After World War II, the U.S. army sent food supplies to Germany. There is a widespread legend that they delivered maize instead of wheat and rye because the Germans demanded "Korn" which means grain but was ambiguously translated to corn.

This is a well-known story but I only find anecdotal references like this one:

Due to the mistake of a translator who translated "Getreide" with A.E. corn, because he identified it with the German "Korn, Getreide", the United States delivered corn and cornmeal as aides to post-war Germany. Since these goods were only known as pig feed in the country, the Germans could not handle it and perceived the sending as particularly perfidious by the victorious allies.

(my own translation from German)

Did Germany in fact receive high amounts of maize and if so, is there evidence that it was due to a misunderstanding?


1 Answer 1


Yes, they did, as far as I can tell.

I was looking for references to this in German media/academic publications, but could not find much.

I could however find this article from the archives of "Die Zeit", which is a sufficiently reputable/well-researched German newspaper (i.e. not a tabloid). In the article, they quote Heinrich Johannes Diehl, Managing Director of the "Zentralausschuß der deutschen Wohlfahrtsverbände" (Central Committee of German Social Welfare Organisations) at the time, who confirms this as correct.

Als Kontaktmann zu den britischen Militärbehörden hatte Diehl mitgeholfen, das Evangelische Hilfswerk nach Kriegsende wieder aufzubauen. Im Januar 1946 traf er sich zum erstenmal mit einem Repräsentanten von Care und arbeitete dann bis in die sechziger Jahre eng mit den Amerikanern zusammen. [...] Mißverständnisse blieben da nicht aus. So geschehen, als sich der amerikanische Militärgouverneur General Clay im zweiten Nachkriegswinter für zusätzliche Lebensmitteltransporte nach Deutschland einsetzte. Die Tagesration war unter tausend Kalorien gefallen. Der General erkundigte sich, was benötigt wurde, und der deutsche Vertreter antworte ihm: "Korn". Der Übersetzer beließ es dabei. Corn aber heißt im Amerikanischen Mais, nicht Roggen und Weizen, was gewünscht wurde. [...]Das hat die Amerikanern Sympathien in Deutschland gekostet", erzählt Pastor Diehl, "frei nach dem Motto: ,Erst lassen sie uns verhungern, und dann geben sie uns Hühnerfutter.`"


As a liaison for the British military administration, Diehl had helped to rebuild the Evangelische Hilfswerk [protestant relief organization]. In 1946 he met with a Care representative for the first time, and worked closely with the Americans till the sixties. [...] Of course there were misunderstandings as well. For example, when US military governor General Clay advocated for additional food shipments to Germany in the second winter after the war. The daily rations at this time had fallen below a thousand calories. The general asked what was needed, and the German representative answered "Korn". The interpreter left the word as it was. But corn, in American English, meant a type of maize, not the requested rye or wheat. [...] "This made the US lose some favor in Germany", Pastor Diehl says, "along the lines of: 'first they let us starve, then they give us chicken feed'."

Edits that improve the translation are of course welcome.

  • 5
    It should be noted that the type of corn for human consumption is, indeed, a rare sight on German fields even today, with the vast majority of fields growing "field corn" that is good as fodder for the animals, but not for the human palate. The Germans should be forgiven for being taken aback at the sight of corn passed out as rations.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 8:25
  • 7
    Possibly an interesting linguistic note- the English word "corn" predates the new world, and originally meant the same thing as (and is derived from) German "korn", i.e. just a type of grain. The King James Bible translates grain as "corn" in several places, which looks anachronistic to modern eye. In North America, maize was called "Indian corn" and overtime "corn" came to refer exclusively to maize in North America- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maize#Names
    – Kip
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 13:05
  • 1
    In British English "corn" today still means "wheat" as often as not, depending on context. If you asked British people what "cornflakes" are made from, I suspect you'd get a very mixed bag of answers. Commented Aug 4, 2022 at 12:47

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