Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts
Samuel Totten William S. Parson Israel W. Charny
New York - London
JAMES E. MACE, Director of the US Congress Commission on the Ukraine Famine
SOVIET MAN-MADE FAMINE IN UKRAINE
It is now generally accepted that in 1932-1933 several million peasants. Most of them Ukrainians living in Ukraine and the traditionally Cossack. Territories of the North Caucasus (now the Krasnodar, Stavropol, and, Rostov on the Don regions of the Russian Federation) - starved to death because the government of the Soviet Union seized with unprecedented force and thoroughness the 1932 crop and foodstuffs from the agricultural population (Mace, 1984; Conquest, 1986). After over half a century of denial, in January 1990 the Communist Party of Ukraine adopted a special resolution admitting that the Ukrainian Famine had indeed occurred, cost millions of lives, had been artificially brought about by official actions, and that Stalin and his associates bore criminal responsibility for those actions (Holod, 1990, pp. 3-4).
The Ukrainian Famine corresponded in time with a reversal of official policies that had hitherto permitted significant self-expression of the USSR's non-Russian nations. During and after the Famine, non-Russian national self-assertion was labeled bourgeois nationalism and suppressed. The elites who had been associated with these policies were eliminated (Mace, 1983, pp. 264-301). The authorities of the period denied that a famine was taking place at the time, sought to discredit reports on the factual situation, insofar as possible prevented the starving from traveling to areas where food was available, and refused all offers of aid to the starving (Conquest, 1986; U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine, 1988: vi-xvv). They were assisted in this policy of denial by certain Western journalists, most notably Walter Duranty of The New York Times (Taylor, 1990, pp. 210-23).
In order to understand the Ukrainian Famine, a brief excursion into the period that preceded it is necessary. Despite their numerical strength as the second-largest of the Slavic-speaking nations, Ukrainians may be classed with what Czech scholar Miroslav Hroch (1985) designated the "small nations" of Europe. Such nations "were in subjection for such a long period that the relation of subjection took on a structural character;" that is, the majority of the ruling class belonged to the ruling nation, while the subjugated nation possessed an incomplete social structure partially or entirely lacking its own ruling class (Hroch, 1985, p. 9). The Ukrainians were basically a nation of peasants, their national movement being led by a numerically small intelligentsia. As in other areas occupied by subject nations in Imperial Russia and early Soviet history, the local nobility, bourgeoisie, and urban population in Ukraine were overwhelmingly Russian or Russian-speaking (Liber, 1990, pp. 12-15).
In the 19th century, Ukrainians underwent a national revival similar to that of Czechs and other "small nations"; that is, romantic scholarly excursions into the local language and history, along with the creation of a vernacular literature, brought a spreading sense of local patriotism and national identity that in turn gave way to political aspirations and, ultimately, territorial home rule. Yet, when in 1925 Stalin wrote, "The national question is, according to its essence, a question of the peasantry" (Stalin, 1946-1951, Volume 7, p. 72), this held true for almost all the non-Russian peoples of the Soviet Union and certainly for Ukrainians.
The social development of Ukrainians in the Russian Empire had been retarded by extraordinarily repressive policies. In 1863, the Imperial Russian government responded to what it perceived as a nascent threat of "Ukrainian separatism" by banning education and publications (except for folk songs and historical documents) in the Ukrainian language, declaring it to be a substandard variant of Russian. This ban was broadened in 1876 to eliminate the modest exemptions in the earlier measure and remained in effect until 1905 (Savchenko, 1930). After 1905, a Ukrainian language press enjoyed a brief flowering in central Ukraine, but creeping reimposition of the old prohibitions all but eliminated it within a few years. Because repressive tsarist policies had stunted the growth of social differentiation within Ukrainian society, Ukrainian activists could expect to gain mass support only among the peasantry. Consequently, when Ukrainian political parties evolved in Imperial Russia at the turn of the century, they assumed a revolutionary socialist character, and the form in which Ukrainian political aspirations gained majority support during the Russian Revolution of 1917 was through the agrarian socialism of the Ukrainian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries (Hermaize, 1926; Khrystiuk, 1921-22, Volume 1, p. 35).
After the collapse of the Russian imperial authority in 1917, the national movements that attempted to establish local governments throughout the former empire's non-Russian periphery, including the Ukrainian movement, drew most of their mass support from the village, while in the cities various groups competed more or less as they did in Russia proper.
The group that seized power in the center, Lenin's Bolsheviks, mistrusted the peasants as petty property owners and relied on forced requisitions of agricultural produce in order to keep the urban population fed. Thus, the national struggle between Russians ("Red" or "White") and the subject peoples was at the same time a social struggle of the countryside versus the town, where even the working class was drawn from the oppressor nation or had assimilated its culture. As Ukrainian Communist spokesmen recognized as early as 1920, the Russian-speaking worker, who provided the main source of support for Soviet rule in Ukraine, sneered at the Ukrainian village and wanted nothing to do with it (Mace, 1983, pp. 68-69). During the wars that followed the Russian Revolution of 1917, a Soviet regime had been imposed on Ukraine by Russia against the will of most of Ukraine's inhabitants, an absolute majority of whom had voted in free elections for groups that supported Ukrainian self-rule (Borys, 1980, p. 170, table).
In order to overcome rural resistance to the Soviet order, in 1921 Lenin proclaimed the New Economic Policy (NEP), which ended forced procurements and allowed a private market in which agricultural producers could sell what they had produced. In 1923, in order to overcome the continued national resistance of the non-Russian countryside, Lenin proclaimed a policy of indigenization (korenizatsiia), which attempted to give non-Russian Soviet regimes a veneer of national legitimacy by promoting the spread of the local language and culture in the cities, recruiting local people into the regime, ordering Russian officials to learn the local language, and fostering a broad range of cultural activities (Mace, 1983, pp. 87-95; Liber, 1990, pp. 33-46).
The Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933 occurred within the context of the so-called "Stalinist Revolution from Above," a violent experiment in social transformation in which state-orchestrated paranoia about internal and external enemies was used to blame shortcomings on the machinations of class enemies. Like Nazism, Stalinism attempted to explain the world as a struggle between different categories of people, some of whom were considered inherently deleterious and whose elimination was an essential prerequisite toward the attainment of a new and better state of affairs. As a degenerated offshoot of Marxism, Stalinism attempted to explain the world by using class categories, rather than the racial ones employed by the Nazis. But what Hitler and Stalin had in common was a dualistic view of human society as composed of two implacably hostile forces: the "good" force destined for victory (Aryans for Hitler and the proletariat for Stalin), which could only liberate itself and achieve its destiny by destroying utterly the forces of evil (for Hitler, Jews and Gypsies, which he considered racially polluting elements, and for Stalin, representatives of "exploiter classes").
A major difference between Stalinism and racism (like Nazism) is that racism at least knows how to define what it hates: people who look or speak differently or have different ancestors. Class warfare, however, is a sociological concept. Sociological categories are much easier to manipulate than racial ones, especially when applied in and by a state that claims, as did Stalin's, a monopoly on truth and science thanks to its "correct" understanding and application of a theory based on claims of holistic scientism; that is, claims that it explains everything with the certainty of (pseudo) scientific laws. By redefining and manipulating such notions as class enemies and enemies of the people, and objectively serving the interests of such dark forces, Stalin was able to declare practically any group or individual worthy of destruction. This enabled Stalin to reduce Marxism, one of the great (if flawed) intellectual systems of the 19th century, to the level of a sanctioning ideology for perhaps the paradigmatic example of what Leo Kuper (1990) has called the genocide state.
Marxism views history as class struggle. It holds that modern capitalism is defined by the struggle between proletarians and capitalists, the former being destined to triumph over the latter and thereby create a new socialist stage of human history in which the economic exploitation of one person by another will be abolished. Independent small-holding peasants are viewed as peripheral in this struggle, a petty capitalist holdover of an earlier era. Leninists saw an inevitable process of class differentiation among peasants into three strata: the relatively wealthier kulaks (Ukrainian kurkuls) or village exploiters, the middle peasants or subsistence farmers who did not hire labor or depend on outside employment to get by, and the poor peasants, who could only make ends meet by working for others and thus were at least partially a rural proletarian. The middle and poor peasants were often lumped together as the toiling peasantry in order to mark them off from the kulaks. However, such a division of the peasantry into such categories was arbitrary, and just who was a kulak was never defined with any precision (Lewin, 1985, pp. 121-41).
As for the national question, most varieties of Marxism reject nationalism as a species of false consciousness that reflects the interests of an exploitative bourgeois class by convincing the exploited that they owe loyalty to their capitalist-ruled nation rather than to the international working class. Orthodox Marxists believe that only internationalism can serve the interests of the working class. There have been many conflicting policy prescriptions advocated by Marxists designed to overcome nationalistic prejudices and achieve the internationalist unity of the toiling classes.
Just as nationalism can have a variety of meanings, so can internationalism. In the pre-Stalinist period, the Soviet authorities found what they considered the "correct" internationalist approach to building socialism by attempting to combat the imperial pretensions of Russians (the dominant group) and by assisting the formerly subject peoples of the Russian Empire to overcome the legacy of colonial domination by rebuilding their various national cultures and societies - under the Party's guidance, of course. This ideological prescription actually reflected political necessity: Before the adoption of such a policy, non-Russian peasant dissatisfaction had threatened political stability in wide areas of the new Soviet Union. But there were certainly other Marxist views of internationalism. For example, Rosa Luxemburg advocated a view often criticized as "national nihilism" when she argued that national self-determination was a chimera: It was utopian so long as capitalist exploitation survived and would be rendered irrelevant once socialism had brought about the final end of all forms of exploitation (Luxemburg, 1986, pp. 308-14).
Once an ideology comes to power, theory becomes the stuff of practical politics, influencing and being influenced by considerations of power. Ukrainization, the Ukrainian version of indigenization, went further than elsewhere in the Soviet Union because roughly 30 million Ukrainians were several times more numerous than any other single national group. On the eve of the Famine they constituted about two-fifths of all non-Russian inhabitants of the USSR. The policies of indigenization, designed to placate the national aspirations of the non-Russian overwhelmingly peasant nations, went hand-in-hand with the limited free market policies of the New Economic Policy, which were designed to satisfy the economic aspirations of both Russian and non-Russian peasants.
With indigenization having legitimized national priorities among non-Russian Communists and the high politics in Moscow centering on a protracted struggle for power, throughout the 1920s national Communists in the constituent republics of the USSR accumulated a large measure of autonomy from central dictates. When, at the end of the decade, Joseph Stalin emerged victorious in the succession struggle, he abruptly changed course by announcing the crash collectivization of agriculture on the basis of the liquidation (that is, destruction) of the kulaks as a class.
Collectivization meant forcing millions of small farmers into large collective farms, which many peasants saw - not without reason - as a reinstitution of serfdom, the only difference being that the state was now taking the place of the nobleman who owned the peasants' grandparents. Forcing the majority of the population to restructure their lives in a way they did not wish to meant provoking a degree of hostility, which rendered concessions that had been designed to placate the non-Russian peasants on national grounds politically irrelevant.
The changed political situation enabled Stalin to pursue four objectives toward the non-Russians. Donald Treadgold (1964) rightly has summarized them as follows: (1) the elimination of centrifugal pressures by stifling local nationalism; (2) subversion of neighboring states by having members of a given Soviet nationality conduct propaganda among their co-nationals in neighboring areas; (3) "economic and social transformation designed to destroy native society and substitute a social system susceptible of control by Moscow"; and (4) the economic exploitation of non-Russian areas (pp. 297-98).
Transforming society by force far exceeded the capacity of any traditional authoritarian state. It required the mobilization and motivation of mass constituencies who could be called upon to do the regime's will. Starting with a phony war scare in 1927 and followed by show trials designed to point out various social groups (managers and engineers held over from the old regime, academicians, people who had been associated with national or religious movements, etc.) as nests of plotters in the pay of world capitalism, a massive propaganda campaign was carried out designed to convince people that the Soviet Union was under siege by the hostile capitalist world that encircled it. Soviet society had to catch up with the capitalist West or be crushed. The crash collectivization of agriculture was portrayed as essential in order to do this.
In order to expropriate kulaks, enforce collectivization, and take possession of agricultural produce, the authorities mobilized anyone they could. As a self-proclaimed workers' state, it was logical that the regime would turn first to the workers and trade unions for personnel to impose its will. The entire network of officially sanctioned social organizations was mobilized. The resistance they faced was interpreted in class terms as kulak terrorism, for who but a kulak or his agent could oppose the socialist transformation of the countryside? Ultimately, any problem was blamed on "kulaks" or their "agents," and repressive policies were justified by the need to combat an enemy presence that was ever more broadly defined. The village itself became an object of official mistrust as tens of thousands of factory workers were issued revolvers and sent into villages with the power to completely reorganize life as well as to circumvent or abolish village-level governmental bodies. Workers were sent from factories, and sometimes a factory would be named "patron" of a given number of villages; that is, the factory would be assigned villages in which to enforce collectivization and seize food.
Local "activists," that is, individuals whose positions gave them an active role in officially sanctioned social and political life, would also be given these responsibilities. Special peasant "tow" (buksyr) brigades were organized and given the task of "taking the kulaks in tow," which meant ejecting those selected by the local authorities from their houses or searching for and expropriating concealed foodstuffs. The members of these brigades did not always volunteer; sometimes county or district authorities would simply call up the able-bodied men in one village to act as a tow brigade in a neighboring village. A schoolteacher, for example, had no choice but to take part in the work of the local activists. At the height of the Famine, when most peasants were physically incapable of work, lines in front of city stores were raided from time to time, and the unfortunates rounded up were sent to weed sugar beets (U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine, 1988, pp. 448-49).
The essence of the collective farm system was official control over agricultural production and distribution. The state's "procurement" of agricultural produce was carried out by force such that procurements (purchases) really became forced requisitions. Since, however, the collective farm was, in theory, a private cooperative, not a state enterprise, the authorities assumed no responsibility for the welfare of the collective farmers. Whatever the state required came from the "first proceeds" of the harvest; that is, the state took its quota first. If there was anything left, it went first to what was needed to run the farm, such as seed reserves, and what was left over was then shared among the collective farmers according to the labor days (trudodni) they had earned (Jasny, 1949, pp. 64--85).
These "labor days" were not actual days worked. Rather, they were allocated according to a complex formula designed to calculate the different values of different kinds of labor by converting all types of labor on the farm into the Marxist concept of simple labor time. Skilled workers, like a tractor driver, might earn two labor days for each day worked, while a simple farmer without any particular skill might have to work two days in order to earn one labor day. This, however, was of no consequence if there was nothing left: In that case, of course, the labor days of the collective farmers were worthless.
At the time of the Famine, roughly 20 percent of the Ukrainian peasantry was still outside the collective farms. They had their own household quotas, which were imposed by local authorities. If they could not meet a given quota, they were fined, and their farms searched with the aid of metal prods.
Collectivization led to a crisis in agricultural production that the regime met sometimes with force and sometimes with promises to overcome "errors" or "excesses" or "deviations" from the Party's "Leninist general line." Such shortcomings were always blamed on subordinate officials, never on the policies of the Communist Party and Soviet state, which were held to be infallible. The first agricultural procurement campaign after crash collectivization, that of 1930, was met, thanks to a fortunate harvest. The following year, the quota was not met in spite of considerable force that succeeded only in creating pockets of starvation. In the first half of 1932, the regime announced that there had been a crop failure in parts of the Volga Basin and Asiatic Russia and sent aid there from other regions. In May, agricultural quotas for the coming crop were lowered to about the level of what had been obtained from the 1931 crop. Various officials were denounced for having used excessive force in seizing agricultural produce and promises were made that such "distortions" of the official policy would not be tolerated in the future. Some local officials who had been particularly harsh toward peasants in their charge were publicly tried and punished. For a few weeks, even Ukraine received limited food aid.
Then, in the summer of 1932, with Ukraine on the verge of mass starvation, Stalin abruptly changed course. At a Ukrainian Communist Party conference in July, amid reports that the situation in the Ukrainian countryside was growing desperate, Stalin's top assistants - Prime Minister Viacheslav Molotov and Agriculture Minister Lazar Kaganovich - announced that Ukraine's quotas for bread grain deliveries would stand at the level announced the previous May. But once the harvest was in, there simply wasn't enough grain to meet the quota. The Ukrainian authorities appealed to Moscow for an end to the grain seizures, but to no avail. Throughout the fall of 1932, Stalin sent various high officials to Ukraine to supervise the local Communists. In November, bread that had been "advanced" to the collective farmers at harvest time was declared to have been illegally distributed and was therefore seized. In order to make up for shortfalls elsewhere, those farms that met their quotas were subjected to supplementary quotas of foodstuffs that had to be delivered to the state. Local officials were ordered to determine how much bread there was in every collective farm and to put it toward the quota. On December 14, Stalin's intimate involvement in the Ukrainian Famine became clear when he called the top leaders of Ukraine, the North Caucasus, and the Western (Smolensk) District to Moscow. The meeting produced a secret decree signed by Stalin as head of the Party and Molotov as head of government. While the leader of the Western District was let off with a simple admonition to meet its quotas, the Ukrainian and North Caucasus representatives were blasted for having failed to root out Ukrainian nationalism:
As a result of the extremely weak efforts and lack of revolutionary vigilance of a number of local Party organizations in Ukraine and the North Caucasus, in a substantial portion of these organizations counterrevolutionary elements - kulaks, former officers, Petliurists, adherents of the Kuban Rada, and so forth - have been able to worm their way into the collective farms as chairmen or as influential members of their administration, bookkeepers, store managers, threshing brigade leaders, and so forth, were able to worm their way into village councils, agricultural offices, cooperatives, and attempted to direct the work of these organizations against the interests of the proletarian state and the Party's policy, attempted to organize a counterrevolutionary movement, to sabotage the grain procurements, and to sabotage the sowing, the All-Union Communist Party Central Committee and Council of Peoples Commissars of the USSR direct the Communist Party and government leadership of Ukraine and the North Caucasus to resolutely root out the counterrevolutionary elements by means of their arrest, long sentences of confinement in concentration camps, and not excluding application of the highest measure of legality (that is, execution) in the most criminal cases (Postanova, 1991, p. 78).
The decree went on to name officials on the local level who had failed to make their quotas, mentioning the officials by name and detailing which of them were to be given prison sentences and which of them were to be shot. In addition, Ukrainian officials were condemned for their "mechanistic" (that is, overzealous) implementation of Ukrainization, while Ukrainization was ordered halted in the North Caucasus (Postanova, 1991).
A week later, Stalin's representatives in Ukraine ordered the seizure of even the seed that had been put aside for spring planting. In January 1933, Stalin took direct control of the Ukrainian Communist Party apparatus. His appointees, accompanied by tens of thousands of subordinates, initiated a campaign that led to the destruction of nationally self-assertive Ukrainian elites, the end of the Ukrainization policy and virtually all Ukrainian cultural self-expression, and the gradual return to the exclusive use of the Russian language in Ukraine's cities and educational institutions (U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine, 1988: xi-xvii; Holod, 1990, pp. 148-235).
The food seized, people began to starve. Millions died either from starvation - an agonizingly slow process in which the body literally consumes itself until the muscles of the chest can no longer lift the rib cage to inflate the lungs and the victim suffocates - or, more commonly, from diseases that in such a weakened condition the body can no longer fend off. But to report deaths from starvation or from diseases like typhus, which are associated with famine, was considered anti-Soviet. Physicians used euphemisms like vitamin or protein deficiency (which does usually accompany caloric deficiency), heart failure (because the heart stops), diarrhea (from eating plants the body cannot digest), or "exhaustion of the organism" (Gannt, 1937, pp. 147-162).
Estimates of the number of victims in Ukraine range from 3 to 8 million. According to the long-suppressed 1937 census, released only in 1991, in 1937 Ukraine had a million fewer inhabitants than in 1926, 3 million fewer than official estimates of the early 1930s, which were probably not far off the mark (Vsesoiuznaia, 1991, p. 28, table). Using these and other long-suppressed figures, demographers in the former Soviet Union have calculated that, while the population of the USSR increased from 148.7 million in 1927 to 162.5 million in 1937, during the year 1933 the population decreased by 5.9 million. Their figures further suggest that the number of victims offamine in 1933 was between 7.2 and 8.1 million (summarized in Ellman, 1991, pp. 375-79). Given that all but 1 or 2 million of these victims perished in Ukraine, the number of victims of the Ukrainian Famine would be in the range of 5 to 7 million.
As living conditions worsened, the authorities expanded the system of hard currency stores, the torgsin. The name was an abbreviation for the Russian phrase, torgovlia s inostrantsami (trade with foreigners), because only foreigners had the right to possess precious metals and convertible currency. In exchange for food, these stores helped extract the last valuables remaining in the countryside. Often a small piece of jewelry, a gold tooth, or a concealed silver or gold coin meant the difference between life and death.
The famine had a major long-range impact on Ukrainians. The adoption in 1932-1933 of an internal passport system from which peasants were excluded meant that the agricultural population could not leave the countryside without official permission. This meant attaching the peasantry to the land in a way not entirely different from traditional serfdom. The psychological traumatization inevitable in any situation of mass mortality was undoubtedly compounded by a policy of official denial extending to the most remote village. At the height of the Famine, Stalin adopted the slogan: "Life has become better; life has become more fun," and even the starving had to repeat it. To speak openly of everyday reality meant running the risk of punishment for propagating anti-Soviet propaganda.
Children were encouraged to inform on their parents, and Pavlik Morozov, a boy who had informed on his parents and was killed by villagers after the parents' subsequent arrest, was held up as a model for Soviet young people. As a result, parents became afraid to talk openly in front of their own children. While Stalin's rapid industrialization brought millions of Ukrainian peasants to Ukraine's cities, mines, and factories, the abandonment of policies promoting the use of the Ukrainian language there often meant the rapid linguistic and cultural Russification of these new workers and city-dwellers.
As a result of the Famine and accompanying destruction of national elites, the Ukrainian nation was literally crushed. Their leadership (including the natural village leadership, the more prosperous and industrious peasants) was destroyed. Their language and culture, which had made significant inroads in the cities in the 1920s, was largely pushed back to the countryside whence it came. And in the countryside, about one out of every five people had perished. As a result, the development of Ukrainians as a nation was violently and traumatically set back.
The Ukrainians might never have recovered as a nation had it not been for Stalin's 1939 pact with Hitler, by which the Soviet Union annexed Western Ukraine as its share of the dismembered Polish Republic. Western Ukraine contained areas that had never been under Russian rule and were consequently the most developed and nationally conscious regions of Ukraine. The joining of Western Ukraine to the devastated central and eastern Ukrainian territories largely undermined Stalin's deconstruction of the Ukrainian nation in the 1930s, paving the way for Ukrainian independence in the 1990s.
Drawing lessons from history is always a risky business, but surely one of the principle lessons of the Ukrainian Famine has to do with the dangers of pseudo-scientific totalitarian ideologies. Such ideologies, which often claim scientific validity, explain problems within a given society by blaming them on the presence of permanent enemies that by virtue of their very existence prevent the bulk of society from achieving its destiny, living the good life, or otherwise solving its problems. Such enemies may be racial, national, political, or social, but however defined, such ideologies may easily be used as warrants for mass murder and genocide. The monopolies or near-monopolies of propaganda, reward, and coercion that totalitarian societies possess in turn make it possible for totalitarian regimes to attract sufficient mass participation to carry out such designs.
Moreover, as George Orwell demonstrated nearly half a century ago in 1984, the totalitarian monopoly of official expression allowed the Stalin regime to define and redefine concepts in order to radically change their meaning. Thus, in the Ukrainian case, class categories were manipulated in order to redefine national issues as class ones. Thus, the Ukrainian Famine further shows that the Fascist Right has no monopoly on genocide. Even ideologies espousing internationalism and social justice can be manipulated so as to target ethnic groups by redefining their terms to mean whatever might seem expedient at a given moment.
The refusal of even the moderate Left to perceive the full horror of Stalinism also carries lessons about the selective perception of evil. While it is understandable that one is more charitable to actions taken by regimes that profess adherence to "one's own" side of the political spectrum, civilized adherents of both the Left and the Right should realize that the most important issue of political life is not between continuity and change but between those who uphold such universal human values as the right of living people to remain among the living and those who do not recognize such a right for members of a given out-group. For those who profess humane values, the willingness to countenance the death of millions for their goals ceases to have anything in common with political progress: it is simply mass murder on an unspeakable scale.
Eyewitness Account: Soviet Man-Made Famine in Ukraine
S. Lozovy, "What Happened in Hadyach County," pp. 246-55. In S. Pidhainy, et al. (Eds.) The Black Deeds of the Kremlin: A White Book. Toronto and Detroit, 1953-1955. The Black Deeds is the classic collection of eyewitness accounts of the Famine, compiled by the Democratic Association of Ukrainians Who had Been Repressed By the Soviets (DOBRUS), which was associated with the Ukrainian Revolutionary Democratic Party, a socialist group formed after World War II by Ukrainians who had emigrated from Central and Eastern Ukraine.
Having received from comrade Kolotov, boss of the county seat, instructions to establish a commune, the chairman of the village soviet, Tereshko Myshchachenko, took great pains to carry them out. He gave them wide publicity and, as a further incentive, put his name first on the list of commune farmers. Another reason was comrade Gapon from the city of Orel who certainly would have been made chairman if Tereshko had failed in his "duties."
This was in 1930. The village of Kharkivtsi then numbered 780 individual farmers. Out of this number, only four followed his lead and joined the commune. It was easy for them to do so because they had never had places of their own, or else had sold their houses shortly before the instructions were received.
But this venture was stillborn. Even these four, having tasted commune life for one season, turned against it and began to think of leaving it. The authorities, aware of the fact that people were reluctant to join a commune, changed their tune and began to encourage the idea of a collective farm. With this object in view, there appeared Demen Karasyuk from the city of Tambov. He spoke a Russian-Ukrainian jargon, while his family spoke only Russian. Karasyuk appropriated the house of seredniak [middle peasant] Brychko and sent him to Siberia, where the poor fellow was worked to death six months later. Thus began collectivization and the liquidation of kurkuls [kulaks] as a class.
Rallies were held in the center of the village each day, at which Communists from the county seat agitated for collectives. But people did not want to join them and said so, arguing that the government had divided the land against them. And every day GPU agents arrested two or three men.
The village soviet, seeing that people did not want to attend these rallies, hired a boy of 12 to go around with a list and ask people to sign promises that they would attend the gathering. The measure was not successful because men would hide, and their wives would sign their own names arguing that the law gave both sexes equal rights. They also caused a lot of confusion at the rallies by making a terrible noise. The GPU stopped this by sentencing Maria Treba to one year in jail.
The Communists changed their tactics. The farmers were called out individually. Under threat of reprisals they were asked to sign papers agreeing to have their property nationalized.
The farmers began to sell their livestock and horses. Their unwillingness to join the collective was stimulated by the fact that people from the neighboring counties of Komyshany and Myrhorod, from villages already collectivized a year ago, came to the village begging for bread. This was an indication as to what they could expect from a collective farm and "Communist Socialism."
The taxes had to be paid in kind and those who paid them received additional demands, sometimes even greater than the first time, to pay with their products, especially grain.
Seeing no end to this the people began to hide their grain and potatoes if they had any left. A new arrival from the Hadyach Center, comrade Shukhman, who was commissioned to collect grain in three or four counties, gave orders to form buksyr [tow] brigades who had authority to manhandle every farmer until he gave all his grain to the state. These brigades were supplied with special tools made in advance in some factory to facilitate the "grain hunt." These were steel rods about 5/8 inch in diameter, three to ten feet long, with one end sharpened to a point and the other equipped with an oval-shaped handle. Some had a kind of drill on the end instead of a point. The buksyrs would attack piles of straw, first of all sticking their rods into it to see if sacks of grain were hidden in it. The other tool was used to drill in the gardens and other likely places. The grain when found was, of course, confiscated and the owner was forbidden to remain in Ukraine and was sent to Russia [Solovky, Siberia, etc.].
The collective farmers, did not hide the grain they received for their labor days [trudodni] because there was very little of it. In October 1932, comrades Shukhman and Kolotov organized a "Red Column." Commandeering about 60 farm wagons, they filled them with toughs and sent them to the villages. Coming to a village, the toughs would scatter, go to the houses of the collective farmers and ask how much grain each had, pretending this was only for registration purposes. When the information was in hand, teams would come up to each house and the grain would be taken away. When all the farmers had been robbed of their grain, the wagons would be decorated with banners and slogans which proclaimed that the farmers had voluntarily, and in an organized manner, given their grain to the state.
This Red Column passed through villages to be observed, but it was always under GPU protection. When guards were absent, the columns would run into the woods or be robbed by former prisoners who escaped. Such columns took their toll from all the neighboring villages.
It should be observed here that the Communists robbed people not only of grain but also of potatoes and any other thing that could be eaten. In some cases, farmers were ordered to thresh the straw when the records showed a yield to have been poor. Combatting the Communist menace, farmers would leave some grain in the straw by breaking the teeth in the cylinder of the threshing machine. Sometimes they succeeded in concealing up to 30 percent of grain which remained unthreshed in the straw. They hoped to thresh out this grain later, and thus save themselves and their families. But cases where farmers, in desperation, burned the straw together with their sheds were common.
Searches and arrests led people to despair. The indignation reached its culminating point on November 21, 1932, when great unrest in the village made the village soviet and all the buksyrs flee to the country seat for protection. The collective flew to pieces in half an hour. It was exclusively the work of women. They took their horses and cattle home, and the next day went to the approximate location of their former fields because all the field boundaries were destroyed.
The Communists were prompt in checking the incipient rebellion. They arrived in force in GPU cars the next night, arrested five persons and ordered that all collective farm property be returned. This order was carried out.
A stranger was now the chairman of the village soviet. Nobody knew where he came from, though he had a Ukrainian name, Boyko. He began to continue the work of his worthy predecessor, paying special attention to the Ukrainian movement for independence. "This is the work of our arch-enemy, Petlyura," he said. Then he tried to find out who had served in Petlyura's army.
Alarmed by the prospect of inevitable doom which was approaching, the people carried off one night all the grain from the collective farm stores, covering their tracks with pepper to protect themselves from detection by GPU hunting dogs. Some went to the forest to gather acorns, but this practice was soon stopped by Boyko, who declared the woods to be state property. It was forbidden to go there.
It was impossible to grind grain in the mill because the government grain quotas were not fulfilled. The farmers constructed hand mills and stampers. Boyko issued an order for the immediate arrest of the man who had built these machines, O. Khrynenko, but he was warned in time and ran away to the Donbas [industrial region of the Donets River Basin]. His wife was thrown out of the house, and it was locked by the GPu. Then she was tortured to reveal the whereabouts of her husband and where he had hidden some gold coins. She gave them 230 rubles in gold but did not know where her husband was and died in their hands.
The former chairman of the village soviet, Myshchachenko, sold his house to buy liquor. Then he took a house from Petro Yarosh and, with the assistance of Boyko, managed to have the Yarosh family exiled to the region of Sverdlovsk where all eight family members died from hard labor and ill treatment. Another case was that of F. Shobar, who did the same thing with the brothers Mykola and Stepan Nedvyha. One of them escaped and the other perished in Siberia, together with his family of ten.
A week or so later, the GPU arrested the following families: Borobavko - 5 persons, V. Brychko - 7 persons, Ostap Ilchenko - 5 persons, Nykyfor and Zakhar Koronivsky - 3 persons, O. Perepadya - 4 persons, K. Riznyk - 7 persons, Shyka - 4 persons, Taras Elesey - 6 persons, Vasyukno - 4 persons, and others. All of them received life terms with hard labor and were sent 280 miles north of Sverdlovsk. In 1942, 5 of them returned and said that all the others had died from hard labor and scurvy. They were lucky to get forged papers and escaped to Donbas, where they worked in the mines. [During their terms] they had not stayed long in any one place, because as soon as they cleared a patch in the forest and built barracks and other buildings, they were sent to another place in the wilderness 18 to 24 miles away where the same thing was repeated. The direction was always further north. Their address was Sverdlovsk 5, Letter G.
"There are no kurkuls now and presumably no Petlyura partisans, and we can build up our collective farm in peace," said Boyko. "But you should keep in mind that there are many sub-kurkuls whom we have to watch and, if they are going to harm our Soviet government, we will send them after the others." He again held meetings urging people to join the collective farm. The government took away grain and meat for taxes. There were no cows or sheep in the village.
In the evening of November 2, an unknown group of farmers attacked a buksyr brigade. Makar Verba was killed, and three men ran away. The next day the GPU confiscated all the shotguns in the village. The attackers were not caught. Boyko then threatened that the Soviet Red Army would come and wipe out all the farmers. The people were terrified. It was hard to find a farmer who had not served a jail term. Practically all joined the collective farm now; only 12 swore that they would not do it and did not until 1941. But these were all women and children whose husbands were in exile in Siberia.
After the fall of 1932, it became customary to go around and beg for bread or food from neighbors. These beggars were usually children and old people. A new buksyr brigade appeared in the village, more cruel than the first one.
In the spring of 1933 one-third of the people in the village were starving. The others had a little food and ate once a day to keep from swelling. To save themselves and their families from starvation, men began to offer their properties for sale or in exchange for food. Some went to Kharkiv, Kiev, or Poltava [major cities of Ukraine] to buy a little food and came back disappointed. Those cities were no better than Hadyach. Then they went to Moscow, Stalingrad, Voronezh, and Orel [cities in Russia] where food could be obtained. But the GPU soon found this out and the people were searched on the trains, food confiscated, and they themselves were charged with speculation. Then an order was issued that no farmer would be allowed to travel by train without a permit from the county soviet executive.
In March 1933 all the people from the collective farm went to the authorities, asking for bread. They were not even allowed to enter the courtyard. On March 28, 1933, we were shocked by the news that Myron Yemets and his wife, Maria, had become cannibals. Having cut off their children's heads, they salted them away for meat. The neighbors smelled meat frying in the smoke coming from their chimney and, noticing the absence of children, went into the house. When they asked about the children, the parents began to weep and told the whole story. The perpetrators of this act said that they would have children again. Otherwise, they would die in great pain and that would be the end of the family.
Chairman Boyko arrested them himself, and about six hours later the GPU began to question them. "Who has so cunningly persuaded you to do this, kurkuls, near-kurkuls, or Petlyura henchmen? You know that this is the work of our enemies to cast dishonor upon our country, the Soviet Union, the most advanced country in the world. You have to tell us who did it!" Hoping to save themselves in this way, the accused pointed to Pavlo Lytvynenko, who was supposed to have said: "If you have nothing to eat, butcher the children and eat them!" Lytvynenko was arrested and shot as an example to the others. Myron and Maria were sentenced to ten years in prison. However, they were shot about three months later because even the Soviet government was ashamed to let them live. At the end of March or the beginning of April, a big department store was opened in Hadyach on Poltavska Street, by the park, across the street from Lenin's monument. It was called Torgsin. Stocked very well, even with goods from abroad, it had one fault, that of selling [goods] only for platinum, gold, silver, or precious stones. The prices were: For 10 gold rubles one could buy there 17 pounds of bread, 22 pounds of buckwheat cereal, 6 2/3 pounds of millet, and 10 herrings.
As soon as people learned about this, all who had any gold or silver flocked to the city. There was a line eight abreast and 1/3 mile long in front of the store. There were always 50-70 people who could not get in before the store closed for the day. They spent their nights on the sidewalk disregarding cold, storm, or rain. Thefts were very common, but most died from hunger or stomach cramps after eating too much and too greedily the food they bought. The corpses were removed every morning by a GPU truck. I also stood in line with my mother. There I saw with my own eyes ten dead bodies thrown on the truck like so many logs and, in addition, three men that were still alive. The dead were hauled to Hlyboky Yar [Deep Ravine] and dumped there. None of the clerks in this store were Ukrainians and the store belonged to the state.
A month later, in April, this store was broken into and robbed. Half an hour before the opening an alarm was sounded that the store had been robbed at daybreak. The militia with dogs began to search the people waiting in line. All who were a little stronger, had little or no swelling and, perhaps, some gold, were arrested and taken to the building of the country executive committee which was quite close and had a large basement. The prisoners were searched and the gold coins or any other valuables they might have had were confiscated. Other GPU agents without dogs did the same.
One woman, Maria Bovt, had a gold "ship" which had been awarded her husband during the Russo-Japanese War for his bravery in saving a Russian ship. She was also arrested during this investigation and was sent to work at construction projects in Komsomolsk on the Amur River near the Pacific Ocean. All trace of her vanished. The ship must have been taken to swell the Russian treasury or went into the pocket of some GPU agent. Two weeks later, it was discovered that the real culprits had been the clerks in collusion with the militia. They were not punished because they had false documents prepared in advance, and they escaped arrest. This explanation was given out by comrades Shukhman and Kolotov.
The department store had its good and bad sides. The Russians robbed the people of practically all the gold they had. On the other hand, it saved many people's lives because 6 to 11 pounds of grain often saved one from starving to death. Those who had no gold for food died like flies or went to the cemeteries in search of corpses.
The most critical point was reached just before harvest. More and more people starved to death each day. Everything was eaten that could be swallowed: dogs, cats, frogs, mice, birds, grass, but mostly thistles, which were delicious if the plants were about 15 inches high and cleaned of spines. Many people went to graze and often died in the "grazing fields."
When rye ears began to fill out and were at least half full, the danger of death from starvation receded. The people cut ears of grain in the fields, dried them and, rubbing them down, they ate the precious green grains. The Communists now began to combat "the grain barber menace," that is, people who cut off ears of grain with scissors. Mounted guards on watchtowers protected the grain from the "barbers." One of these watchmen, Fanasiy Hursky, killed a fellow who dared to "steal government property." But sometimes the "barbers" struck back. Some of them sawed through the props under the tower of Ivan Palchenkov when he was asleep. When the wind blew, the tower toppled down, and Ivan was killed.
In the spring of 1933, 138 people died in the village of Kharkivtsi. In comparison with some places this was very good. A great many people died from diseases caused by hunger, especially dysentery. There was only one child born at that time in the whole administrative unit to which Kharkivtsi belonged. The 1940-1941 school year saw no beginners at all, while previously there had been about 25 each year. The new school principal, a Communist, saw the implication, and to save face made a first grade out of children a year younger if they were a little better developed than others. The same thing happened in neighboring villages.
The orphans who survived the Famine were taken to a children's home in the village. They were well cared for and most of them grew up properly and reached maturity in the years 1939-1941. The boys raised in these homes when inducted into the army in 1941 were the first to desert with arms and go back to avenge themselves on the Communists in their home villages, who deserved punishment.
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