Between 1916 and 1918, the countless forced requisitions by the German occupation forces and the cruel exploitation of Romania’s resources took its toll on the civilian population. In order to export to Germany as many Romanian agricultural products as it could, the military administration introduced a strict rationalization of food consumption.
Occupation forces introduced bread and meat cards. In cities with over 5.000 inhabitants, the population was entitled to 400 grams of bread per capita and 200 grams of meat per week. From April 1, 1917, the meat ration was reduced to 150 grams per week. In order to be supplied with the necessary food for its survival, the urban population tried to evade the watchful eyes of the German administration and bought food directly from the peasants, bypassing regulations put in place.
However, peasants were also confronted with restrictions imposed by the military administration. They were required to declare and hand over milk and eggs on certain days of the week and were allowed to keep for themselves only a small portion, just barely to feed their families. In addition to cereals, milk and eggs, the occupation forces gradually started requisitioning other products, such as sugar and wine. In addition, the slaughter of domestic animals and poultry was also prohibited, leading to a decline in meat consumption in the occupied territory. Still, the sources for textile fibres (flax, hemp, wool) were also requisitioned by the occupants, so the peasants were forced to wear rags.
In addition to foodstuffs, the civilian population in the occupied territory suffered from a lack of industrial products. All industrial enterprises were seized by the occupiers, and countless industrial products and machinery were shipped to Austria-Hungary and Germany. According to a “Secret publication by the Austrian War Ministry”, printed by the Vienna State Printing House in 1918, the decision to ship oil products to the Austro-Hungarian Empire was taken as early as October 1916. Quantities required for monthly shipment were 2285 tonnes of gasoline and 4150 tonnes of petroleum.
Dead domestic animals, handed over to the occupation forces
Writer and politician Vasile Th. Cancicov, a witness of the German occupation, noted, with understandable revolt in his diary, the numerous restrictions imposed on the Romanian civilian population:
“By way of ordinances, we haven’t the right to walk the streets without an ausweis [identity document issued by the German military administration], we haven’t the right to go by train, we haven’t the right to ship a parcel, we haven’t the right to send letters by post nor by private individuals, the punishment for who will be caught being at least 3.000 marks and 3 months imprisonment, we haven’t the right to use a telephone or telegraph, we haven’t the right to climb a tram, we haven’t the right to travel by carriage, we aren’t allowed to sit on a bench in a park displaying «Nur für milter per sonen» [Only for military personnel], we are not allowed to sell beef or to buy it, we are not allowed to slaughter a pig or poultry- if it dies we have to hand it over to the command, we are not allowed to bring a bag of cornflour from the estate, at home we are not allowed to store food of any kind, we are not allowed to have firewood in the cellar for the winter, houses must be unlocked for any military man in need of lodging, with or without quartering orders, we can be arrested anytime they want, without justification and without answering to anyone. We are not allowed to take better care of our health, it is rumoured that they will soon stop selling drugs in pharmacies without the ausweis of the command, as it already stopped selling red wine for the Romanian subjects who don’t have a special authorization stating that their health requires such drink”.
Vasile Th. Cancicov, Jurnal din vremea ocupaţiei. Impresiuni şi păreri personale din timpul războiului României. Jurnal zilnic. 13 august 1916- 13 august 1917 [Diary from the time of occupation. Personal impressions and opinions during Romania’s war. Daily journal, August 13, 1916- August 13, 1917], Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2015.
Victor Atanasiu, Atanasie Iordache, Mircea Iosa, Ion M. Oprea Paul Oprescu, România în Primul Război Mondial [Romania in the First World War], Military Publishing House, Bucharest, 1979.
Gheorghe Platon (coord.), Istoria Românilor [The history of the Romanians], vol. VII, tome II, Encyclopaedic Publishing House, Bucharest 2003.
Florin Constantiniu, O istorie sinceră a poporului român [A sincere history of the Romanian people], Encyclopaedic Universe Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008.
Translated by Laurențiu Dumitru Dologa