In the west today, we have become obsessed with rectifying historical injustices; slavery; Apartheid; colonialism and, of course, The Holocaust, yet we are all too often highly selective in that which we are willing to recognise. Seemingly nobody, for instances, spares a thought for the European Christian victims of the Armenian genocide, perpetrated by Turkish (Muslim) Ottomans at the end of the First World War. Nor do we care much for the Afrikaners (Boers), who lost their lives during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) when the British invented the concentration camp. And finally, as the subject and introduction to this article has made apparent, we do not remember the Ukrainian victims of the Holodomor, a socially engineered famine committed by Soviet Communists in the early 1930’s – perhaps you will be noticing a pattern here, that the victims are always forgotten if they’re European Christians. Food for thought, maybe.
The Holodomor is still unrivalled in terms of the death it caused and its severity unsurpassed on the scale of crimes against humanity. As many as 12 million Ukrainians lost their lives as a result of Soviet-enforced famine, many from starvation, but a great number of them fell victim to deportation (which meant certain death in Siberia), and summary executions carried out by the Cheka. The famine did untold damage to Ukraine, and drove many to the extreme lengths of foraging for food like dogs and even cannibalism. An atrocity such as this outweighs the holocaust both in terms of severity and side-effect, yet barely a sole outside the borders of the Ukraine itself have ever heard of it. There’s no museum of its namesake in London, no memorial in Berlin and no universally recognised memorial day. The victims have been, sadly, forgotten, or otherwise swept under the proverbial carpet.
The story begins a decade earlier, in 1922, upon the formation of the Soviet Union. The Russian Civil War which immediately proceeded the First World War enabled the Bolshevik Party to first seize power, then tighten its grip on that power and seize further territory disputed as a part of the violent upheaval. In 1922 the Ukraine joined the USSR as one of its constituent republics, essentially becoming a vassal of Moscow and the Bolshevik Central Committee. 5 years prior to this, however, the people of Ukraine had declared independence as the Ukraine Peoples’ Republic – a parallel declaration by the Ukraine Soviet Republic was made, which of course had the support of the Soviet Union, but could not command the support of a majority of Ukrainians, nor was it recognised internationally as the former was. A conflict ensued between the two factions, known as the Ukrainian-Soviet War (1917-21), in which the Soviet faction were supported by arms and soldiers from Russia, whereas the support for the Peoples’ Republic by the Western powers shamefully did not extend beyond formal recognition.
Upon Lenin’s death in 1924, Joseph Stalin took charge of the USSR and began implementing economic plans that would spell disaster for millions of people in Eastern Europe. In particular, agriculture was designated for significant upheaval, with the Soviets’ preferred design a system of collective farms that stripped farmers of their right to own the farms they worked, instead giving multiple farm worker an artificial stake in the land. Perhaps the most devastating measure was the quota system, whereby farmers were not entitled to sell their produce in their chosen markets, but instead were forced to forfeit the vast majority of their grain and other foodstuffs to the central government in Moscow, who would then distribute the produce to their chosen markets and customers.
In 1929, Stalin appointed the enthusiastic young “Ukrainian” Communist Yakov Yakovlev to the position of Peoples’ Commissar of Agriculture, giving him far-reaching control over the entirety of the USSR’s agriculture policies. Yakovlev was nominally Ukrainian, but he came from a strongly Jewish family and his real surname was Epstein – he, like many of the leading Bolsheviks, took a more Slavic-sounding surname in a fleeting attempt to ingratiate himself with the people he now dictated to.
It is no coincidence that 1929 was also the year when the terror began. Many Ukrainian farmers, known in Russian as Kulaks, had remained steadfast in the refusal to join the collective farms, as they were antithetical to the independent sensibilities of most rural Ukrainians. This opposition to Moscow’s policy was met with fierce reprisals from Yakovlev’s ministry, who fermented class warfare between urban and rural Ukrainians, vowing to “liquidate them [Kulaks] as a class”. The production quotas were sharply increased, ensuring that they could not be met, and punitive measures were then enforced as a result. Communist activists and Red Army staff were sent house-to-house in rural Ukrainian villages, confiscating every trace a food they found. The Death Penalty was the punishment for any man, woman or child, who took so much as a handful of grain from their own farms.
The most “troublesome” of Kulaks were deported to Siberia by the Red Army, or summarily executed by the Cheka for refusing to comply with the new collectivisation. Military blockades were placed around each village, ensuring that aid relief vehicles couldn’t access them and none of their native inhabitants could leave in search of food. The plot was as obvious as it was effective; to depopulate rural Ukraine and replace them with more Soviet-minded inhabitants who would prove more compliant with Epstein’s policies. This is exactly what happened, in any case, as the Moscow government moved foreign elements into the eventually depopulated rural areas of the Ukraine, such as Stalin’s Georgian compatriots, or Jewish-led communities of staunch Bolsheviks.
By 1930, Stalin and Epstein’s “Dekulakisation” process had claimed the lives of over 1.5 million people. Armed Soviet brigades had by this point swarmed into Ukraine to enforce the famine, and then subsequently to oversee and assist the confiscation of privately owned farmland. Around 500,000 men, women and children were taken from their homes by the Cheka and deported to remote areas of Siberia, where they would inevitably starve or be worked to death. A great number of child deportees perished in transit as a result of being herded into cattle trucks with no food or water.
At the height of the famine in the summer of 1933, as many as 30,000 Ukrainians were dying each day, while Stalin and Epstein continued to deny to the world that any such disaster was taking place. Production quotas were again increased, and the blockades, executions and deportations continued unabated. A third of the dead were children under 10 years of age. Between 1932-34, a further 4 million people died as a direct result of the famine, with many more millions dying as a result of the disease or widespread hunger created further afield in the Ukraine. This figure does not even include the millions who were shot by the Cheka, or deported to Siberia by the authorities.
The Western powers, even at the time, refused to acknowledge any such famine and instead, in 1933, the newly elected President Roosevelt of the United States officially recognised Stalin’s murderous regime for the first time. Simultaneously, Soviet Jewish emigres to the United States continued to sing the praises of the Communist regime, with a splattering of articles appearing in their favourite mouthpiece The New York Times during 1933, with not one mention of the atrocities. One prominent example of this type of behaviour can be seen in Joe Rapoport, a Soviet emigre to the United States who visited the Ukraine in 1934. His account of the visit bore no mention of the famine, instead extolling the virtues of the Soviet Union. In particular, he is happy that Jews are protected in the USSR, and that Jewish culture is accepted by Jews and non-Jews alike.
The exact figure for the number of deaths caused by the Holodomor is unknown. Unlike others, they do not profess the ability to label it with a mystical, artificial number, but a conservative estimate based on the data available places the minimum number of deaths at about 7 million, with the maximum number of deaths with a more generous analysis being as high as 12 million. Despite the gravity of this event, and as it is plain to see, there is very little knowledge that the Holodomor ever took place. There’s only a few humble memorials in Ukraine itself, the only country that has a memorial day for this crime against humanity.
The reason for this lack of awareness is quite obvious. There are no special interest parties with big capital advancing the cause, and the fact that the victims were European and mostly Christian of course places them at a significant disadvantage. But it is high time that this injustice was overturned. Instead of fawning over Holocaust Memorial Day, and instead of constantly chastising ourselves for slavery (an institution that ended 150 years ago), we should instead be concentrating on genuine atrocities that were committed against our own and closer to home. It is our duty to raise awareness and bring the Holodomor into the collective conscious, otherwise we do a great disservice to our European kith and kin who suffered immeasurably at the hands of a hostile Bolshevik elite.
William is a writer based in England, Great Britain.