Ration D Bar
Memorial Day recalls the tangible and serious sacrifices made by members of the US military. Chocolate has played a part in that here, as well as in Israel and Britain. When I came across these stories as I was researching On the Chocolate Trail, I was surprised at how important chocolate was for both emotional and physical sustenance in the military.
For instance in the Colonial period in North America, military chaplains were rationed a certain amount of chocolate, among other items: “Chaplain of a brigade shall be entitled to draw only six galons of Rum, either four pounds of Coffee or Chocolate … monthly.”
During World War II the U. S. military also put chocolate to good use in rations. Hershey developed its Ration D Bar to very clear specifications at the government’s request. These bars needed to be nutritious, portable, and temperature resistant, yet not so appealing that soldiers would devour them as snacks.18 The final ingredients included chocolate mass, sugar, skim milk powder, cocoa butter, oat flour, and vanillin. Sugar quantities were decreased and chocolate mass increased to give the bar a less pleasing taste than normal chocolate bars. The formula created a heavy paste that had to be pressed rather than poured into molds. A four-ounce bar contained six hundred calories. The original formula and shape of the ration bar were altered slightly when thiamine hydrochloride was added as a source of vitamin B1 to prevent beriberi, a disease likely to be encountered by troops in the tropics.
The calories and nutrition from chocolate also smoothed moments of liberation. Soldier Harry J. Herder Jr. connected with a very young survivor through chocolate at the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp. Herder pulled a chocolate bar out of his pocket, but the child had no recognition of what it was. While the child practiced the pronunciation “candy” and “chocolate,” Herder removed the chocolate wrapper. As he watched the youngster’s puzzlement, Herder realized that he had probably never tasted chocolate! Herder showed him how to break off a piece, put it in his mouth, and chew it. He slowly ate the entire bar “with wonderment” in his eyes. They drank hot cocoa from Herder’s K rations. At the end of his tour, Herder emptied his pockets of all of his candy bars for his new friend.
Survivor Mike Jacobs tasted his first Hershey bar at the liberation of Mauthausen Concentration Camp by American soldiers. Born in Konin, Poland, and named Mendel Jakubowicz, he was nineteen and a half years old and weighed seventy pounds in 1945. Having been sent to Mauthausen when Auschwitz was evacuated, he saw tanks approaching the camp and wondered why the Germans had switched the customary swastika to a star. Hours later, more star-studded tanks arrived, and a soldier tossed him a little package. “I grabbed it and run [sic] into the barracks and say, ‘Hey, guys, look—I got a bar of chocolate. And can you imagine! The name of the chocolate is Hershel!’ [Hershel is a common Yiddish name.] I didn’t read the wrapper properly, so the first American food I eat is a Hershel bar.”
I take this moment now to salute our American soldiers and their sense of duty and the chocolate that fueled them.
More about military, refugee and survivor chocolate in may be found in On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao.