The Great Starvation Experiment: The Heroic Men Who Starved so That Millions Could Live

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The University of Minnesota played an important - and little remembered - contribution to understanding some of the effects of war/starvation/malnutrition. As the Libraries' Shoah transcripts/interviews clearly show, WW2 Nazi atrocities included the imprisonment, starvation and killing of millions of peoples deemed unworthy of living - from people with disabilities to Jews, gypsies, GLBTQ and freedom fighters from various countries being overrun by the Axis countries.


Over 400 men volunteered to participate in the study in 1944 as an alternative to military service; of these, about 40 white males, ages 22 to 33 years old were finally selected; over half were members of historically peace churches (Society of Friends, Brethren and Mennonites). They were carefully monitored physically and psychologically in an effort to learn more about the body and mind under this type of distress. One of their key findings was that many of the profound social and psychological effects of these disorders may result from undernutrition, and recovery depends on physical re-nourishment as well as psychological treatment.


The Minnesota Starvation Experiment published a two-volume research report of the impact of the studies in 1950 and has been the subject of other research and books over the years. These volunteers and researchers work not only helped in the post-war efforts but are often cited even today in helping better understand such contemporary eating disorders.


Another interesting way in which the University of Minnesota helped in the war effort right here on campus. Our University Archives units have records, pictures, yearbooks and other key materials that cover the entire history of our university from the Civil War until today. You might want to check out their website here.

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