The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

FORGOTTEN FAMINE: The Murder of Millions Covered Up by the
Most Influential Newspaper in America, the New York Times

by Gregory Bresiger
Kew Gardens, New York
February 22, 2000


One of the forgotten famines of this bloody century had nothing to do with the failure of a crop or bad weather or a war interrupting food supplies. A deliberate famine was carried out in Ukraine by a Communist regime, killing millions of people in the winter of 1932-33, while some Westerners, most notably the New York Times, with the evidence in front of them of this crime, denied it was taking place. And yet the evil of this monstrous deed, along with other crimes of bloodthirsty Communist governments, lives on because many in the West have not learned the lessons of tyrannical governments. They continue to make excuses for despots.

This is the story of the Stalinist-made famine in the most unlikely of places, Ukraine, which was thought to be a breadbasket of the Soviet Union because it has some of the most fertile land in the world. But Ukraine's leaders, who were also Communists, didn't want to be slaves of Moscow. That was their crime in Stalin's demented way of thinking. Millions of Ukrainians - estimates range from three million to ten million - would pay with their lives.

Ukraine and the Russian Revolution

Ukraine's problems with the Soviet leaders began during the chaos of the Russian Revolution of November 1917. Ukraine, which had been a nation centuries before, formed a parliament - the Rada - and declared its independence.1 The Soviets were only able to keep the peace with Ukrainian Communists and other nationalities by promising that outlying republics like Stalin's native Georgia and Ukraine would retain their autonomy within the Soviet Union.2 Lenin, often depicted by leftist historians as a saintly leader who was unaware of Stalin's brutal nature, put Stalin in charge of handling nationalities within the Soviet Empire.

In the early days of the Soviet Union, the Communist regime wasn't strong enough yet to be the destroyer of nationalities, but Stalin was merely waiting for the chance to crush various them along with competitors for power. Stalin never forgot slights or even imagined ones.

During the Russian Civil War, Ukrainian leaders had exercised their independence by restricting the movement of the Red Army in Ukraine. After the civil war, under the New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1922 Lenin had reversed Communist economic doctrine and allowed some private property in order to save the regime. But after Lenin's death and the elimination of Trotsky as a possible successor, Stalin had complete control of the Soviet state. In 1929, Stalin ordered the forced collectivization of private farms and the extermination of the Kulaks, peasant property owners who had taken the Soviet state at its word when it pledged the protection of private property in the NEP. The state would now control the nation's grains and could use this control to punish those who didn't obey the Communist overlords. Ukrainian peasants resisted the reversal of the NEP.3 Now Stalin, as he had done in his native Georgia and in many other parts of the Soviet Union, was going to crush the dissenters in a unique way - grains including seed grains would be taken out of Ukraine. Food would not be allowed in. Famine was about to sweep Ukraine.

The government demanded outrageously high amounts of grain from Ukraine. Stalin wrote to Ukrainian officials that "No manner of deviation-regarding either amounts or deadlines set for grain deadlines-can be permitted from the plan established for your region for collecting grain from collective and private farms or for delivering grain to state farms."4 When grain quotas were not met, Soviet police and the army went through houses looking for hidden crops. Stalin drafted a law - "On the Safeguarding of State Property" - that broadly defined what collective property was. And any violation of the law was met with between ten years in prison or death.5

These draconian policies would starve millions of Ukrainians just as Stalin would punish dozens of other nationalities in the Soviet empire. It became a crime even to speak of the famine. Stalin's second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, was insulted by Stalin for mentioning the famine. She committed suicide. A Ukrainian official with the courage to confirm what was happening became the target of Stalin's wrath.

"We have been told that you, Comrade Terekhov, are a good speaker," Stalin said. "It seems that you are a good storyteller, you've made up such a fable about the famine, thinking to frighten us, but it won't work. Wouldn't it be better for you to leave the post of provincial committee secretary and the Ukrainian Central Committee, and join the Writers' Union? Then you can write your fables and fools will read them."6 Still, a few people believed "fables," but most were fooled because of a cover-up in some cases aided and abetted by Communist friends in the West.

The Shame of the New York Times

There is evidence that the British foreign office knew what was going on, but its officials thought bringing it to light might endanger relations with the Soviets.7

The newspaper of record, the mighty New York Times, was probably the biggest perpetrator of all in the famine cover-up. The New York Times, the most influential American paper with dozens of Pulitzers, did more than ignore the famine. Its man on the scene, Walter Duranty, denied it was taking place. He didn't want to risk his good relations with the Soviets8, who provided him with special favors. New York Times readers were told that there was no famine, only partial crop failures and Duranty claimed that reports of famine are "mostly bunk."9 There had been crop failures in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and Western relief efforts, headed up by Herbert Hoover, had been allowed into the country. The Soviets agreed that these efforts had saved many lives in the previous decade.

But this time the Communist regime in Moscow denied anyone was starving as millions died of hunger because Stalin was going to teach the Ukrainian Communists a lesson. However the most pathetic part of this tragedy was, and remains, the role of the New York Times, which was an essential part of the cover-up. To this day, the Times does not want to face up to its ignominious part in this needless slaughter. Duranty, a prominent New York Times bureau chief, was granted special favors by Stalin for his sweetheart coverage of the events in the "Newspaper of Record." And Duranty's credulous peers were taken in by it all. He actually won a Pulitzer prize for his work in reporting the news from Russia. Someone should inform New York Times readers - who are frequently told that the Times has won more Pulitzers than any other paper - that Pulitzer five has the blood of millions of people on it. It belonged to a man who cynically tied his fortunes to one of the great mass murders in history, a man who a biographer has called "Stalin's Apologist."10 A historian of Ukraine says that "to curry Stalin's favor, Walter Duranty, the Moscow-based reporter of the New York Times, repeatedly denied the existence of the famine (while privately estimating that about 10 million people may have starved to death)."11

"To the best of my knowledge," wrote Duranty to his editors at the height of the famine, "there is no famine anywhere, although partial crop failures [occurred] in some regions."12

And what was actually happening in Ukraine at this time? "Everywhere in the stricken area were people dying in solitude by the slow degrees, dying hideously without the excuse of sacrifice," said an eyewitness. "They had been trapped and left to starve, each in his own home, by a political decision made in a far off capital around conference and banquet tables."13. Another historian writes that "whole villages went to ruin and the once prosperous gardens and fields were abandoned to weeds."13a

How had the Times coverage of a dictator killing millions become so disgraceful? And could history repeat and ignore millions of murders? Duranty was an Englishman who helped cover World War I for the Times. Later, after his posting to Moscow, he fell in love with the Communists and ardently backed Stalin in his power struggle. Still, the calculating Duranty, rationalizing Soviet leaders in the Times in March of 1933, would write "To put it brutally - you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs," a line he would use time and again to defend Communist crimes.14

But it isn't necessary to look at the comments of Duranty's critics for a reasoned assessment of this Pulitzer Prize winner. One can go right to Duranty's patron, Joseph Stalin, for the best assessment of the Times' Duranty: "You [Duranty] have done a good job in your reporting the USSR," said Stalin in an exclusive interview with Duranty on Christmas Day 1933, "though you're not a Marxist, because you try to tell the truth about our country and to understand it and to explain it to your readers. I might say that you bet on our horse to win when others thought it had no chance and I am sure you have not lost by it."15

Stalin, unlike Castro who was eulogized by another foolish Timesman, could never say "I got my job through the New York Times." But he certainly could have said, after the Times reporting of the 30s, "I kept my job and was able to continue murdering lots of fellow citizens through the New York Times." 4)The Credulity of the Paper of the Record

The Times' editors, along with Pulitzer executives, must also go down in history as fools who should have known better. They actually wrote that Duranty's Pulitzer was for "the profundity, impartiality, sound judgment and exceptional clarity of his dispatches,"16 an incredible distortion of the truth, and one the Times has never done a thing to correct. The Times actually continues to take credit for Duranty's work to this day.

Duranty worked full-time for the Times in Russia from 1921 until 1934, when he was replaced in Moscow by Harrison Salisbury, a man who was disgusted by Duranty and his sybaritic lifestyle, which made him vulnerable to Soviet gifts. Duranty continued working for the Times on a retainer basis until 1945. Duranty was a dope addict, according to Salisbury.

How had the Times let a Communist stooge - after his Times years, he would end up working for Communist publications and writing a bestseller of his Soviet experiences, "I Write as I Please" - run a very important position? Times executives were overcompensating for a previous disaster.

The Times Gets It Wrong

During the Russia Revolution Times reporting was terrible. On several occasions the paper of record wrongly reported Lenin's death in the Civil War that followed the Russian Revolution. The Times also wrongly reported the defeat of the Soviets by the Whites, who wanted a Czarist restoration. Commentator Walter Lippmann wrote a series of articles in the New Republic exposing the shoddiness of the Times Soviet coverage. On 91 occasions between 1917 and 1919, the Times reported the Bolshevik regime had fallen, yet the Reds were still in power.17 So Duranty was sent by the Times to make up for these disasters. He took it as a mandate for coverage that was fawning. Toadying certainly paid off. Duranty's coverage won him special access to Soviet leaders and he was able to visit otherwise forbidden areas of the Soviet Union.

These Communist tyrants knew they were getting a great deal from the paper of record. How many Americans, who looked to the prestigious New York Times to learn about the world, saw the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s and concluded that Communism wasn't such a bad thing after all? It became much easier for FDR to sell Americans on the idea that the Soviet Union deserved recognition and American capital. After that, elites like Joseph Davies, FDR 's ambassador to the Soviet Union in the 1930s, continued to spout the same line. Davies was the author of the moronic "Mission to Moscow," told Americans that the Soviet Union was just another democracy. Americans, who felt good about our "wonderful" Soviet allies, were, no doubt, influenced by the Times. Davies' book was made into a World War II propaganda film that depicted Stalin as an avuncular figure and the notorious show trials as scrupulously fair.

Duranty was praised in the United States on his tour to promote I Write as I Please." This book contains not one reference to the Ukraine or the famine there. It does, however, contain many flattering references to Soviet agricultural policies and Stalin, who Duranty, was proud to say, he had predicted to win out as leader of the Soviet Union.

"It is a matter of history that the first Five-Year Plan succeeded far better than anyone expected,"18 wrote Duranty of the plan that went into effect in 1928. Duranty didn't deign to write about the human costs of the plan, about the people who paid for the plan with their lives and the tens of thousands of peasants whose land was stolen.

Benefiting from the Lies of History

The Times continues to take credit for Duranty's Pulitzer. Shouldn't the Times renounce it or make a public admission that this prize was tainted?

The Times says no.

"We aren't equipped or entitled to second guess the Pulitzer Prize committee that made the award," the paper's spokeswoman told me a few years ago. Says the Times in an ad that will be seen by unsuspecting readers: "The New York Times and members of its staff have won 73 Pulitzers, far more than any other newspaper." There, contained in the house ad that lists all prize winners, is Duranty's 1932 Pulitzer "for coverage of the news from Russia."19 The Times doesn't even think it needs to hide this sordid piece of its history.

And the Pulitzer Prize Committee? Maybe it wants to face up to the crimes of Duranty? "The Pulitzer Prize Committee has changed a lot over the years," said Seymour Topping, the administrator of the prize committee, a few years ago "But no action has been taken on the Duranty award. We don't expect to take any action." I wonder how the other winners of Pulitzer Prize feel about having a totalitarian toady in their midst? It cheapens a prize that is the goal of tens of thousands of journalists. One wonders: How many more Durantys are there at the Times or at other big publications and at the networks? If the Times can't even face up to a mistake made some 65-years ago, how can Americans trust the nation's most influential newspaper, whose stories are usually copied by broadcast outlets?

A Tragic Repeat of History

The consequences of the Times' and Duranty's cover-up contributed to other Communist tragedies. The West, in the spirit of co-existence and appeasement had hushed up what had happened in Ukraine. Communism would continue to be cleansed of its brutalities by gullible Westerners, many of whom, even if they weren't Red themselves, argued that Communism was "the wave of the future."One is reminded of Ludwig von Mises warning that even many of the opponents of socialism sound socialistic.

It would be decades until the massacre and its extent were acknowledged in the West. And in the Soviet Union, even as late as 1989, journalists wrote that the famine was caused by the resistance of Ukrainian peasants to "higher forms of cooperation."20 The most tragic part of this crime is that other dictators - seeing how successful the cover-up had been and noting how the West had few objections - would copy Stalin. Mao Zedong, a great admirer of Stalin's methods, decided he would try the same kind of massive social engineering in China in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He would punish perceived political opponents, then collectivize agriculture, deny there were any food shortages and cut off food imports at the time they were most needed. The pathbreaking book Hungry Ghosts has brilliantly detailed the grisly facts. The Times and most of the rest of the Western media also missed that famine.

Upwards of 30 million died in China. Again the famine could have been easily averted. Again, the results were hushed up for years thanks to amoral Western journalists and intellectuals such as Edgar Snow and Felix Greene of the BBC.21 Again, they would deny the whole thing just as Duranty did in the Soviet Union of the 1930s. Duranty and his prize live on in more ways than one.

But some courageous men and women have reported on these atrocities over the years - men like the Gibbon of the Soviet Empire, British historian Robert Conquest and the English writer Malcolm Muggeridge of the Guardian, among others. The latter was condemned by British socialists for his reporting of the Ukrainian slaughter.

Let History Judge

But the truth can't be denied. Tyrants like Mao and Stalin, along with their faithful servants like Duranty and the New York Times, must face the judgment of history. The judgment, even if it doesn't come in our lifetimes, will be harsh. History can be unpleasant. Better, say some, to forget or paper over the ugly parts. This article was submitted for possible use by the Times Op-Ed page or Letters to the Editor section as well as several other publications. It was quickly rejected. And why not? The imperious Times doesn't see this as a cause celebre. So the Times can keep listing the prize. Bragging about Duranty's prize is tantamount to the U.S. Army bragging about the victory at Wounded Knee or the Spanish celebrating the marvels of the Inquisition or African leaders paying tribute to the tribal chiefs who came to Britain in 1848 and pleaded with the abolitionist societies to stop the British navy, which was hunting down slave traders throughout the world, liberating tens of thousands of men and women and lowering profit margins for slave traders of all colors and races.22

The Times should admit that Duranty's Pulitzer was a mistake. There's precedent for this in the case of the Washington Post, which returned a Pulitzer as soon as it learned a story was a fraud. Saying that a paper won 72 Pulitzers is still very impressive. It's the most Pulitzers in American journalism by far. The Times has been in the forefront of demanding that politicians and nations face up to ugly chapters in their history. It demands that Germany not let its people forget about the Holocaust. It's time for the newspaper of record to live up to the standards it demands of others.

The Times should return the Pulitzer, make a public admission that Duranty's reporting was contemptible and conduct a self-examination to ensure that kow-towing to dictators will never happen again.Communist policies of forced collectivization should be exposed for what they are - human tragedies that kill millions.

Stalin, a Political Biography, Issac Deutscher, p183, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1967).
Ibid, p243.
Stalin, Breaker of Nations, Robert Conquest, p163, (New York, Penguin Books, 1991)
See Stalin's Letters to Molotov, p230, Ed. Lars T. Lih, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1995).
Conquest, Ibid.
Ibid, p165.
Ukraine, a History, (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1988) Orest Subtelny, "The British foreign office knew about the famine, but didn't want to make it public because "the Soviet government would resent it and our relations with them would be prejudiced." p416.
See S.J. Taylor's Book Stalin's Apologist; Walter Duranty, The New York Times' Man in Moscow (New York, Oxford University Press, 1990). Also see Ukraine, a History, by Orest Subtelny (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1988) p416.
Taylor, p210.
Taylor, Ibid.
Taylor, p221.
See Without Fear or Favor; an Uncompromising Look at the New York Times by Harrison E. Salisbury, p 464, (New York, Times Books, 1981) Ibid, 461.
13a. The Ukraine, a History, W.E.D. Allen, p329, (London, Cambridge. University Press, 1940)
Ukraine, p32, Taylor, 207.
Taylor, p192.
Taylor, p182.
Salisbury, pp. 461-464
I Write as I Please, p280 (New York, Simon and Shuster, 1935) See page seven of the April 14, 1996 issue of the Times Week in Review section.
Stalin, Breaker of Nations" p164.
See Hungry Ghosts, Jasper Becker, (New York, Free Press, 1996), p277. Wrote Mao's friend Edgar Snow: "I diligently searched without success for starving people or beggars to photograph. Nor did anyone else succeed...I must assert that I saw no starving people in China, nothing that looked like old-time famine and I do not believe that there is famine in China at this time." See The End of Racism, Principles for a Multiracial Society, (New York, Free Press, 1995).

Gregory Bresiger, a business writer and editor living in Kew Gardens, New York, is a columnist for He has also written for The Free Market, The Freeman and The Journal of Libertarian Studies. He works for Financial Planning and Traders magazines among others.;  Article published on: