Where the Christmas Spirit Will Wane, December 1919




Where the Christmas Spirit Will Wane

Miss Jane Addams

[To the children of this country, Christmas will come with its usual good cheer, but the children of war stricken Europe are not so fortunate. Jane Addams of Chicago had recently returned from Europe and we heard her tell the story of her experience at the recent Conference of Charities and Corrections held in Decatur, Ill. From that talk and from her official report which she furnished us, we are giving our readers a glimpse of the conditions she found in Europe, especially among children. Miss Addams with Dr. Alice Hamilton, was sent across this last summer under the auspices of the "American Society of Friends" Service Committee. -- Ed.]

We entered Germany just one week after peace had been signed at Weimar, and food conditions were already changing for the better, although most of the food shops and bakeries still had windows containing nothing but empty cans of biscuit boxes. The pale people we saw on the streets, especially in the industrial quarters, were very serious and quiet, and in the railroad stations there was a conspicuous lack of all that talk and family bustles which one associates with German travel. Even the children were quieter. For them the war had evidently been translated into a lack of mile and butter and chocolate.

The editor of a large city newspaper told us that he had been able the night before to take home a bottle of milk and that his little girl, who met him at the door, had shouted joyously to her mother that peace had come. He went on to say that the child could only feast her eyes, as the milk was intended for the little baby. We were told by a mother that her little girl had asked her if it was true that there were countries in the world where there was no war and where the people could eat all they wanted to. In England a very curious story was told of a little child who, during the war, was always being told about the nice things they would have when the war was over, and so when the armistice was signed, this little child came down stairs to breakfast the next morning expecting the table to be filled with good things.

Everyone we saw -- men, women and children -- had lost weight, many of them to the point of emaciation. This loss of weight is very serious because it is a sign of lowered nutrition and consequently diminished resistance to infectious diseases, especially in the young. Wherever we saw children gathered together we were struck by the greyish pallor which has taken the place of the ruddy color formerly so characteristic of these blonde German children, and also by the thin necks and wrists and legs, even when the face itself was fairly round in its outlines. It is of course impossible to judge of emaciation in a child, unless very extreme, without stripping it, but in several places we were shown the children with their clothes off.

Ten Per Cent of Population Ill.

Berlin has a separate public office for providing food for the sick, where we saw many sick people waiting to be given cards entitling them to buy milk and white flour. This office is now caring for 210,000 people, although the permits are confined almost entirely to those suffering from tuberculosis, rachitis or acute nephritis. Before the war it was estimated that about two per cent of the population of Berlin would be sick at any one moment, now [page 2] it is at least ten per cent. The records in one room were especially pathetic. It contained the cards of those whose allowance had been revoked, not because the given case no longer required special food, but because so many new cases had come in that the list had to be revised in the interest of the most pressing need. Old people had to be sacrificed to the young, the incurable to the more hopeful. We were told by three or four people that the older people entered into a suicide pact. There was not enough food for them and they were told to shrink, and how should they do that, only by their own volition.

Still Eating War Bread

The bread allowance for the great University hospital in Berlin in 335 g. daily, but many of the sick cannot eat this bread, for it is made of war meal containing all but five per cent bran, with the addition of ground dried vegetables, which renders it damp and liable to [mold] or ferment in a few days. There is only one loaf of white bread for ten patients weekly.

As we went through other institutions, we often had an opportunity to see the food served to the inmates. In the City Orphanage in Berlin children with rickets received for their noonday dinner a soup of war meal and dried vegetables, with a few drops of vegetable margarine floating on the top. In a creche in [Frankfurt] for well children they were serving at noon a meal soup made with one pound of margarine for 100 children. In the afternoon they were given a mug of German tea, made from dried leaves of strawberry and other plants, without milk and with only three-quarters of a pound of sugar to forty quarts of tea. Many of the children in the creche showed signs of rickets and almost all of malnutrition

[center of page] [image] Miss Jane Addams

save one small boy, conspicuous for his rosy cheeks, who had just returned from a visit in the country to his grandmother.

Children Cheer Promise of Milk

In Leipzig we visited a "Landkolonie," a large playground in which 625 children from six to twelve years of age spend the day and are given a midday dinner. It consisted of one pint of meal soup, to which had been added a little dried vegetable. Out of 190 on time in the dinning room all save one were pale and [anemic]. The director made several announcements to the children -- a hike for the following day, which he carefully explained was not compulsory -- the time when the prize would be awarded for the best gardens and so forth. All of these were received with a curious sort of apathy by the listless children, but when he said that he hoped they would have some milk in their soup tomorrow or the next day, the announcement was greeted by a shrill and spontaneous cheer.

We saw 600 children arriving from Austria. They were being taken into private homes. They were too starved and too worn out to move. I never saw those children play. They were too worn out to play. One of the soldiers in going through the city had seen a child looking hungry, and he gave that child a sandwich. Then the children came from every direction. They pounced on him; they tore his clothing from him until he had to be rescued and taken to the hospital.

The "Luftbad" in Frankfurt is a very original mode of treatment for delicate children. The children in bathing suits are kept in the sun and the open air for three hours a day, some of them playing, but others lying down [page 3] according to the doctor’s orders. The children were used to being given a large glass of milk and all the bread and butter they wanted. Now the city allowance for them is half a pound of soup meal a month per capita, to which the patrons add some fresh vegetables, but they have no fat. Many of the boys exhibited such extreme emaciation as to remind us of pictures of Indian famines, yet we were told that these children had greatly improved during their month of treatment in the Luftbad.

Affects the Better Classes

We were constantly reminded that the paucity of food does not affect only the poorer people. The wife of a great biologist said that many a morning when she had faced an empty larder she would go out in one direction, her husband in another, and the nurse in a third in order to find food for her three little children. Another professor who was taking us through a children's ward admitted rather reluctantly that his breakfast consists of black war coffee with bread and marmalade, that he eats no midday meal and his supper is only soup and bread.

The "Time of Turnips"

It was in Saxony especially that they spoke with horror of the "Time of the turnips," when for three or four months the entire population had almost nothing to eat except white turnips. Many grown people have acquired a permanent dyspepsia from that experience and it was of course impossible for many of the children to digest such food. The village schoolmasters in "Barenstein" told us that in the course of each morning nine or ten children would leave the room, vomit their breakfast and stagger back, too miserable and sick to hold up their heads, and much less to study their lessons.

In Saxony now they have kitchens for the rich, for the middle class, and for the poor people. These are provided by the city authorities. The women were getting the food and giving it to their children -- going without themselves. This brought about a very high death rate. We saw the mothers standing there in line, then hurrying home with their little dish of soup.

Increase of Disease as a Result

One of the saddest things in Europe is the increase of tuberculosis. The rate of tuberculosis is more than twice as high there as in New York before the war. On our first evening in Berlin, Professor Kayserling, one of the foremost German authorities on tuberculosis, came to our hotel and gave us a brief outline of the terrible results of the prolonged food blockade as shown in the increase of tuberculosis in German cities. In 1914 the death from tuberculosis in German cities of over 15,000 inhabitants was 40,374. But it had risen so that for the first half of 1918 it was 67,860.

So striking has been the effect of partial starvation on tuberculosis among all classes that Kayserling says German physicians are beginning to say that tuberculosis should be regarded primarily not as an infectious disease, but as a disease of nutrition to be controlled much more by feeding them than by preventing infection.

Mothers Starve Themselves to Feed Their Children

Many of the mothers in Prof. Kayserling’s clinic looked so emaciated that one could not help believing that, scanty as their rations were, they took only part for themselves and gave the rest to their children. One specially wretched-looking woman said she was the mother of six children, one of whom had recently died of tuberculosis and she had brought a little daughter to be examined for the same disease. As all the children were over six years, they had no milk except the half pint which was allotted to her because she is suffering from a serious form of nephritis. "And how much of that goes into your stomach?" Professor Kayserling asked. The woman only shrugged her shoulders. At the end we asked him what we could do for these cases, and he answered: "Almost nothing. I see the conditions and I know how they should be dealt with, but I cannot put my knowledge to use; I cannot work without the tools of my trade." While in former years Kayserling used to see about fifty cases of bone tuberculosis in children in the course of a year, now he sees that many in a month.

Soap Blockade and Skin Disease

The food blockade was also a soap blockade and this has had very great influence over certain diseases, notably skin diseases. Children have been the greatest sufferers from the [page 4] skin diseases resulting from lack of soap, babies of course most of all. We were shown their scalded little bodies, their heads covered with scales, the bleeding surfaces in the folds of groins and arms. The treatment for such conditions is very unsatisfactory, for Germany has absolutely no medicinal oils, no vaseline or other bland ointment to soften the scales and assist in the healing process.

In common gratitude we feel we must not close without referring to the fine spirit of courtesy with which the Germans received us. We had not expected it.

Doctors, nurses, men and women who are working against tuberculosis, to keep children healthy, to prevent youthful crime and foster education, these people are way past the point of bitterness. What they are facing is the shipwreck of a nation and they have no time for resentments. They realize that if help does not come quickly and abundantly, this generation in Germany is largely doomed to an early death or a handicapped life.