, but hot Belgian bread with
boo-coo butter kept us alive.”
the end of the war American soldiers in Belgium – Heaven, Hell, Or Hoboken – Photo: WW1, somewhere on the western
front, soldiers of the Rainbow division enjoying thick slices of bread smeared with “boo-coo” butter or the like… US Signal Corps
‘August 8 1918 – Mais
oui—me voila, dans un Foyer du Soldat—the French idea of a Y. M. C. A. It’s not
bad, this—pour les Français; but for me— (business of shrugging shoulders).
Plenty of French magazines, writing desks, a piano, neat decorations, charming
English-speaking French lady in charge—BUT nothing to eat!’
April 1918 – ‘In and
out of these streams — this fearful turmoil of traffic, the Red Cross with its headquarters at Compiegne took care of the soldiers. It set up a line of
canteens and soup kitchens along the roadside all the way from Beauvais, and served
as many as 30,000 men a day with hot drinks, cigarettes, all sort of food to French, British,
Italians, and American soldiers alike. In this sector where Jeanne d’Arc
once had been taken prisoner, these Red Cross ladies’ mission of salvation was
far more prosaic; yet, in its own humble way, it too functioned, and functioned
“Mother, you would be quite pleased if you could see me
now! I have on four shirts, underdrawers, woolen stockings, knitted knee
protectors and two sweaters. I am about as broad as I am long, but none of us
seem to be able to keep the intense cold out. We are pretty high up in the
mountains and the huge Casino isn’t heated at all, and
you can imagine it is exactly like a tomb. Luckily, we
have a beautiful sunny room and a stove in the hall, so we get thawed out
once a day and manage to survive.
My job consists in being interpreter for anyone who needs me,
and serving hot drinks, sandwiches and hot dishes (of sausages, potato,
macaroni, etc.) over the top of the beautiful marble counter to hundreds and
hundreds of ravenous doughboys. The boys are full of the most amazing tales and
I haven’t had such an interesting time since I came to France!”
January 16 1918, Vienna–The Austrian half of the Dual Monarchy had the worst food situation of any of the Central Powers in Europe. With its own food-producing region in Galicia ravaged by war, with Hungary generally unwilling to share any of its food, and with Germany unwilling to provide food or coal to ship any food, the outlook in the winter of 1918 was quite dim. On January 14, the bread ration was cut by 20%, from 7.5 oz to just under 6 oz per day. These cuts, combined with the continued frustration that a peace with the defeated Russians had not yet been signed, led to the outbreak of general strikes on January 16. In modern-day Austria, over 100,000 workers participated, and the strikes even spread to Hungary over the coming days.
Emperor Charles wrote to Czernin, his foreign minister and representative at the Brest-Litovsk peace talks, saying “if peace is not made at Brest it will be revolution here, no matter how much there is to eat.” Czernin replied that “I fear it is already too late to check the total collapse which is to be expected in the next few weeks.” The Austrians, desperately seeking to avoid a revolution at home, thus turned to desperation at Brest-Litovsk. Ukraine, considered Russia’s breadbasket, was thought to have large stores of food. Despite having very little bargaining position (having essentially no army of their own), the Ukrainians demanded territory in eastern Galicia, especially the city of Chelm (in modern-day Poland). Despite knowing this would anger Austria’s large (and loyal) Polish population, Czernin was still tempted by the offer. Meanwhile, Trotsky took the news from Austria as a vindication of his strategy–if he could only delay for long enough through the winter, the revolution would spread to Austria and Germany and a humiliating peace could be avoided.