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Ersatz good

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An ersatz good (German: [ɛɐ̯ˈzats] ) is a substitute good, especially one that is considered inferior to the good it replaces.[1] It has particular connotations of wartime usage.



Ersatz is a German word meaning substitute or replacement.[2] Although it is used as an adjective in English, it is a noun in German. In German orthography noun phrases formed are usually represented as a single word, forming compound nouns such as Ersatzteile ("spare parts") or Ersatzspieler ("substitute player"). While ersatz in English generally means that the substitution is of unsatisfactory or inferior quality compared with the "real thing", in German, there is no such implication: e.g., Ersatzteile 'spare parts' is a technical expression without any implication about quality, Kaffeeersatz 'coffee substitute' is a drink from something other than coffee beans, and Ersatzzug 'replacement train' performs a comparable service. The term for inferior substitute in German would be Surrogat, which is cognate to the English word "surrogate".

Historical examples


World War I


In the opening months of World War I, replacement troops for battle-depleted German infantry units were drawn from lesser-trained Ersatz Corps, which were less effective than the troops they replaced.

Advertisement for ersatz coffee (containing some coffee beans) in 1926

Another example of the word's usage in Germany exists in the German naval construction programs at the beginning of the 20th century. In this context, the phrasing "Ersatz (ship name)" indicates that a new, larger or more capable ship was a replacement for an ageing or lost vessel. Because German practice was not to reveal the name of a new ship until its launch, this meant that the ship was known by its "Ersatz (ship name)" throughout its construction. At the end of World War I, the last three ships of the planned Mackensen class of battlecruisers were redesigned and initially known simply as the Ersatz Yorck class, since the first ship was considered to be a replacement for the lost armored cruiser Yorck.

The Allied naval blockade of Germany limited maritime commerce with Germany, forcing Germany and Austria-Hungary to develop substitutes for products such as chemical compounds and provisions. More than 11,000 ersatz products were sold in Germany during the war. Patents for ersatz products were granted for 6000 varieties of beer, wine and lemonade; 1000 kinds of soup cubes; 837 types of sausage and 511 assortments of coffee.[3]

Ersatz bread from World War I on display at the Imperial War Museum in London

Ersatz products developed in Germany and Austria-Hungary during this time included:[4]

Germany also stretched its supply of petrol with 'gasohol' (Benzolspiritus), which by today's standards would be classed as E25 petrol, consisting of 75% petrol and 25% distilled alcohol, likely ethanol.[citation needed]

World War II


In World War II, Ersatzbrot (substitute bread) made of potato starch, frequently stretched with extenders such as sawdust, was furnished to soldiers as Kommissbrot, a dark German bread baked from rye and other flours used for military rations,[5][6] and also to prisoners of war.[7][8][9] One recipe discovered in the Food Providing Ministry in Berlin, labeled "(Top Secret) Berlin 24.X1 1941", contained 50% bruised rye grain, 20% sliced sugar beets, 20% "tree flour" (sawdust), and 10% minced leaves and straw.[7]

Ersatz food from the siege of Leningrad, made from goose-foot seed and bran, and fried in mineral oil

During the siege of Leningrad, its citizens were given ersatz flour instead of actual wheat flour (of which there was an extremely limited supply then) by the Soviet authorities. The lack of proper food with any nutrition meant that the city residents not only starved but became vulnerable to deadly illnesses and diseases (such as dysentery) owing to their weakened physical conditions.[10] As a result, the word ersatz entered as a pejorative into Russian and other Slavic languages.

In Britain, this was additionally popularised as an adjective from the experiences of thousands of U.S., British, and other English-speaking combat personnel, primarily airmen, who were captured in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. These Allied prisoners of war were given ersatz goods such as Ersatzkaffee, an inferior Getreidekaffee or "grain coffee" as a coffee substitute by their German captors.

Eastern Bloc


In the Eastern Bloc, many agricultural goods could not be produced domestically, such as tea, coffee, nuts, and citrus fruits. These were generally imported from abroad with scarce foreign currency reserves, or inferior substitutes were produced domestically. In 1977, the East German coffee crisis resulted in the introduction of many coffee substitutes, which were generally rejected by the population. Replacements for orangeat and succade were made from candied carrot and unripe tomatoes.[11]



A study of conditions in the Southern United States during the United States Civil War is called Ersatz in the Confederacy.[12]



When presented with a choice of ersatz, one tends to prefer the generic version of the name brand rather than an entirely different product. Specifically one that most closely resembles the original and meets the same goal.

For instance, a person who desires a gourmet chocolate is more likely to choose another, less expensive chocolate as a substitute than a different kind of dessert or snack. Because such "within-category" substitutes are easier to compare to the desired good, however, those that are inferior are less effective than "cross-category" substitutes that fulfill the same goal. People are more able to notice their inferiority during consumption, which leads them to be less satisfying than goal-derived substitutes from different taxonomic categories.[13]

During the First World War in Germany and Austria-Hungary, people succumbed to sickness from the consumption of ersatz goods. In Austria, the term "Vienna sickness" was coined after malnutrition from was linked to a cause of the tuberculosis epidemic (10,000 reported cases).[14]

In Germany, Princess Blücher suffered from influenza in 1916, suggesting that she was suffering from "ersatz illness". She writes: "everyone is feeling ill from too many chemicals in the hotel food. I don't believe that Germany will ever be starved out, but she will be poisoned out first with these substitutes."[15]

See also



  1. ^ Mises, Ludwig von (1949). "War and Autarky". Human Action. A substitute is a good which is either less suitable or more expensive or both less suitable and more expensive than the proper good which it is designed to replace.
  2. ^ "Ersatz - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Merriam-webster.com. 2012-08-31. Retrieved 2013-08-18.
  3. ^ Luders, Marie-Elisabeth (1936). Das unbekannte Heer. Frauen kampfen fur Deutschland 1914-1918. Berlin: E.S. Mittler & Sohn. p. 122.
  4. ^ Herwig, Holger H (1997). The First World War Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918. London: Arnold. pp. 256, 257, 275–6, 288–9. ISBN 0340677538.
  5. ^ Ganse, Alexander (15 February 2002). "War Economies". History of the Economy. World History at KMLA. Retrieved 1 September 2011.
  6. ^ "Medicine: Feeding the Reichswehr". Time. 28 July 1941. Archived from the original on June 24, 2010. Retrieved 1 September 2011.
  7. ^ a b Akita, Stanley. "Life at Stalag VII A". The Hawai'i Nisei Story: Americans of Japanese Ancestry During WWII. University of Hawaii. Archived from the original on 13 June 2007. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  8. ^ Sumner, Judith (2019). Plants Go to War: A Botanical History of World War II. McFarland. p. 297. ISBN 978-1476676128. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  9. ^ Ossad, Steve. "The Liberation of Nordhausen Concentration Camp". Warfare History Network. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  10. ^ Simmons, Cynthia; Perlina, Nina (2005-01-19). Writing The Siege Of Leningrad: Women's Diaries, Memoirs, and Documentary Prose (Pitt Series in Russian and East European Studies) (1st ed.). University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 97. ISBN 0822958694.
  11. ^ "Geheimsache Süßtafel". Der Spiegel (in German). 22 April 1991. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  12. ^ Massey, Mary Elizabeth (1952). Ersatz in the Confederacy: Shortages and Substitutes on the Southern Homefront. University of South Carolina.
  13. ^ Huh, Young Eun; Vosgerau, Joachim; Morewedge, Carey K. (2016-06-01). "More Similar but Less Satisfying Comparing Preferences for and the Efficacy of Within- and Cross-Category Substitutes for Food". Psychological Science. 27 (6): 894–903. doi:10.1177/0956797616640705. ISSN 0956-7976. PMID 27142460. S2CID 4829178.
  14. ^ May, Arthur J (1966). The Passing of the Hapsburg Monarchy 1914-1918. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 287–9.
  15. ^ Princess Blucher, Evelyn (1920). An English Wife in Berlin: A Private Memoir of Events, Politics, and Daily Life in Germany throughout the War and the Social Revolution of 1918. New York: E.P. Dutton. p. 122.