Welcome to Sending Relief to Germany: Two Families Connected by CARE. This project examines the conditions of post-WWII Europe and the work of the CARE organization in providing much needed food and supplies to the war-weary citizens of Germany and other European nations. Additionally, this site incorporates the story of two families connected by CARE. The American Benjamin family sent CARE packages to the German Mathes family beginning in 1946 and continuing well into the 1950s. Chester Benjamin of Coulee Dam, Washington learned German to communicate with Erma and Barbara, the recipients of the CARE packages. This site includes translated copies of over ten letters sent by Erma to Chester. Her letters reveal some of the conditions of post-war Germany and an individual family’s experience with CARE.
World War II officially came to an end in Europe when German leaders surrendered unconditionally on May 8, 1945. The conditions of Europe in the aftermath of World War II defy comprehension. The human costs of war, the destruction of its cities, and the complete devastation of the continents’ food supply created an international emergency on a scale so immense, it would be years before normalcy returned to the continent. Historians estimate that 35-40 million people died in Europe as a result of the second World War. Of that number, 20 million were civilians who lost their lives as a result of the bombings, disease, and starvation.
The reconstruction and rebuilding efforts took years. Meanwhile, Europeans continued to suffer the war’s effects. Strict rationing remained in effect after the war in efforts to feed starving populations. According to a 1946 report from the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, 100 million Europeans were surviving on 1,500 calories per day. In some parts of Germany, citizens subsisted on 900 calories or less per day.
In November 1945, months before the war ended, twenty-two American aid agencies came together to establish the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (CARE). The organization sent packages of food, clothing and other supplies to Europeans struggling after the war. The first packages were sent to England and France. The U.S. government allowed CARE boxes into Western Germany in February 1946.