History may be told from many viewpoints. The past can be seen through the lens of war, art, sports as well as technology. What about through the lens of food? Can we look back at history and see the importance of food in a given moment ? More specifically for my purpose here, I would like to take a look at history, through the personal chocolate experiences of a single man.
Chocolate means different things to different people around the world. For some people it is a source of livelihood. For many others it is a treat, a prize, a gift, a temptation, a forbidden object. If you grew up in the United States over the past 50 years, the chocolate you eat may have changed as well. When i was ten, IO ate Charleston Chews and Marathon Bars because they were the biggest bars for the fifteen cent price. M&M’s went to quickly, Hershey bars were flat and gone in a flash but a Charleston Chew, that lasted. You could put it in the freezer and have it all day long.
When I see the images of my childhood chocolate bars, many other memories coming flooding back to me. I remember the first day I played hooky from school. I was only in 4th grade and I got caught because I was in the little Mom and Pop store in my town buying a Marathon Bar and the people running the store realized that I should be in class, not out buying chocolate.
I asked a person to share his personal chocolate histories. I intend to look at a period of history through the perception of chocolate and what memories are connected to the chocolate in the life of this person.
To respect personal privacy I will be using fake names. I shall call him Man.
Man grew up in Southern Germany towards the latter half of World War Two and arrived in the United States in the 1960.
I interviewed Man about his own history with chocolate. I asked first about his social and economic status in Germany as a child. “We were wheat and pig farmers., we always had enough food because of our farm. My Father was a soldier in the war, first in France then Italy and all the men were gone from our village while I was growing up. I was eight at the end of the war, so i have a decent memory of that time. ”
I wanted to know what his first chocolate memory was. I must admit beforehand that I was most surprised by his answer.
“My first chocolate memory is still very vivid to me. It does not have to do actually with the actual first bit of chocolate I tasted, I would be lying if i said I remembered that moment. The point that stays with me has to do with a simple question i asked my Mother.”
” During the war My father was stationed in Paris for a while and I would go with my Mother to visit him when he had a few days break. I remember having chocolate in Paris because I had gotten lost and a French Soldier was holding my hand and as I cried and he gave me a bit of chocolate to calm me. I don’t know why but I assumed that perhaps chocolate came from France. ”
“That evening I asked my Mother if chocolate came from France and she laughed and asked about my curiosity, I explained about the French soldier and she understood my curiosity. She told me that she thought that the chocolate trees were in a far off place called Africa, a place My Father had told us about before. In Paris we were always arrived by train and then were taken to the German barracks and we never strayed from there. I was tired and had experienced a lot that day for my age, i was happy to see my Father and I did not think about Africa again until a year after the war ended. ”
I took a moment to reflect on what I was hearing. History told by a person who was really there. I asked if there was hard times in his village after the war.
“After the war things were very rough for us in our village. Many of the men did not come back from the war. My Father was held P.O.W for three years in France and My Uncle was a POW in Colorado as well. We went on as best as we could with our farm work and we did not really have a childhood like kids do today, we were more like little adults than children. I began working in the fields when i was five and i had to stop school after the 8th grade. ”
“What I remember most is that several times a month troops would come into the village and steal our food and clothing as well. We would be tied up in our root cellar while the troops stole the little that we had. American troop, British Troops and French Troops did this many times. The French Army however did something in our village that I can never forget. I had long since forgotten about chocolate and Africa, I was a growing young man and my mind was elsewhere. I remember one day the French came back and they had trucks with them, maybe 5 pretty big trucks with the cargo area covered over by cloth. ”
“We could hear people from underneath those coverings, but we just made our way home, we had all already learned to stay away from the troops when they came into the village. ”
“Two days later was Sunday ,however the French had taken over the Church and locked it and put chains around the doors and blocked the windows., We were not allowed to have mass that Sunday. I remember my mother being very upset and I asked her why.”
“She answered that the soldiers were using the Church as a jail, they had prisoners inside. This really upset her, my Mother like all the women of the village were quite religious and to see there place of worship being used in that manner was very upsetting. ”
As I listened to the story of this 80 year old German immigrant, I was very interested ,however I was starting to think that he had forgotten the “chocolate theme” of my interview.
“That night we heard what sounded like wild boars rustling around outside. We were all familiar with this sound as it was not an uncommon occurrence to hear the boars rooting around at night. This time however the sound was different. I remember my Mother going outside to have a look and I could hear everything much louder now, my brothers and i ran outside to see what the commotion was. ”
“To the left of our house our neighbor was striking a man with a piece of wood, to get him off of My Mother, we quickly ran towards her and what i saw I can never forget. ”
“The French army had filled the church with African POW’s and they had remained unfed and unclothed for over a week. No food , no water, no clothing. This was meant as a punishment for the German village in which I lived in. The idea was to turn these African POWs into madmen by depriving them of food and water and then letting them run loose on our village.”
“That was the first time I had every seen a person that was not white. Thanks to the idiocy of war, my first time seeing an African man was as he was running for his life,naked and beaten” I have never forgotten that image.
“As we ran through the village trying to understand what was happening, we heard someone say they were Africans and all I could think of was chocolate. My memory ran back to the moment in Paris when I asked my Mother where chocolate came from. ”
“My taste for chocolate died that night along with any innocence of youth that I might have had left. All I knew about Africa was that chocolate came from there and my young mind associated the hell of that night with chocolate for me. The fear in the faces of those African men has never really left me.”
I did not expect the story to end this way. I sat there across from this 80 year old man, who i could tell was reliving this horrible episode of life in his mind. Somehow, chocolate remained as a trigger for him throughout the years. He would still eat it perhaps if it where on a cake at a social gathering or something like that, however he told me that for him chocolate is forever associated with that night in his village when he witnessed the horrors of man, firsthand.
A short time after this interview i found some WW 2 propaganda online that used chocolate in a very devious way. The power of chocolate was obviously known to the powers that be during the World War. Not only was it used to sweeten up the people that the soldiers would come cross
it was also a good source for death and destruction, under wraps.
The German Army created a “chocolate bomb”
“In the years after World War II ended, Berlin became a divided city within a divided country. In 1948, when the Soviets attempted to cut off Western access to West Berlin, which was located deep i
nside Soviet-controlled East Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom started a year-long initiative to airdrop food to West Berliners. That was the Berlin Candy Bomber’s moment to shine.”(Eschner)
The American side in World War 2 certainly knew how to use their chocolate to their advantage. Here is an account from a U.S Service man about the importance of chocolate to him in World War 2.
“Harlan Thomas Kennedy, a veteran of World War II, used to share memories of eating chocolate on the battlefront. Growing up in a poor mining family in western Kentucky during the Great Depression, my grandfather hardly had much chocolate until his time in the army. While in the 82nd Airborne Division fighting in Belgium and the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden, he received field rations, a most spartan variant being the K-ration. These rations each included a chocolate bar!”(americanhistory.si.edu)
“Hershey Chocolate Corporation’s involvement with the production of military ration bars began when Captain Paul Logan, from the office of U.S. Army Quartermaster General, met with William Murrie, President, Hershey Chocolate Corporation and Sam Hinkle, Chief Chemist, in April 1937. This initial visit started the experimental production of a ration bar which was to meet the needs of soldiers involved in a global war.” (HersheyArchives)
The following is an account given by a British survivor of WW2
“When sweets first went on ration, my father put away some Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate in the loft and when the war ended he forked it out for us as a treat but we could barely eat it, it was so awfully sweet. We had become accustomed to wartime “blended” chocolate which I suppose was half-way between milk and plain chocolate”(http://www.bbc.co.uk)
In conclusion I found it very interesting how chocolate played different roles for different people during World War two. For the German Man I interviewed it is a bitter memory, for the American serviceman fighting, perhaps it was a bit of home on the battlefield and for the people suffering the war as civilians, it was a bit of heaven. Chocolate continues to play an important role in our world history as well as our gastronomic future.
Eschner, Kat. “The Sweet Story of the Berlin Candy Bomber.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Instituti6.on, 10 Oct. 2017, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/sweet-story-berlin-candy-bomber-180965156/#GqIyOr4YZ5slyqc1.99.
“Hershey Community Archives | Test Template.” Hershey Community Archives | Hershey’s Milk Chocolate: Bar Wrappers over the Years, http://www.hersheyarchives.org/essay/details.aspx?EssayId=2.
WW2 People’s War – Chocolate.” BBC, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/83/a4399383.shtml