The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


By Prof. James Mace
THE DAY, Culture Page
Kyiv, Ukraine, November 29, 2001

Photo By Mykola LAZARENKO, The Day

What would we know about the Holocaust, had Hitler won the Second World War? It is impossible to know with absolute certainty, of course, what would have happened in the wake of something that did not happen, but there are clues that can be drawn from analogous things that did. In all probability, the verbal fig leaf of “resettlement to the East” as the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” would be largely accepted, and the Holocaust would be no more a part of most people’s consciousness of the twentieth century than was the Ukrainian Manmade Famine of 1932-33 as long as the USSR endured.

There would be books of memoirs, of course, some scholarly studies based on what could be gleaned from open sources, underutilized diplomatic and intelligence reports in the archives of the United States and Britain, along with Jewish zealots running around historical congresses saying something perceived as unintelligible, unsubstantiated allegations based on biased interpretation of the evidence, just as most Western scholars of the former Soviet Union perceive work on Ukraine’s Holodomor. It would be an open secret for a certain generation of the Reich, of course, but in a totalitarian society one knows what one can and cannot discuss openly. Nietzsche once said that we need an art of forgetting. The Ukrainian Famine shows that when convenient, it is an art easily mastered.

Journalists and scholars, when confronted by mighty and victorious closed societies with the carrot of the almighty visa and access to even limited information they can use along with the stick of expulsion and denial of official access, have often opted to go along, to write what is “necessary” to get what they want in order to further their careers, to actively assist in discrediting the unbending — or perhaps simply naive — few who seek honestly to find the truth, analyze it as best they can, and show something too incredible to be believed. It happened with the Ukrainian Famine both at the time and later to me; it would surely also have happened with a victorious Nazi Germany dominating much of the world and for that reason an object of the unquenchable thirst for information bred of the resultant mixture of unquenchable curiosity, admiration, and fear. Even a little over decade ago this remained for the Soviet Union, still remains for some, and would surely have remained for a fascist Germany dominating what the postwar Soviet Union did west of the current Russian Federation.

The story of the famine in Ukraine and the North Caucasus broke in the English language press in March 1933 when Gareth Jones, a reporter for the Manchester Guardian and soon thereafter Malcolm Muggeridge, writing for the same paper, traveled separately to Ukraine reported on what they saw. Moscow quickly forbid journalists from traveling there. In response, two American correspondents, Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Duranty of the New York Times and Louis Fischer of The Nation , the latter out of conviction and the former out of simple opportunism, took the lead in denying any such thing as a famine in Ukraine. Duranty was the most famous American foreign correspondent of his day, but his moral flexibility is clear from the fact that when he visited the US Embassy in Berlin to get his passport renewed in 1931, he told the consul that in agreement with the Soviet authorities and The New York Times, his dispatches reflected “the official point of view of the Soviet government” and not his own. When the Jones story broke, Duranty immediately wrote a dispatch claiming that the Englishman had concocted a “big scare story” and resorted to such formulas as in one report with the title, “Russians Hungry But Not Starving.” Fischer, a young radical who later changed his views, blamed any hardship that might exist on rural “wreckers” who had contaminated whole villages and this forced the authorities to deport such malefactors to lumber camps. On an American lecture tour when the Jones story broke, he stated emphatically, “There is no starvation in Russia.”

In his memoirs, Assignment in Utopia, United Press Moscow correspondent Eugene Lyons called the “containment” of the Jones story “the whole shabby episode of our failure to report honestly on the Russian famine of 1932-33.” He recalled how Soviet censor Konstantin Umansky met with the American press corps in a reporter’s hotel room, knowing the reporters were all eager to cover the Metropolitan-Vickers show trial of British engineers.

Photo from "Ukraine: Milestones of History", Kyiv, 2OO1


“He could afford to be gracious,” Lyons wrote. “Forced by competitive journalism to jockey for the inside track with officials, it would have been professional suicide to make an issue of the famine at this particular time. There was much bargaining in a spirit of gentlemanly give-and- take, under the efflulgence of Umansky’s gilded smile, before a formula of denial was worked out.

“We admitted enough to soothe our consciences, but in round-about phrases that damned Jones as a liar. The filthy business being disposed of, someone ordered vodka and zakuski, Umansky joined in the celebration, and the party did not break up until the early morning hours” (p. 572).

Photo From The Famine in Soviet Ukraine 1932-1933, Harvard, 1986

Western governments also knew perfectly well what happened, and collections of dispatches from the British and German archives have been published. When I was staff director of the US Commission on the Ukraine Famine, I worked with documents from the National Archives of the United States. Emigre German Mennonites were the first to address officials, followed by Ukrainian-Americans and Canadians. The head of the Mennonite Central Committee, Dr. P. C. Hiebert, even prevailed upon Senator Arthur Capper to raise the matter with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in turn promised to take up the matter with the secretary of state. The latter Cordell Hull gave an icy reply: “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.” The State Department itself worked out a standard answer of its own, repeated many times, reiterating essentially the same formula. In response to an inquiry to American diplomats abroad, in October 1933 it received a reply from the US Embassy to Greece stating that diplomats from other countries who had been posted to the USSR confirmed the famine’s existence. The following month, the USA extended diplomatic recognition to the USSR.

The best information seems to have been in the possession of Italy, which had a consulate in the Ukrainian SSR capital. These documents, with underlining from the famous blue pencil of Benito Mussolini, were discovered by representatives of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Rome, and my commission published a number of them in English in our 1988 Report to Congress. Perhaps the most interesting, albeit containing certain inaccuracies and anti-Semitic undertones, was dated May 31, 1933: “RE: THE FAMINE AND THE UKRAINIAN QUESTION.” According to Consul Gradenigo, there was no doubt that the famine was artificial, designed to “change the ethnic material in Ukraine,” and intended to solve the “Ukrainian problem” once and for all.

If the world stood silent before this final solution, is it so strange that it did likewise during another that took place a decade later during World War II?

No. 33, November, 20, 2001, THE DAY, Kyiv, Ukraine