In the summer of 1945 a completely new system of food rationing and allocation of all available foodstuffs was introduced by the American authorities in the Lower Rhine area. The word calories soon became a term everyone was familiar with.
The average inhabitant of the region was entitled to the following quantities - always provided the food was actually available for distribution - per week:
Bread 1 500 grams, Meat 175 grams, Butter 90 grams, Sugar 100 grams, Jam 150 grams,
Various dry foods, such as noodles or rice 250 grams, soft cheese 50 grams
Making a total of about 5 547 calories per week, i.e. 792 calories per day.
Fresh fruit or vegetables were not included; in earlier reminiscences I explained hat these were collected by gleaning, foraging and sometimes stealing.
Meat and fish were hardly ever available, they may have been on the list of allocated foods but in reality they very much remained pie-in-the-sky.
Father had an idea. Father had always liked meat, he missed it badly. Mother and I had not had any for a long time, our health may have been suffering but that was not something mother was overly concerned with. Filling bellies sufficiently to alleviate hunger pangs was more her aim.
Father decided we should keep rabbits; we would collect their food in fields and meadows ourselves, fatten them up and eat them.
A rickety hutch was duly built, a pair of baby rabbits appeared out of the blue, were incarcerated and fed on grass, cabbage leaves (we had plenty of cabbage, we always had cabbage, cabbage was our main source of vitamins and minerals and cabbage made us all look fat and bloated, with huge bellies) and anything else we could find.
The rabbits became my pets. I visited them in the garden whenever I could, fed them by hand, even sharing my food with them, which made mother very cross.
I begged her to let them out occasionally, but she wouldn’t budge. These rabbits were to have no exercise which would lengthen the fattening process.
Soon one of them was pronounced ready for butchering. The problem was, how and by whom. In theory, turning a live rabbit into a dead one, ready for the oven, had seemed to be a simple task; in reality, father just couldn’t do it. His great idea had come to a dead end.
Still, these rabbits were food and destined to be cooked and eaten. So father took Hans (naturally, I had given them names), put him in a sack and took him to a farmer, who, in return for the skin, duly dispatched and cleaned him.
Father came home, handed mother the carcass and she cooked it. It was to be a very special Sunday treat. Despite the wonderful, rare cooking smells pervading the kitchen, the atmosphere was sombre, subdued. I was sitting in the corner, snivelling.
When the meal was dished up, my snivelling turned to howling; I absolutely refused to eat Hans; mother likewise felt herself become queasy; she toyed with a piece but soon pushed it over on to father’s plate. Father was determined to show true grit, he grimly worked his way through his portion and ate mine and mother’s as well.
The next day father took Gretel, the other rabbit away, “to set it free”, he said.
It is more likely that he exchanged it for eggs or butter with someone less squeamish than his own family.