Lecture By Dr. Taras Hunczak, Professor of History
and Political Science, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ
Lecture Delivered at Rider University, Lawrenceville, NJ
October 15, 2003
The Western World, having experienced the Renaissance of Humanism, which
freed the individual from the Medieval spirit of conformity and, building
upon that experience, proceeded to establish the principle of the natural
rights of man in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries ending the quest
for individual and national freedom in the era of Romanticism of the 19th
century, was entering the 20th century with great expectations.
Unfortunately, the 20th century witnessed great disappointments, tragedies
and bloodshed the likes of which the world had never seen before.
There were two World Wars, which cost humanity millions of lives and a waste
of great resources. Even worse, totalitarian regimes were created which
destroyed millions of innocent lives. It is they, the Nazis and Communists,
who pursued the policy of ruthless oppression, which was accompanied by a
policy of genocide.
J. Stalin. This Should Not Happen Again
Poster by Yevhen Luniov
(Click on images to enlarge them)
What a sad and tragic picture for humanity the 20th century represents when
we consider the mass killings of the Armenian people or the long lines of
Jews and Gypsies escorted by the Nazis to the execution places. Holocaust
is not just history, it is a tragedy which forever should remain a part of
our consciousness-it is part of me since I witnessed it. Equally tragic was
the genocide perpetrated against the Ukrainian people by means of artificial
famine of 1932-33 in which anywhere from 7 to 10 million people perished.
The immediate origins of the tragedy could be found in Stalin's program of
"Socialism in one country", which called for economic transformation of the
country, particularly of the countryside. What Stalin inaugurated was, in
effect, a war on the Ukrainian villages by introducing a policy of
collective agriculture, which was to replace individual farming.
The objective was obvious-Stalin wanted to make individual farmers hostages
of the communist regime expecting, in his own words, "to establish a system
whereby the collective farmers would deliver, under penalty, to the state
and the co-operative organizations the entirety of their marketable grain."
The policy of collectivization was officially announced in November 1929.
Practically it meant that the individual farmers were to surrender their
land, their livestock and farming implements to the collective farms. An
essential component of forced collectivization was Stalin's policy of
"liquidation of the Kulaks [wealthy farmers] as a class" since they were,
according to the communist propaganda, exploiters of the working class.
This policy involved confiscation of property of the well-to-do farmers and
their elimination as members of village communities.
Between January and March 1930 some 61,887 farms were taken over. Those who
protested were executed on the spot, some were sent to concentration camps,
many families were sent to Siberia where they were dumped often without food
or shelter. Many did not survive! Some were just ordered to leave their
districts. Of the more than 1 million Ukrainian farmers expropriated in the
early 1930's, about 850,000 were deported in freight trains to the Russian
By the Chumak Road of the Thirty Seventh
Poster by B. Boyko
COLLECTIVIZATION WAS PURSUED
In the meantime collectivization was pursued encompassing all other farmers,
regardless of their status. In response, farmers rebelled in most regions
of Ukraine. But the farmers were no match for the army and the secret
police who were sent against them. Now collectivization was carried out by
force-according to one report, the homes of the middle, and even poor
peasants, were destroyed in the middle of the night and the peasants were
forced, at gunpoint, to join collective farms. Confiscated property was
often stolen by urban party activists, while militia roamed the village
streets arresting anyone in sight.
The terrible conditions created artificially in the Ukrainian agriculture,
complicated by a drought, did not, however, cause the famine in Ukraine.
After all, even Stalin stated that "the total yield of grain in 1932 was
larger than in 1931". The famine was caused by Stalinist draconian
requisition quotas imposed on Ukraine forcing the devastated villages of the
country to deliver millions of tons of grain for the state. Since the
farmers could not meet the quotas, Moscow ordered that some 12,000 special
brigades be sent to the villages in order to collect the "hidden" food
Overlooking Stalin's ruthless policy of grain procurement were his closest
henchmen Viacheslav Molotov and Lazar Kaganovich, who traveled through the
plundered villages giving directions how to rob the starving population.
Their orders were effectively executed by the local collaborators who,
together with the members of the special brigade and party activists, went
from house to house searching for hidden grain and other food even taking
the last loaf of bread that was on the table. As a result, already in 1932
people were dying of hunger.
"ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE"
But Stalin was not moved. He issued an order to "develop the grain
procurement campaign.and speed it up. The first commandment is-fulfill the
grain procurements." On August 7, 1932 a law was passed, personally edited
by Stalin, concerning the protection of socialist property, a law, which the
people called "five wheat-ear" law.
Since the famine was raging in the countryside, people went to the fields
gathering ears of grain, that was left behind after the harvest, in order to
survive. According to Stalin's law, anyone who gleaned an ear of grain or
bit the root off a sugar beet was to be considered an enemy of the people
subject to execution or imprisonment for 10 years. Accordingly, in the
beginning of 1933 some 54,645 people were tried and condemned, of those
2,000 were executed.
The famine raging in Ukraine, in the ethnic-Ukrainian region of northern
Caucasus and in the region of lower Volga River in 1932 reached its high
point in 1933. It has been estimated that already in the beginning of the
year a family of five had about 170 pounds of grain to last it until the
next harvest. In other words, each member of the family had to survive on
about 4 lbs. a month. "Lacking bread, people ate pets, rats, bark, leaves,
tree bark and garbage from the well-provisioned kitchens of party members.
The Great Breakthrough, 1929
Poster by Oleksandr Makarenko, 1988
There were numerous cases of cannibalism. According to a Soviet author, "
the first who died were the men. Later on the children. And the last of
all, the women. But before they died, people often lost their senses and
ceased to be human beings."(Conquest 245).
There are many witness accounts of the genocide in Ukraine. Whiting
Williams, a British journalist, published in the journal Answers in 1934 an
account about his painful personal experience. He wrote: "Once I saw with
my own eyes the victims of famine. Men and women were literally dying of
hunger in the gutter.They ("wild children") sat in the streets, their eyes
glazed with despair and privation, begging as I have never seen anyone beg
before.There was one youngster I saw in Kharkov. Half-naked, he sunk,
exhausted, on the carriage-way, with the curbstone as a pillow, and his
pipe-stem legs sprawled out, regardless of danger from passing wheels.
Another-boy of 8 or 9 -was sitting among debris of a street market, picking
eggshells out of dirt and examining them with heartbreaking minuteness in
the hope of finding a scrap of food still sticking to them.There were hordes
of those wild children in all the towns. They live and die like animals."
It might be interesting to note that the communist party did not want the
farmers to leave the villages and for that reason new passports were issued
without which one had no right to be in the city. But the passports were
not given to the people in the villages. Hence, they were like the serfs of
the 19th century or hostages of modern times. All that was left for them,
was to starve to death in their villages.And they were starving.dying by the
millions while the Soviet government was selling in 1932 and 1933 1.73 and
1.63 million metric tons of grain on the western markets and the Western
liberals, such as Bernard Shaw, or the New York Times correspondent Walter
Duranty were praising Stalin for the great progress that the Soviet Union
In his report of March 31, 1933 Duranty went so far as to say that "there
is no actual starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due
to malnutrition". And yet, he knew the truth. In a conversation on
September 26, 1933 with William Strang, the British consul in Moscow,
Duranty said "that as many as 10 million people may have died directly or
indirectly from the lack of food".
We should note that for his reports, which deceived the American people,
Walter Duranty was awarded by the New York Times the Pulitzer Prize.
Among Stalin's American defense team one finds also Maurice Hindus and
novelist Upton Sinclair for whom "revolution" justified even famine.
As the famine escalated so did the government accusation of the farmers of
sabotage with political overtones, which was gradually transformed into
nationalism. The question arises-why accuse the starving peasants of
nationalism? Was it just a convenient phrase, or was there a purpose behind
I think that the answer can be found in Stalin's concern with the rather
remarkable sense of independence of the Ukrainian elite, particularly
of such individuals, as Mykola Khvyliovyi, Mykola Skrypnyk, Oleksander
Shumskyi and many others who, while communists, defended Ukrainian
independence. To crush the sense of independence of the political elite
Stalin had to destroy the source of their strength. That source was the
Stalin understood the problem. He stated it clearly in his "Marxism and
the National-Colonial Question" where he wrote:
Farmers present by themselves the basic force
of the national movement. Without farmers there
can be no strong national movement. This is what
we mean when we say that the nationalist question
is, actually, the farmers' question.
Following Stalin's line of reasoning, his objective in the ruthless pursuit
of famine becomes quite obvious-destroy the village, its infrastructure, and
the farmers and you have destroyed the political aspirations of the nation.
Stalin's concern with Ukraine is clearly stated in his letter of September
11, 1932 to Kaganovich in which he states that ".at this point the question
of Ukraine is the most important. The situation in Ukraine is very bad..If
we don't take steps now to improve the situation, we may loose Ukraine. The
objective should be to transform Ukraine, in the shortest period of time,
into a real fortress of the USSR." (Shapoval,pp.160-161)
THE REAL OBJECTIVE
That the real objective of Stalin's policy was political is clearly stated
in 1933 by one of his lieutenants Mendel Khataevich, who was one of the
individuals in charge of the grain-procurement program, who stated proudly:
A ruthless struggle is going on between the peasantry and our government.
It's a struggle to the death. This year was a test of our strength and
their endurance. It took a famine to show them who is the master here. It
has cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay.
We have won the war.
The above statement is reinforced by Pavlo Postyshev, who was sent from
Moscow to Ukraine at the end of 1932 and was given by Stalin's dictatorial
powers in order to implement his policies. At the November (1933) meeting
of the Central Committee of the Communist Party Postyshev reported: "Under
the direct leadership and directions of the Central Committee of the
Communist Party and personally of comrade Stalin we smashed the Ukrainian
In his report Postyshev is really referring to the destruction of the
Ukrainian national renaissance of the 1920's. What is noteworthy is that
Khataevych and Postyshev say nothing about their success in grain
but they report with pride about their victory over the Ukrainian people.
From the above statement it should be obvious that the purpose of famine,
which destroyed the villages and the entire social structure together with
millions of innocent victims, was, as stated by Khataevych and Postyshev, to
establish the mastery of the communist regime, at whatever cost. The
famine, therefore, was an instrument of GENOCIDE by other means.
The Hunczak lecture was sponsored at Rider University as a community
lecture by the Julius and Dororthy Koppelman Holocaust/Genocide
Dr. Hunczak was chairman of the Rutgers University history department
and director of the university's East European Studies Program. He
is the author of numerious articles and several books about Ukraine's
history and politics.
The lecture is published by the www.ArtUkraine.com Information
Service (ARTUIS) with the permission of the author. The lecture
was also published in The Ukrainian Weekly, Parsippinany, New
Jersey, on Sunday, November 2, 2003.
FOR PERSONAL AND ACADEMIC USE ONLY