The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

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THE LAST STAND OF THE UKRAINIAN FAMINE-GENOCIDE
  

By Dr. Roman Serbyn, Professor of Russian and East European History
University of Quebec, Montreal, Canada
The Ukrainian Canadian magazine, February, 1989

 

Concluding his review of Douglas Tottle's book "Fraud, Famine and Fascism," Wilfred Szczesny writes: "Members of the general public who want to know about the famine, its extent and causes, and about the motives and techniques of those who would make this tragedy into something other than what it was will find Tottle's work invaluable." (The Ukrainian Canadian, April, 1988, p.24) In the era of glasnost, Szczesny could have rendered his readers no greater disservice.

For an editor-in-chief of a Ukrainian magazine to invite people to consult Tottle's tract is as appropriate as for a publisher of a Jewish periodical to recommend "The Hoax of the Twentieth Century" by the Holocaust denier A.R. Butz. lf in Szczesny's statement quoted above the reader substitutes "Holocaust" for "famine" and "Butz" for "Tottle", the affront to the reader's dignity in both cases will become apparent. Tottle is no more interested in discovering the truth about the forced starvation of Ukrainians than Butz about the gassing of Jews.

Tottle is a self-confessed famine-genocide denier. No longer able to negate the famine as such, Tottle questions its genocidal character. Traditional famine-denial has been updated to famine-genocide denial, but the essence of the ideological trappings is the same. Today's famine-genocide deniers are the spiritual heirs of the first famine negators, Stalin and those who helped him carry out the most heinous of crimes against the Ukrainian nation or to deny its existence.

With his book Douglas Tottle has become a sort of guru to a strange collection of latterday famine-genocide deniers. He has inspired militant articles by Jeff Coplon ("In Search of a Soviet Holocaust", Village Voice, 12 January, 1988); Wilfred Szczesny ("Fraud, Famine and Fascism", The Ukrainian Canadian, April, 1988); and Donne Flanagan ("The Ukrainian Famine: Fact or Fiction", McGill Daily, 22 November, 1988). How vile and trite is the campaign of the famine-genocide deniers should become clear from the following three examples of how Tottle practices the misdeeds of which he accuses others.

First, let us consider the photographs of the famine. Tottle latches on to them as if they were the main proof of the historicity of the tragedy and the principle argument for its classification as genocide. Tottle does this because he thinks that the photographs form a weak link in the famine-genocide story: break this link and the whole structure will collapse. Well, this is not so. The famine has a solid documentary basis (documents published in the West and in the Soviet Union) of which the photographs form a very minor (and I might add, dispensable) component. There are few photographs from the 1932-33 famine and we could hardly expect otherwise, since the totalitarian regime wanted to keep the famine hidden and took the necessary measures to ensure this.

Many more photographs have come down to us from the earlier Soviet famine of 1921-23. Some of these pictures were eventually used in connection with the second famine and this fact provided Tottle with his basic argument against the famine-genocide: photographs depicting a natural famine of 1921-22 in Russia are used as proof of man-made starvation in Ukraine in 1932-33. To make his accusation stick, Tottle resorts to a mixture of irrelevant truths, half-truths and outright lies.

Tottle constantly refers to the Russian famine of 1921-22, but never mentions the contemporaneous famine in Ukraine. Yet most of Tottle's "illustrative" material is taken from Ukraine and not Russia. On page 32, Tottle reproduces three title pages of what he describes as "publications devoted to the Russian famine of 1921-22", even though two of them deal only with Ukraine. One is "Holod na Ukraini," an excellent documentary by Ivan Herasymovych based on personal observations and containing excerpts from the Soviet Ukrainian press and a number of photographs. Tottle identifies the second text (the reduced reproduction is almost illegible to the naked eye) as "Dr. Fridjof Nansen's International Committee for Russian Relief, Information No.22, Geneva, April 30, 1922", but fails to give the title of the report contained on that page. It reads: "Famine Situation in Ukrania". With the help of a magnifying glass the reader can decipher the following revealing information about the famine conditions in Ukraine, sent by Nansen's representative from Kharkiv on 22 March, 1922:

"(N)ot before the 11th of January of this year could the goubernia of Donetz stop their obligatory relief work for the Volga district and begin to take care with all their forces of their own famine problem, at a time when already more than every tenth person in the Donetz was without bread. In the beginning of March this year, you could still see, in the famine-stricken goubernia Nicolaev (Mykolaiv), placards with 'Working masses of Nikolaev (sic), to the help of the starving Volga district!' The goubernia of Nicolaev itself had at the same time 700,000 starving people, about half the population. On my way to Ukrania I sought information in Moscow about the situation from presumably well informed persons. They told me that in Ukrania the situation was very bad, about half a million people starving. In reality the number was more than six times greater."

Further on, the envoy continues:

"The whole of the 4 goubernias of Odessa, Nicolaev, Yekaterinioslav (Katerynoslav), and Donetz, as well as the southern parts of Krementchoug, Poltava and Kharkov, are stricken by famine. Of a total population of about 16 million in these goubernias, between four and five millions are now starving, and before the new harvest the number will perhaps have risen to between six and seven millions. Almost the whole population of Ukrania is suffering to a certain extent from lack of food and all the conveniences of life, but the above mentioned millions are literally starving to death." (p.2)

In a follow-up report, dated 13 April, 1922, and reproduced in the same document, we read:

"Five million persons are now without food and probably more than ten thousand die daily of starvation... In a word, the famine has reached such dimensions and such insignificant relief is given, that the starving population loses every hope and dies." (p.30)

What Nansen's man was describing was the first man-made famine in Ukraine which lasted from 1921 to 1923 (and not 1922) and took 1.5 to 2 million lives. In spite of the drought in its southern provinces, Ukraine had enough grain to feed its population, provided the foodstuffs were kept in the country and not exported. But during these two years Soviet authorities removed enough agricultural produce from Ukraine to feed several times the population which died from hunger. Ukrainian grain was sent to Russia both years to feed the cities and the famished population on the Volga. (A severe famine was also ravaging southern Russia, especially the Volga region.) The second year it was also sold in Western Europe. Aid offered by foreign countries was accepted immediately for the Volga region but let into Ukraine only eight months later.

Since both famines in Ukraine were manmade, it was quite legitimate to use in the film Harvest of Despair photographs from the famine of the 1920's along with those of the 1930's. The weakness of the film lies not in these photographs but in the insufficient explanation the film gave of the first famine. This shortcoming has no bearing on the authenticity of the famine-genocide of the 1930's. To suggest the opposite, as Tottle, Coplon, Flannagan and Szczesny do, is to display ignorance or lack of intellectual integrity.

Second, let us see how even the great Ukrainian historian Mykhailo Hrushevsky is made to serve the famine-genocide deniers' propaganda machine. Szczesny writes:

"Tottle cites a number of historians and other writers whose works contradict the claim that the famine was a deliberate act of genocide, including Isaac Mazepa amd M. Hrushevsky, both of whom discuss the causes of the famine with no suggestion that it was a deliberate effort to destroy the Ukrainian people."

Taken at face value, Szczesny's contention sounds serious. If Ukraine's foremost historian could analyze the famine and find no deliberate action against the Ukrainian people, then surely his findings carry more weight than the claims of lesser scholars. And yet to anyone the least familiar with contemporary Ukrainian it sounds incredible that Hrushevsky should have written such things about the famine. What are the facts?

In 1941, Yale University Press published a translation of Michael Hrushevsky's "History of Ukraine." As the Ukrainian text stopped in 1905, the editor, Professor O.J. Frederiksen of Miami University (Ohio), decided to update it. Two chapters were added. One, entitled "Ukrainian Independence", covered the period 1914-1918 and was based on Hrushevsky's other writings. The second chapter, "Recent Ukraine", brought the events up to 1940; it was written by the editor from notes provided by Dr. Luke Myshuha and had nothing to do with Hrushevsky.

In the Frederiksen/Myshuha chapter references to the 1932-33 famine are very skimpy, but there are two passages (p.566) that have some bearing on the subject. Skrypnyk, the Commissar of Education in Soviet Ukraine, is reported as having "committed suicide in 1933 in protest against Soviet policies there, and in particular against the export of foodstuffs". It is also claimed that after a year of drought and chaotic agricultural conditions, "during the winter of 1932-33 a great famine, like that of 1921-22, swept across Soviet Ukraine, again costing the lives of several million men, women and children." (My emphasis - R.S.) In the next paragraph the reader learns that "Hrushevsky was arrested in 1930 and transferred from Kiev to a town near Moscow; he died on November 26, 1934, at Kislovodsk, in the northern Caucasus."

Now let us see how Tottle reconstructs these references:

"However, "A History of Ukraine" by Mikhail (sic) Hrushevsky - described by the Nationalists themselves as 'Ukraine's leading historian' - states: 'Again a year of drought coincided with chaotic agricultural conditions; and during the winter of 1932-33 a great famine, like that of 1921-1922, swept across Soviet Ukraine...' Indeed, nowhere does History of Ukraine claim a deliberate, man-made famine against Ukrainians and more space is actually devoted to the famine of 1921-22." (p.91)

Tottle then adds laconically that Hrushevsky's was published posthumously in 1941 and that it was updated to 1940 based on notes by Dr. Luke Myshuha. Tottle does not deem it necessary to mention the work of Professor Frederiksen, or to specify when and where Hrushevsky died, although these facts are essential to appreciate the reference to the famine. He does, however, go out of his way to point out that Myshuha was "editor-in-chief of Svoboda", and that he had "visited Berlin in 1939, speaking over Nazi radio in Ukrainian," (p. 92) information quite irrelevant to the analysis of the famine, but necessary to make the perfidious famine-Nazi link which I shall discuss further on.

Here again we have a mixture of irrelevant truths, misleading half-truths, and lies. The comments by Myshuha/Frederiksen on the famine are deformed (damaging reference to Skrypnyk's suicide to protest the export of grain while several million starved is left out), and even though Tottle does not actually attribute them to Hrushevsky, he words his statement in such a way as to create that impression. Whether Szczesny was privy to Tottle's ruse or was duped by the insinuation, the result is the same; a lie about Hrushevsky's alleged denial of the famine-genocide.

Third, a few words are in order on the subliminal Nazification of the Ukrainian famine-genocide. If there is one common denominator to all the famine-genocide denial literature, it is the effort to tie the Ukrainian famine to the Nazis and sandwich between them that part of the Ukrainian diaspora which defends the right of the Ukrainian nation to exist as a sovereign state. Genocide deniers would be happiest if they could blame the famine on the Nazis and the "Ukrainian collaborators" as Stalin pinned Katyn on the Germans. But since this can not be done, they try the next best thing: link with Nazis those who speak out about the famine (including famine survivors and descendants of famine victims).

On the cover of Tottle's book one can see a photograph of a woman with an undernourished child, and looming over the photograph a hand with a paintbrush. The brush is about to be dipped into oilpaint profusely pouring out of a tube marked with a swastika. What a disgusting spectacle, and yet how descriptive of the author and the book! Isn't Tottle getting ready to apply Nazi colours to the famine victims?

When one checks the book's table of contents one notices that only one chapter is classified as "famine", the other nine deal with "fraud" and "Fascism". In fact, at least ten times as much space is devoted to the task of making the famine-Fascism connection as is given to the study of the famine. Unabashed, the author admits that he "does not attempt to study the famine in any detailed way". (p.1) He is more interested in the "Nazi and fascist connections" and the "coverups of wartime collaboration" (p.3). Both topics, even if they had been objectively treated, are completely irrelevant to the study of the famine and can neither prove nor disprove the existence of the famine or define the nature of the tragedy. (Many of Tottle's attacks on the various segments of the Ukrainian diaspora constitute hate literature and should be dealt with in our courts of law.)

The attempt to hush up serious examination and legitimate condemnation of the famine-genocide, or to dismiss it as Nazi-related propaganda, makes the writings of Tottle and the other famine-genocide deniers particularly repugnant. They have the impudence to desecrate the memory of millions of innocent people deliberately starved to death by criminals who have never even been punished for their diabolical act. Perhaps it was people like the famine-genocide deniers that Oleksandr Dovzhenko had in mind when he made this entry in his diary written on the German front on May 4, 1942:

"If all the heroism of the sons of Ukraine in the Fatherland war, all the sacrifices and suffering of (its) people, and all (their) victorious energy after the war, cunning hands and pens of certain clever fellows throw into a common...pot, and on account of Ukrainians, these same hands thrust artificially created Hitlerite Petliurivshchyna and anti-Semitism with all the consequences of slaughter-houses, it would be better for me to die and no longer witness human baseness, bottomless hate, and fathomless eternal lies which entangle us. (Dnipro, 1988, No.10, p.89)

In his review of Tottle's book Szczesny writes:

"The theory of the big lie is that the bigger the lie and the more often it is repeated, the more it will be believed." (p.22) Szczesny should have added that in order to render their own lie more credible, the hoaxsters accuse their opponents of the deception they themselves practice, while presenting their own fabrication as a corrective to their opponents' alleged lie. Need we be reminded that the real hoax is not the Holocaust but what Butz has to say about it and the great fraud is not the famine-genocide but Tottle's treatment of it?

Documents on the famine published recently in the West (M. Carynnyk, et al, "The Foreign Office and the Famine," Kingston, Ont., 1988, and others), and in the Soviet press (isn't it about time that the 'UC' reprinted some of them?) leave no room for doubt that the famine in Ukraine was man-made. As Yuri Shcherbak, the author of a novel on Chornobyl states, "the famine of 1932-33 was in no way a natural disaster. There was no drought, no hurricane as its origin... The Ukrainian harvest of 1932 while not a record one was totally adequate. Yet there was an unusual famine. From the beginning to the end it was organized from the top.... Peasants, packed on train rooftops, tried to flee the famished regions. But on the border between Russia and Ukraine... units of border guards were stationed..." (Sobesednik, Moscow, 1988, No.49)

Is it legitimate to call this famine genocide?

Ten years ago few people outside the Ukrainian diaspora would have ventured such an opinion: in the West because of what was thought to be a lack of reliable evidence (diplomatic archives were closed and testimony from "refugees" was viewed with suspicion), and in the Soviet Union because the very subject was taboo. All this has radically changed in the last few years.

Taking advantage of glasnost, Ukrainians began to speak openly about the crime of the "33rd", calling it "man-made famine", "artificial famine", "extermination by starvation (holodomor). Although they use the more familiar traditional expressions, in their minds these terms are synonymous with genocide". What else is the deliberate starvation of millions of people, if not genocide? Occasionally, one even comes across the words "holocaust" and "genocide" as when Wasyl Pakharenko answered those who do not recognize the specificity of the Ukrainian famine. "The uniqueness of our (Ukrainian) tragedy lies in this that in Ukraine, the social-class genocide coincided with the cultural-national (genocide)." (Molod' Cherkashchyny, Cherkassy, 1988, No.30)

The notion that the famine was genocide is also gaining acceptance in the West. Michael R. Marrus, professor of at the University of Toronto, and the author of "The Holocaust in History," in his forward to The Foreign Office and the Famine (cited above), comes to the conclusion that the evidence presented by the British documents suggests that there was a genocidal attack upon Ukrainians. Leo Kuper, professor emeritus at the UCLA and author of Genocide, a pioneer work on the subject, writes in his latest work "The Prevention of Genocide" about the "many millions who died in the Soviet manmade (sic) famine of 1932-33". Kuper accepts the argument that "this artificially induced famine was in fact an act of genocide, designed...to undermine the social basis of a Ukrainian national renaissance." (p.50)

In the light of all the evidence we now possess on the famine, how bleak and ignoble appear the statements of genocide deniers of the Stalin era (unscrupulous journalists like Walter Duranty of the New York Times, credulous and dishonest intellectuals like the British writer Bernard Shaw, the French politician Edouard Herriot). It took fifty years to debunk their big lie; how long will it take the defenders of truth to dispose of the big lie promoted by Tottle and his supporters? The challenge is before the Ukrainian community. Will The Ukrainian Canadian, for one, have the courage to take it up and make the last stand of the famine-genocide deniers a short one?


THE LAST STAND OF THE UKRAINIAN FAMINE-GENOCIDE
By Dr. Roman Serbyn, Professor of Russian and East European History University of Quebec, Montreal, Canada
The Ukrainian Canadian magazine, February, 1989
FOR PERSONAL AND ACADEMIC USE ONLY
 
 

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