The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

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GERMAN MENNONITES IN KANSAS RAISE THE 1933 FAMINE ISSUE
WITH THE U.S. GOVERNMENT; March-June, 1933
  

Investigation of the Ukrainian Famine 1932-1933
Report to Congress, Commission on The Ukraine Famine
April 22, 1988

 

CHAPTER 6: THE AMERICAN RESPONSE TO THE FAMINE

 

"Despite ample and timely knowledge about the man-made Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine, the US government did not publicly acknowledge what it knew or respond in any meaningful way. Similarly, a number of members of the American press actively denied in public what they confirmed in private about the famine........................

"Robert F. Kelly, chief of the State Department's Division of Eastern European Affairs from 1926 until its abolition in 1937, oversaw research and processed intelligence on the USSR. The single most important post for reliable, timely intelligence was the Russian affairs section at the US Legation in Riga, Latvia, which had monitored the Soviet Union since 1922......................................

"Among the first American groups to raise the issue of the Famine were Germans who had emigrated from the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. German colonists, Mennonites and others, were first brought to the Russian Empire by Catherine the Great and lived in Ukraine and the Volga Basin since the late 18th century.

"Many fled during the revolution, and the Germans quickly responded to pleas from those left behind. The chairman of a privately organized relief committee, the Mennonite Central Committee, P. C. Hiebert, wrote to Secretary of State Hull on March 27 (1933), making clear the urgency of the situation and announcing his intention to send a Mennonite delegation to Washington. (42) The letter was also referred to Kelly, who replied that:

"you are informed that although the Department appreciates the anxiety of American citizens whose relatives in Russia are suffering from lack of food, it is of the opinion that there are no measures which the Government may appropriately take at the present time in order to facilitate relief work being carried on in Russia. In view of this circumstance, it is believe that the sending of a delegation to Washington to discuss this matter, as suggested by you, would serve no useful purpose. (43)

"Dr. Hiebert, understandably, was not satisfied. On April 7 (1933), he wrote a similar letter directly to the President, hoping that the energy Roosevelt had shown in domestic affairs might be channeled to help Famine victims abroad. One passage was particularly urgent, "Even though America is not officially recognized by the Soviet government, IS THERE NOT SOME WAY BY WHICH IT WOULD BE POSSIBLE TO SEND FOOD TO THOUSANDS OF STARVING INNOCENT CHILDREN?" (44)

"Hiebert also prevailed upon his Senator, Arthur Capper, to write FDR on his behalf. (45) Roosevelt promised to take the matter up with the Secretary of State. (46) Secretary of State Cordell Hull answered Senator Capper:

"I can well understand the concern of the Mennonites in this country, for their relatives and friends in Russia who are suffering from lack of food. Unfortunately, there do not appear to be any measures which this Government may appropriately take at this time in order to alleviate the sufferings of these unhappy people. (47)

"The response to Hiebert, again from Kelly, stated that "there is unfortunately little to be added" to the letter of April 5:

"Although sympathy is felt for those American citizens who are so deeply concerned for their relatives and friends in Russia, there appears to be no effective measure which this Government can appropriately take at the present time for the purpose of alleviating the sufferings of persons in Russia who are in lack of food.

"Kelly included the name and address of Am-Deruta Transport Corporation which purchased foodstuffs for Soviet citizens through 'torgsin' stores. He added:

"Although the Department cannot assume any responsibility for the integrity of the organization mentioned, it is suggested that you may desire to communicate with the Am-Deruta Corporation with a view to ascertaining whether it is possible for your co-religionists to enter into satisfactory arrangements with that corporation whereby foodstuffs and other necessities may be furnished to their friends and relatives in Russia. (48)

"Hiebert's group continued to lobby on behalf of the starving. On May 20 (1933), he wrote his freshman Congressman, Randolph Carpenter, asking that he assist a Mennonite delegation coming to Washington in June. (49) Carpenter approached the White House and was referred to the Department of State. (50)

"Kelly answered that while the delegation could "serve no useful purpose if the object of its journey is to endeavor to influence this Government to intervene or to take other steps on behalf of Mennonites residing in Russia," it would be received at the State Department "with every courtesy and will be given a full opportunity to discuss with appropriate officials of the Department" any matters within the departments jurisdiction. Meeting the President, however would be "difficult, if not impossible." (51)

"Rev. Charles H. Hagus, a German Evangelical, wrote to Cordell Hull in June (1933), expressing the anxiety felt by Colorado's community of "Russian" Germans for the "untold sufferings" endured by their friends and relatives left behind. (52) Again Kelly replied:

"While sympathy is felt for the sufferings of the persons referred to, and for the anxiety of their American relatives and friends, there appear to be no effective measures which this Government can appropriately take at the present time for alleviating the conditions alluded to in your letter. (53)

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"The Man-Made Famine, given the absence of internationally recognized human rights norms and an Administration committed to closer ties with the Soviets, was seen as an internal Soviet affair, viewed with skepticism, or simply not mentioned.

"Politicians and opinion makers either turned a blind eye toward Stalin's famine out of expediency or saw sympathy for the Soviet Union as a litmus test of one's commitment to a more just society in this country.

"The tragedy is that the reality of mass starvation and collective victimization became politicized such that the question of fact concerning whether there was a famine was subordinated to the question of one's political values.

"This is ever the case when human issues are viewed through the prism of one's commitment to the Right or the Left. If there is one lesson to be learned from this tragedy, it must reside in the universality of human rights and human suffering.

"If the quest for a 'greater good' or the struggle against some 'greater evil' is seen to require a double standard of blindness toward the injustice and evil perpetrated by those who claim to be on our side of the political spectrum, the victims will always be ignored." (End of Chapter 6)


FOOTNOTES:

42. "Permit us as Mennonites of the U.S.A., to bring a plea before you in behalf of our co-religionists in Russia, who are now dying in large numbers from actual starvation. We receive thousands of letters pleading in the most pitiable manner for bread. According to testimonies verified by thousands of letters, the people are dying in large numbers for want of food. The conditions must be decidedly worse than in 1921-1922, when America carried on very extensive relief operations in that country.

"In spite of hard times our people are willing to sacrifice and send food to their brethren over the seas, but political situations in Russia make an effective relief-work impossible under present conditions.

"If you think it advisable we shall be glad to have a delegation call on you and explain conditions and situations sufficiently as to give a fair insight into the situation. I have myself been in Russia and understand conditions, therefore I am convinced that if the atrocities committed in Russia were featured by the American press as they did the treatment of Jews in Germany, the American people would be horrified.

"Prompt action will be most highly appreciated because thousands of our citizens in this country have bloodrelatives among the starving in Russia, and therefore very anxious to have the way cleared for effective relief work.

"Trusting that I may soon hear from you that the matter is taken up in the effective Rooseveltian way which the whole nation has learned to appreciate in the last few weeks, I am,

In the Name of the American Mennonites,

Very respectfully yours, (signed),"

P. C. Hiebert, Chairman, Mennonite Central Committee, Hillsboro, Kansas, to Cordell Hull, Secretary of State, March 27, 1933; 861.48/2433

43. Robert F. Kelly to P. C. Hiebert, April 5, 1933; 861.48/2433

44. P. C. Hiebert to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, April 7, 1933; 861.48/2433. Original emphasis.

45. Senator Arthur Capper to President Roosevelt, April 10, 1933; 861.48/2433

46. President Roosevelt to Senator Arthur Capper, April 14, 1933; 861.48/2433

47. Secretary of State Hull to Senator Capper, April 26, 1933; 861.48/2433

48. Robert F. Kelly to P. C. Hiebert, April 26, 1933; 861.48/2433

49. P. C. Hiebert to Rep. Randolph Carpenter, May 20, 1933; 861.404/358

50. Hon. Randolph Carter, M.C. to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, May 31, 1933; 861.404/358. Hon. Randolph Carter to State Department, June 1, 1933; 861.404/359

51. Robert F. Kelly to Hon. Randolph Carpenter, M.C., June 1, 1933; 861.4016/358

52. Charles H. Hagus, Sterling, Colorado, to Secretary of State, June 17, 1933; 861.4016/358

53. Robert F. Kelley to Reverend Charles H. Hagus, Sterling, Colorado, June 26, 1933; 861.4016/358


Material from "Investigation of the Ukrainian Famine 1932-1933, Report to Congress, Commission on The Ukraine Famine," Hon. Daniel A. Mica, M.C. (D-FL), Chairman, Dr. James E. Mace, Staff Director, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1988, Pages 161-163, 184
 
 

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