The speech that follows is an extended version of that interview delivered at City Hall, Hamilton, Ontario, November 14, 1998.
Genocide in Ukraine 1933
Speech by Andrew Gregorovich
Senior Researcher, Ukrainian Canadian Research & Documentation Centre
Madam Chairman, Mayor Morrow, Reverend Fathers, Ladies & Gentlemen. It is a pleasure for me to be here in Hamilton, at this City Hall designed by the Ukrainian architect Stanley Roscoe and to speak near the city's Ukrainian Canadian immigration monument, because I lived many years in Hamilton.
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Last Wednesday, November 11th, we marked Remembrance Day in memory of those who died in the World Wars. But today we commemorate a day of remembrance for people who died 65 years ago in 1933 in a different kind of war. It was a war of genocide against the Ukrainian people in which food was used as a weapon.
Let's go back forty years to the first major commemoration in Hamilton of this tragic event. In 1958, hundreds of people assembled in Gore Park -- not far from here -- in the heart of Hamilton to commemorate an event which took place on the other side of the world. From Gore Park they walked along Main Street to Gage Park where a crowd of thousands participated in a solemn Divine Liturgy and manifestation on the 25th Anniversary of the 1933 genocide in Ukraine.
That day was a memorable event in the history of our 10,000 Ukrainian Hamiltonians. I know, because I marched in that parade. Perhaps some of you participated in it and recall that day. I don't know what the Hamilton Spectator or other newspapers published about it then - but basically the world didn't seem to care that millions of Ukrainians had died from hunger created by Josef Stalin and his Soviet government.
Maybe that is because famine has always been with mankind due to war, natural disasters such as floods (as in the case of Honduras today) and locusts. But this 1933 "famine" in Ukraine did not take place during a war, there was no natural disaster and there were no locusts. How is it possible for a famine to take place without any logical cause? This is the mystery of the 1933 "famine." That is the mystery I will try to explain today.
Ukraine is famous as "the breadbasket of Europe." In fact, the rich deep black soil of Ukraine has been fertile for thousands of years. Ancient Greece 2,500 years ago depended on wheat from Ukraine and Plato and Socrates probably ate Ukrainian wheat. We Canadians are fortunate that wheat from Ukraine, labelled Red Fife, became the ancestor of all Canada's successful wheat strains. Economically they helped to establish this country as the "granary of the world."
When Hitler's German armies invaded Ukraine in June 1941 it is not generally known that they shipped trainloads of Ukrainian black earth back to Germany. Hitler coveted the black earth territory of Ukraine which he wanted for his Lebensraum, or living space, for the German nation. He vowed that with Ukraine the German people would never again be hungry.
If Ukraine was the "breadbasket of Europe" how could it become the scene of such a terrible "famine" in 1933?
When I went to Gibson Public School on Barton Street, the Technical Institute and Central Secondary here in Hamilton there was absolutely no mention of the "Ukrainian famine" in these schools. The only famine mentioned in school was the Irish Famine. In 1845-49 Ireland was hit by a potato blight which destroyed the main food crop of the Irish people. According to the 1851 Census Commission "almost one million" Irish died in the famine, or one-quarter of Ireland's population. Some 1.6 million Irish emigrated to the United States and Canada.
When I was a student at McMaster University I made a presentation to the History Club which included several myths about the USSR including the 1933 famine. My history professor was very sceptical about the famine and basically refused to accept that it had happened. I offered him eyewitness accounts from the book Black Deeds of the Kremlin translated by my father Alexander on Sherman Avenue North in 1953 but my professor dismissed them as a "Ukrainian viewpoint." In other words, as far as our schools and the university were concerned, the 1933 famine, actually a genocide, in Ukraine did not exist.
You and I have heard this story elsewhere. Ukrainian famine denial is the same as Jewish Holocaust denial and is perpetrated by the same kind of misguided individuals or academics. Even today there are sites on the internet that claim there was no 1933 famine genocide in Ukraine.
How is it possible that two of the world's greatest tragedies in this century could be doubted and denied? In the case of the Jews it is antisemitism but in the case of the Ukrainians we now know how it was done. We can trace the famine denial back to people like Walter Duranty, the foreign correspondent of The New York Times in Moscow, who reported that there were food shortages but no famine. Later Duranty said privately and quietly that perhaps 10 million died in the famine but this never appeared on the pages of The New York Times.
Collectivization is the process of conversion of small private farms and livestock into giant collective farms. The Soviet Government could not control the independent farmers in Ukraine. They were in a position on their own farms to disregard the Soviet system. The most intelligent and best farmers -- not necessarily rich -- were labelled kulaks by the Soviet government, their land and animals were confiscated and they were exiled to Siberia or executed. Rather than surrender both their land and their livestock of horses, cows, etc. many Ukrainian farmers slaughtered them before the Soviet authorities could confiscate them. The Collective farmers became workers paid at a starvation wage by the state. Stalin told Churchill in 1942 that Collectivization was worse than an entire year of the war against Germany and that there were ten million victims.
The coverup was carefully organized by Stalin's Kremlin. During the terrible year of 1933, Moscow banned all travel by foreigners in Ukraine and especially all foreign correspondents for the first three-quarters of the year. Ukraine's borders were sealed tight by the Red Army and the Soviet Secret Police. They were opened only late in the year when the 1933 crops had been harvested ending the hunger and also when bodies and other evidence had been cleared away. The English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge went into Ukraine to find out exactly why he had been banned from travelling there. He discovered the death toll in the form of nearly empty villages.
The American foreign correspondent William H. Chamberlin of the Christian Science Monitor also visited Ukraine late in 1933 as soon as the Kremlin allowed travel. He wrote that in Ukraine the Soviet government had "clamped down with the use of the last and most terrible weapon -- organized famine." (Russia's Iron Age, 1934). Chamberlin revealed in his book that Moscow had "organized" the famine. This is the most terrible secret of the famine: it was intentionally organized by Stalin's Soviet government.
Stalin and his henchman Lazar Kaganovich, who was in charge of Agriculture, were responsible for creating the Ukrainian genocide in 1933. Moscow's denials and the Kremlin's clever manipulation of the mass media convinced the world that there had been no massive death toll from hunger in Ukraine. Over the years it was only the very rare exception that someone mentioned the "famine" in a passing reference.
Stalin became the teacher of Hitler. We can only speculate what might have happened if Stalin's secret genocide by famine had been fully exposed to the world. Would Hitler's terrible secretive Holocaust of 6,000,000 Jews been possible? We also know that Hitler in World War II adopted Stalin's famine weapon and starved millions of Soviet prisoners of war including many Ukrainians.
Perhaps I should now mention one of the greatest points of confusion about the years 1932 and 1933 in Ukraine: In my opinion, there were actually two separate and distinct events in 1932 and 1933. In 1932 there definitely was a small famine in which Ukrainians perished. This famine was due to the inefficiency and callousness of the Soviet bureaucracy.
It is a different story for 1933. Stalin's brutal government actually passed laws and made regulations late in 1932 from which the only possible outcome was a massive genocide organized to create a maximum number of deaths from starvation. This is the actual genocide which destroyed so many Ukrainians. This is why I believe the 1932 famine should not be confused with the tragic 1933 genocide. This was carefully organized and became the intentional genocide plan of Stalin's government although we do not know if it was pre-mediated. Stalin used executions, exile to Siberia -- which en route took its toll of victims -- and mainly famine to commit the terrible Genocide of Ukrainians in 1933.
2. 1933 Famine in Ukraine Was Actually a Genocide
Many people have tried to give an accurate name to the 1933 famine because of its diabolical nature. It has been called the Great Famine (to reflect the extent and number of victims) the Black Famine, Holocaust Famine and the Stalin Famine. In Ukraine it has been called Holodomor meaning Hunger Death or perhaps Hunger Murder. It has been called the Organized Famine, the Engineered Famine, the Man-Made Famine and the Artificial Famine. But it really wasn't artificial since real people died of real hunger. It may be called the 1932-1933 Famine Genocide. But in my opinion it is most accurately labelled simply Genocide in Ukraine 1933 since it was planned in 1932 and intended to kill much of the Ukrainian nation in 1933.
3. United Nations Definition of Genocide
The 1949 United Nations Convention on Genocide defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." This includes "Killing members of the group" and "Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." So the actions of Stalin's government exactly fill the official U.N. definition of genocide.
Where exactly did the genocide take place? Eastern Ukraine was the major area of Stalin's famine. However, the evidence shows that it was also organized in ethnographic areas outside Ukraine which had a large Ukrainian population such as the Kuban region south-east of Ukraine. It also stretched eastward to the Volga and seems to coincide with pockets of Ukrainian population.
We know it was especially directed against Ukraine because just over the north-eastern border in Russia the famine did not exist. Many starving Ukrainians attempted to go to Russia for food but were stopped at the border. People trying to carry food into Ukraine were stopped by the authorities at the Ukrainian-Russian border and the food was confiscated.
Perhaps you know that journalists and reporters have a formula on how to write a news article. This is called the Five W's and an H. These are: Who What Where When Why and How. I have already touched on all of these except How? and Why?
4. How Did Stalin Organize the Genocide?
How did Stalin's government organize the genocide in Ukraine? First of all the decision and the first steps were taken in August 1932 and then the first procedures and plans were put in place. For example, on August 7, 1932 the law on the protection of state property was established. If you took a single ear of wheat from a collective farm -- you could be shot -- and there were people who suffered this fate. On December 6, 1932 a Soviet decree proclaimed a complete blockade of villages for allegedly sabotaging grain procurement.
Moscow sent an army of agents, who were communist party members and mostly Russians from Russia, into Ukraine. With the help of the Red Army and the GPU Soviet Secret Police Ukrainian villages were surrounded and every scrap of food in the village was confiscated including even bread baking in ovens. A thorough search was also made to find any food hidden by the Ukrainian farmers.
Sometimes it became a military action and resulted in an unequal struggle between farmers with pitchforks against heavily armed soldiers. The Ukrainian farmers invariably lost these battles. One Soviet General called it a "War" and was disturbed that he was fighting unarmed Ukrainian farmers. Many villages were emptied by these battles and by the famine. Molotov drafted an unpublished decree which encouraged Russians to settle in the empty villages of Ukraine and the North Caucasus. Victor Kravchenko, who was one of the agents, later wrote a book I Chose Freedom, in which he described 1933 as the Harvest in Hell.
5. 7,000,000 Ukrainians Died in the Genocide: 25,000 Per Day
At the peak of the genocide, which was in March 1933 according to Prof. Conquest, Ukrainians were dying at the rate of 25,000 per day, 1,000 per hour or 17 every minute. Estimates of the total deaths vary from 5 to 10 million but 7 million is the accepted figure. This was almost one-quarter of the population of Ukraine.
The children were especially devastated with one estimate stating that "no fewer than three million children born between 1932 and 1933 died of hunger." (M. Maksudov in Famine in Ukraine 1932-1933, Ed. by Roman Serbyn and Bohdan Krawchenko, Edmonton CIUS, 1986). One third of the children of Ukraine starved to death in the famine.
The New York Times (Dec. 22, 1997) published a powerful quote from Stephane Courtois in its review of the Black Book of Communism:
"The child of a Ukrainian kulak deliberately starved to death by the Stalinist regime is worth no less than a Jewish child in the Warsaw ghetto starved to death by the Nazi regime."
"I'm still young and I want so much to live"
One young Ukrainian girl wrote to her uncle, Professor K. Riabokin, at Kharkiv University as follows:
"Please Uncle, do take me to Kharkiv.
"We have neither bread nor anything else to eat. Dad is completely exhausted from hunger and is lying on the bench, unable to get on his feet. Mother is blind from hunger and cannot see in the least. So I have to guide her when she has to go outside. Please Uncle do take me to Kharkiv because I, too, will die from hunger. Please do take me, please. I'm still young and I want so much to live. Here I will surely die because everyone else is dying. . . Please do take me, please . . . ."
The Uncle received the letter at the same time that he was told she was dead. He says, "I did not know what to say or what to do. My head just pounded with my niece's pathetic plea: 'I'm still young and want so much to live. . . . Please do take me, please. . . .'"
6. Soviet Coverup
The coverup of the 1933 genocide included official Soviet government denials for over a half a century. The very first Soviet Ukrainian official to admit the existence of the 1933 genocide was Volodymyr Shcherbitsky, the Head of the Communist Party of Ukraine. On December 25, 1987 he said there was "famine in some localities of Ukraine." (Pravda Ukrainy, Dec. 26, 1987). Actually Nikita Khrushchev as a private citizen in his 1970 memoirs Khrushchev Remembers tells of a naive Soviet official who said to him: "A train recently pulled into Kiev loaded with corpses of people who had starved to death. It had picked up corpses all the way from Poltava to Kiev. I think somebody better inform Stalin about this situation." Of course, we know Stalin knew about it because he had organized it.
In addition to banning travel of foreigners into Ukraine, the Kremlin put strong pressure on foreign correspondents to follow the communist line that there was hunger but no famine in Ukraine in 1933.
When Soviet Census officials in 1937 submitted the USSR Census Report to the Government it revealed that the population was millions lower than it should have been. As a result, Stalin's government suppressed the 1937 census of the USSR and shot many of the census officials. A new 1939 census "corrected" the population to a higher level in order to conceal the famine. We know it would be foolish to believe that the 1939 census reflected reality.
For many decades excuses have been offered by the Soviet government and pro-Russian academics. For example, it was suggested that the weather caused a 1933 crop failure. However, the 1933 weather records actually reveal no adverse weather conditions. In fact, the crop in 1933 was larger than 1931 or 1934 years when there was no famine. In 1933 the Soviet Union exported 1.7 million tons of grain to the West while Ukrainians starved. Late in 1933 it was discovered that some of the confiscated Ukrainian grain was stored in storage facilities under armed guard -- right in Ukraine.
Why? The Ukrainian farmers and the Ukrainian cultural and intellectual leaders were opposed to collectivization which made the independent farmer into a "worker." As a result he came under the complete control of the state on farm land he no longer owned. Stalin used the genocide to break the will and opposition of the Ukrainian nation to collectivization and Russian rule and to assert his firm and complete control of Ukraine.
Despite their many efforts Ukrainians in the western world were unable to break the skepticism of the world. They produced volume two of the Black Deeds of The Kremlin dedicated entirely to the 1933 genocide but it was ignored by the academic world. Academics generally avoided mentioning the genocide although in some books the 1933 "famine" received a passing reference or one sentence. Ukrainians published many pamphlets and articles in the Ukrainian press but this had virtually no impact on the consciousness of the world. Finally, however, there was a sequence of events which brought the genocide into the world's awareness.
8. Documentary Film Harvest of Despair
The first step was the prize-winning documentary film Harvest of Despair produced in 1984 by the Ukrainian Canadian Research & Documentation Centre in Toronto. This film, directed by Slavko Nowytski, was shown on the CBC, PBS and other television networks. It seems to have been the catalyst which first, and finally, caught the attention of the general public.
9. Professor Conquest's Book Harvest of Sorrow
Two years later, in 1986, the academic world was forced to accept the reality of the 1933 genocide because of the book The Harvest of Sorrow, by Professor Robert Conquest. Professor Conquest, of Stanford University in California, is a highly respected expert on the Soviet Union. His book was the very first full scholarly study of the 1933 genocide. Published by the University of Alberta and the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, this book aroused a strong reaction and protests from pro-Soviet individuals. But it has stood the test of time. Conquest carefully analysed the background and history of the genocide and concluded that 7 million died. (The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, by Robert Conquest. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press and the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 1986. 412 p.)
When Ukraine's leader Shcherbitsky in 1987 publicly admitted the existence of the famine it finally gave the first official confirmation of this tragic event. The Ukrainian Communist Party issued a resolution on February 7, 1990 which blamed Stalin as the perpetrator of the famine. The next day as the mighty Soviet Union was in the process of crumbling away the Soviet Government ordered that the "full details of the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933" be published (Toronto Star / Reuter Feb. 8, 1990). But Moscow's policy soon changed. Archives were shut tight again and Moscow, as far as I know, never published a book on the famine.
10. U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine
Both of these government pronouncements, of Ukraine and Russia, can probably be credited as a direct reaction to the work of the Commission on the Ukraine Famine headed by Prof. James Mace who is of Scottish American origin. It published an Interim Report in 1987 and submitted its final Report to the United States Congress on April 22, 1988. This report was the final one of six volumes on the famine the Commission published which have given Americans and the entire world considerable documentation, eyewitness testimony and details confirming the 1933 genocide.
In the 19 findings of the Report to Congress by the Commission on the Famine there are three which I think sum up the main points:
- There is no doubt that large numbers of inhabitants of the Ukrainian SSR and the North Caucasus Territory starved to death in a man-made famine in 1932-1933 caused by the seizure of the 1932 crop by Soviet authorities.
- The victims of the Ukrainian famine numbered in the millions.
- Joseph Stalin and those around him committed genocide against Ukrainians in 1932-1933.
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One of the saddest aspects of the 1933 Genocide in Ukraine is that it was very thoroughly erased from the historical memory of Ukraine. The Soviet system carefully eliminated from history virtually all evidence including the visual photographic record. Ukrainians in Ukraine today do not know about the Stalin Genocide, while by comparison, Jews everywhere are very aware of the Hitler Holocaust.
Canada's one million Ukrainian Canadian community, has not only remembered Canada's dead in the World Wars. We have also preserved the memory of the 1933 Genocide in Ukraine and it is we who have passed this historical memory, like a torch, to our kinsmen in Ukraine.
Here in Canada we should support the proposal to establish a Canadian Genocide Museum in Ottawa. We should write to our Members of Parliament in support of the Genocide Museum proposed by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association. It will help to educate Canadians and recognize all the major historical genocides perpetrated in this century against such peoples as the Armenians, Ukrainians and Jews.
On October 4, 1998, during the 65 th anniversary commemoration of the Famine Genocide in Soviet Ukraine 1933, Andrew Gregorovich was interviewed on CFRB Radio
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