[Ger-Poland-Volhynia] Ukaraine's holocaust

Dr. Frank Stewner dr.stewner at t-online.de
Sun May 4 23:04:09 PDT 2008

Two years age we were leaving Korez (capital of a Volhynian rayon in the oblast Rowno, thus belonging to Poland in 1933) for the village Toptscha, where my grandfather was teacher-chantor and my father was born. Just when we were turning for the liitle road to Toptscha there was a cross with the íncription. "For our death of 1932-34". Not 1914-18 or 1939-45. We were wandering and in the evening at the hotel we found in Lonely Planet the explanation. They are writing:


Between 1932 and 1933, more than five million citizens of Ukraine - 'Europe's breadbasket' - died of starvation while surrounded by fields of wheat and locked government storehouses filled to the brim with food. How? Stalin collectivized Soviet farms and ordered the production of unrealistic quotas of grain, which was then confiscated.

This man-made famine was part of the Soviet leadership's larger plan to solve the 'nationality problem' within several troublesome republics, especially Ukraine. A total of seven to 13 million people died throughout the USSR. (It's difficult to quantify, partly because those who took the next census were immediately ordered shot by Stalin.) Yet this genocide has never been fully recognized in the West.

Having fought a war of independence from 1917 to 1921, Ukraine continued to subtly resist Soviet rule during the 1920s. Moscow was unwilling to lose its richest colony and resorted to heavy-handed tactics. There were purges against the church and intelligentsia, both of which backed the nationalist cause. From early 1930, wealthier peasants (kulaks, or kurkuli in Ukrainian) who resisted collectivization were deported and the remainder starved into submission.

Undoubtedly, there was an ideological basis to Soviet collectivization, in which farmers gave up their land, animals and tools to work as mere laborers on huge state-run communes (kolkhozes, or kolhospy in Ukrainian). However, the setting of unattainable agricultural quotas had nothing to do with socialism, nor was it bureaucratic error; it was an instrument of control. Victor Kravchenko in I Chose Freedom quotes one communist apparatchik as saying: 'It took a famine to show them who is master here.'

By 1932, with Communist Party activists continuing to seize as much grain and other produce as possible from the collectives, the 'Great Hunger' ensued. Authorities conducted house-to-house searches for hidden grain. Watchtowers were erected above fields. Anyone caught stealing was executed or deported. Internal passports were issued to prevent desperate people running off in search of food. As entire villages died of starvation, people committed suicide and resorted to eating anything they could find. 'People cut up and cooked corpses; they killed their own children and ate them,' wrote Vassily Grossman in his book Forever Flowing. Photos of victims since published resemble those from a Nazi concentration camp.

At the time, however, Soviet authorities denied the famine's existence and few foreign cor­respondents, apart from the Manchester Guardian's Malcolm Muggeridge and freelancer Gareth Jones, were willing to risk reporting otherwise. The New York Times' Walter Durranty (a con­troversial Pulitzer Prize winner) swept the story under the carpet. And, despite new studies in the 1980s and 1990s reaching an academic audience, that's where one of the worst famines in history has largely remained.

Frank Stewner

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