The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

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H-New Humanities & Social Sciences On-Line
Michigan State University
Discussions Of Russia and Soviet History
Year 2002


Lesia Chernihivska recently sent a QUERY to the H-RUSSIA list about Ronald Vossler's important new book of original letters sent from the Germans from Russia/Ukraine to their family and friends, mostly in North and South Dakota from 1925-1937. You will find Lesia's QUERY to the H-RUSSIA list below.

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From: "Elizabeth Morrow Clark"
Sent: Saturday, April 13, 2002 3:21 PM
Subject: Ukrainian Famine: QUERY

From: Lesia Chernihivska
Sent: Friday, April 05, 2002 6:38 AM
Subject: About the new book

"We'll Meet Again in Heaven: Germans in the Soviet Union
..Write Their American Relatives: 1925-1937"
Ronald Julius Vossler
North Dakota State University Libraries
Fargo, ND, 2001


This new book is an important new primary source for those interested in studying the tragic genocidal Holodomor, the Ukrainian Famine of the 1930's.

The book contains two hundred personal letters, written by ethic German/Ukrainians living in Soviet Ukraine to their relatives in North and South Dakota. Translated from the original German into English, these letters were written over a twelve-year period, 1925-1937, and deal with collectivization, dekulakization, exile, and the murderous Famine (Holodomor) of 1932-1933, that was responsible for the deaths of at least six million people (estimates range to ten million or more), including at least a hundred and fifty thousand ethnic German-Ukrainians.

Ukrainian writer, Lev Kopelev, wrote extensively re. his participation in the collectivization/dekulakization in his book, "Education of a True Believer", as did Viktor Kravchenko in, "I Chose Freedom." A good deal of new information is available online at the Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine Gallery in the Historical Gallery of Robert Conquest's "Harvest of Despair" is the classic volume on the subject.

Is anyone currently researching this subject? I'd be interested to know how the Ukrainian Famine compares to other famines-- i.e., in scholarly and/or political discourse, its effects on children, the collective consciousness, development of public memory, propagandistic treatment of the facts. Are there any new sources of photographic/illustrative materials?

Lesia Chernihivska

Mark Tauger

-----Original Message-----
From: "Elizabeth Morrow Clark"
Sent: Sent: Tuesday, April 16, 2002 6:01 PM
Subject: Re: Ukrainian Famine(2)

Mark Tauger
Associate Professor, Dept. of History
West Virginia University
Morgantown, West Virginia

From: Mark Tauger
Sent: Tuesday, April 16, 2002 11:15 AM
Subject: Re: Ukrainian Famine: QUERY

This is in response to Lesia Chernihivska's note about the book of German letters and the reference to what she termed the "Ukrainian Famine" of the early 1930s.

I would just like to point out that I and a number of other scholars have shown conclusively that the famine of 1931-1933 was by no means limited to Ukraine, was not a "man-made" or artificial famine in the sense that she and other devotees of the Ukrainian famine argument assert, and was not a genocide in any conventional sense of the term. We have likewise shown that Mr. Conquest's book on the famine is replete with errors and inconsistencies and does not deserve to be considered a classic, but rather another expression of the Cold War.

I would recommend to Ms. Chernihivska the following publications regarding the 1931-1933 famine and some other famines as well. I will begin with my own because I believe that these most directly relate to her question.

Mark B. Tauger, "The 1932 Harvest and the Soviet Famine of 1932-1933," Slavic Review v. 50 no. 1, Spring 1991, 70-89, and my exchanges of letters with Robert Conquest over this article, Slavic Review v. 51 no. 1, 192-194 and v. 53 no. 1, 318-319.

Mark B. Tauger, Natural Disaster and Human Actions in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933, Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, no. 1506, June 2001.

These two articles show that the famine resulted directly from a famine harvest, a harvest that was much smaller than officially acknowledged, and that this small harvest was in turn the result of a complex of natural disasters that [with one small exception] no previous scholars have ever discussed or even mentioned. The foot notes in the Carl Beck Paper contain extensive citations from primary sources as well as Western and Soviet secondary works, among others by D'Ann Penner and Stephen Wheatcroft and R. W. Davies that further substantiate these points and I urge interested readers to examine those works as well.

An additional study on the issues of harvests and statistics from a comparative standpoint is Tauger, Statistical Falsification in the Soviet Union: A Comparative Case Study of Projections, Biases, and Trust. The Donald W. Treadgold Papers in Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies, no. 34, August 2001.

An additional study on the issue of shortages is R. W. Davies, S. G. Wheatcroft, and Tauger, "Soviet Grain Stocks and the Famine of 1932-1933," Slavic Review v. 54 no. 3, Fall 1995, 642-657.

Tauger, "Grain Crisis or Famine? The Ukrainian State Commission for Aid Crop Failure Vicitims and the Ukrainian Famine of 1928-1929," in Donald Raleigh, ed., Provincial Landscapes: Local Dimensions of Soviet Power, U Pitt Press, 2001. This article discusses a real Ukrainian famine that has never been mentioned in any Western study and only peripherally in one or two post-Soviet Ukrainian works.

R. W. Davies reviewed Conquest's book Harvest of Sorrow in the journal Detente, 9/10 (1987), 44-45.

Finally a large group of Western, Russian, and Asian scholars are publishing a vast collection of formerly secret Soviet documents entitled Tragediia Sovetskoi Derevni, which contains extensive evidence that this was a Soviet-wide famine. Three volumes have so far appeared, published by Rosspen, and they are obtainable through Russian-language distributors like Panorama of Russia and the Russian Publication Service.

Mark B. Tauger
Associate Professor, Dept. of History
West Virginia University
Morgantown WV 26506-6303

Grover Furr
Montclair State University

From: Grover Furr
Sent: Monday, April 15, 2002 12:09 PM

Conquest's book was sharply criticized by many Soviet scholars when it was published. The works footnoted in it show that it is not a reliable source.

A number of scholars have shown that the famine was not "man-made", and extended far beyond the Ukraine.

The best research on the Famine is by Prof. Mark Tauger. He has published several articles and monographs on the subject, including articles in Slavic Review in 1991 and, together with Davies and Wheatcroft, in 1995 as well.

His major monograph is a year old now: Natural Disaster and Human Actions in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933, Carl Beck Papers No. 1506. It's extremely thorough. Every serious student of this famine must study this excellent work.

Tauger also has an excellent, and short, readable essay in the German collection of essays critiquing the much-criticized "Black Book of Communism". That collection is: "Roter Holocaust?' Kritik des Schwartzbuchs des Kommunismus_. Hamburg: Konkret Literatur Verlag, 1998.

Tauger's essay, "War die Hungersnot in der Ukraine intendiert?" -- a question he answers firmly in the negative -- points to a comparison with a famine in the French empire in Africa in 1931-31 which, in contrast to that in the USSR, really was man-made. His reference is to an article in Revue francaise d'Histoire d'Outre-Mer. I've obtained and read this article.

This journal is held by several American libraries. But if anyone would like a copy, email me privately and I'll arrange to get you one.

I can't recall offhand whether Tauger specifically mentions it, but another famine, even more devastating and certainly "man-made", was that in Bengal in 1943-44. Professor Gideon Polya of Australia has written on this famine, as have Amartya Sen and others. One place to start is an article by Polya at the following web address:

The existence of these other man-made famines in the colonial empires of France and Great Britain are not widely discussed or even known, while that in the USSR is not only widely discussed, but erroneously said to be "man-made." No doubt this one-sidedness can be attributed to the deleterious effect of the Cold War upon scholarship.


Grover Furr Montclair State University


-----Original Message-----
From: "Elizabeth Morrow Clark"
Sent: Tuesday, April 16, 2002 6:01 PM
Subject: Re: Ukrainian Famine (2)

Kris Groberg, Curator
Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center
Moorhead, Minnesota

From: Kris Groberg
Sent: Saturday, April 13, 2002 8:29 PM
Subject: Re: Ukrainian Famine: QUERY

North Dakota State University holds the Germans from Russia Archives. I will be happy to send you the URL and the librarian's e-address if you like.

Best wishes, Kris Groberg

Kristi Groberg, Ph.D., Curator
Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center
202 First Avenue North
Moorhead, Minnesota 56561-0157, USA
office fax: 218-299-5510
office phone: 218-299-5511, ext./voice mail 226 , MSN Messenger

Wayne Chinander
University of Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas
Sent: Sunday, April 14, 2002 11:36 AM

For those studying the man-made famine there is another volume of memoirs, letters, newly cited archival material, and reminiscences that was published in Kiev in 1991 (in Ukrainian). It is "33-i golod: Narodna Kniga-Memorial/Uporiad" compiled/ edited by L.V. Kovalenko and V. A. Maniak (they also wrote the commentary). As the title indicates, it concentrates on only one year, but it also includes many contemporary photographs of the victims and the horror.

Wayne Chinander
University of Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas

Ted Gerk

-----Original Message-----
From: "Elizabeth Morrow Clark"
Sent: Wednesday, April 17, 2002 5:58 PM
Subject: Re: Ukrainian Famine

From: Ted Gerk
Sent: Tuesday, April 16, 2002 6:32 PM
Subject: RE: Ukrainian Famine (2)

I can well appreciate that there might be alternative views on the famine of the 1930's. But I am distressed by a quote used here, that is: "These two articles show that the famine resulted directly from a famine harvest, a harvest that was much smaller than officially acknowledged, and that this small harvest was in turn the result of a complex of natural disasters that [with one small exception] no previous scholars have ever discussed or even mentioned. "

I am fortunate to have in my possession letters written by my great-grandmother in 1933, from the Volga-German village of Josefstal describing the conditions in her village. She wrote these letters in January of 1933, and since Soviet authorities refused to allow aid and any money to get through, she starved to death in August of 1933. It was only in 1984 that Soviet officials were good enough to allow my grandmother to know when her parents died.

I visited in 1994 the Kotovo ZAGS and was able to get a copy of her death certificate and it was listed that she died from a disease of the stomach. An understatement to be sure.

At any rate, there are numerous letters from other Volga Germans and Germans in the Ukraine to suggest that the famine of 1933 was anything but natural phenomena.

You may have not intended that perception when you wrote your reply, but I think everyone would agree there was famine in other parts of the Soviet Union. It was exasperated by the war on the Kulaks, and the sheer nastiness of the official local response naturally gives rise to the notion that it was a targeted famine.

Eye-witness accounts for the Volga suggest that the harvest was plentiful during this time, but was taken away by Soviet officials. If that is not man-made, then what is it?

Since my family was not in the habit of promoting "anti-Soviet propaganda", I would suggest that you over simplify the problem. In many areas of Russia, including the Ukraine, Soviet officials took the grain and harvest away from the people.

Perhaps this could be called "enforced starvation" rather than man-made famine?

At any rate, at the scores of letters from the Volga, and survivors I have talked with, I would suggest that any draught intensified the famine. The people alive at the time all thought there was more than enough to eat, as, after all, they were the ones bringing in the harvest.

A further source of information would be: "The Open Wound: The Genocide of German Ethnic Minorities in Russia and the Soviet Union, 1915-1949" by Samuel D. Sinner

As well, the Nebraska State Historical Society and the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia have archival collections of organizations set up to provide relief aid to Russia for the famine in the 1920's. They also would have collections of letters featuring first-hand accounts of the famine of the 1930's. The underlying theme in these letters is all the same. Those famine deaths along the Volga were largely man-made - that is, it was enforced starvation.

Ted Gerk

Mark Tauger

----- Original Message -----
From: "Elizabeth Morrow Clark"
Sent: Tuesday, April 23, 2002 4:45 PM
Subject: Re: Ukrainian Famine

From: Mark Tauger
Sent: Thursday, April 18, 2002 10:10 AM
Subject: Re: Ukrainian Famine

This is in reply to Mr. Gerk's email below regarding the harvest in 1932. The pattern is quite consistent that memoirs assert the 1932 harvest was good, even abundant, but archival sources consistently demonstrate that the harvest was extremely poor.

This was especially the case in the Volga basin in 1931 and 1932. A severe drought struck the Volga basin [and other regions] in late spring and summer 1931. In 1932, and this is the point of my Carl Beck Paper, a complex of environmental disasters devastated harvests in the Volga basin and many other regions of the USSR.

One of the points of my research is that, according to NKZ sources, peasants [like farmers in the US, which I also document] often did not understand some of these infestations, could not detect them, and assumed that the crops were in good condition when they in fact were not. This I think explains many of the assertions in memoirs that the crops were good.

The top leadership including Stalin were poorly informed about this situation and were not convinced that these disasters were significant. These leaders believed, like these eyewitness accounts, that the 1932 harvest was good and that the peasants were withholding food from the equally starving ciites, where workers and their dependents were being cut off the rationing system and dying in much greater numbers than normal.

If workers and other urban residents were dying of starvation [and this is well documented in archival and even emigre sources], if the rationing system was issuing decreased amounts, if the procurement agencies obtained less grain from the villages after the 1932 harvest than after the 1931 or 1930 harvest, yet confiscated seed and so much else that peasants died in large numbers, in millions, how can anyone avoid the conclusion that the harvest was very small, and not enough to feed everyone in the country?

In light of this, I believe we have to approach memoirs and even letters from the period extremely cautiously , and treat them not as absolute truth but as emotional expressions of traumatized people. I write this not to minimize their suffering, but there is a substantial psychological literature on post-traumatic stress syndrome and on the effects of trauma on memory. This literature documents incontrovertibly that people's memories in such circumstances are highly unreliable. I refer interested and even skeptical readers to the writings of Elizabeth Loftus on this point. Her works have been used in numerous court cases related to historical memory, and I believe that they also apply here.

Mark B. Tauger
Dept. of History
West Virginia University

Kazaimiera J. Cottam, PhD

----- Original Message -----
From: "Elizabeth Morrow Clark"
Sent: Tuesday, April 23, 2002 4:34 PM
Subject: Re: Ukrainian famine (2)

From: kjcottam
Sent: Thursday, April 18, 2002 1:37 AM
Subject: Re: Ukrainian famine

There was nothing "natural" about this famine. It was intended to punish supposedly "affluent" Ukrainian farmers for alleged resistance to Soviet regime. I was forcibly exiled with my family to Komi ASSR and lived in 1940/41 in a minimum security camp with exiled Ukrainian families. My best friend was a young Ukrainian girl whose father starved to death as a result of this cruel and deliberate Soviet policy. He was only one of many. Literally millions starved to death in this manner. What is the point of questioning this historical truth? People like myself learned about the famine first hand, from families of the victims! --

Kazimiera J. Cottam, PhD
83-21 Midland Crescent
Nepean, ON K2H 8P6 CANADA
613-726-1596 / Fax: 613-726-3581


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