Published in the Mesa Tribune, December 2, 1992.
-- John 3:19, 20 KJV
It has been well over a year since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Perhaps it is too early to tell, but it is unlikely that the Soviet regime will spark nearly the curiosity that the Nazi regime has -- despite the fact that Lenin's regime lasted six times as long as Hitler's, and killed six times as many people.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the most gruesome episode in Soviet history: the Ukrainian famine of the 1930s which, along with related atrocities, killed 14.5 million people. This is over twice the death toll in Hitler's Holocaust and more than the total number of deaths in World War I.
If you have never heard of the Ukrainian famine, please do not feel bad. For over 50 years, the Kremlin did an extremely good job of denying its existence. Many influential Westerners collaborated in this effort. Indeed, until the 1986 release of Robert Conquest's book The Harvest of Sorrow, there was not one serious book on this cataclysm available in English.
The Ukraine is the second largest nation in Europe and has the sixth largest population. It declared independence in 1917 only to be absorbed by the Soviet Union in 1921. Even so, it continued to assert autonomy in many areas. Stalin would not stand for such recalcitrance. It was this national pride, coupled with its fertile agricultural land, that made the Ukraine a focal point of Stalin's first Five Year Plan in 1928.
Under this plan, Soviet industrialization would be financed by the sale of grain to the West. This grain would be grown on state-owned collective farms. Anticipating much resistance, Moscow set out to liquidate those Ukrainians who were most likely to rebel, namely the kulaks, or middle class land owners. Eventually, the Kremlin would define "kulak" as anyone who opposed its policies in the Ukraine.
Some 100,000 Communist Party "activists" would stop at nothing to wring the last drop of autonomy from the Ukrainians. The borders of the Ukraine were sealed: no food was allowed in and no Ukrainians were allowed out. Those who actively protested were deported to labor and death camps.
In 1932, massive grain exports to the West began. Even so, the repression in the Ukraine intensified. By the spring of 1933, 25,000 people were dying each day -- 17 each minute -- as a result of the famine. As if this were not enough, the Kremlin forbade any foreign relief efforts in the Ukraine.
The Soviets acted as if there were no famine at all. At the time, they had very ambitious foreign policy goals, including admission to the League of Nations, increased foreign trade, and diplomatic recognition by the United States. If word of the famine got out, their chances for success would have been almost nil.
The Soviets were not the only ones working to censor news of the famine. They had considerable help from Western journalists in Moscow, most notably -- or should I say notoriously? -- Walter Duranty of The New York Times. Some Western newspapers did carry news of the famine. However, access to the Ukraine became increasingly difficult as the famine continued.
The coverup of the Ukrainian famine continues today. This is due partly to the fact that, unlike Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union did not succumb to a foreign army. Moreover, even in the era of glasnost, foreigners were never free to roam the Soviet Union. It has not, therefore, been possible to compile an archive anything at all like the one pertaining to the Nazi Holocaust.
The Western media also continues to sweep the famine under the rug. The most flagrant example of this self-censorship was the refusal of the three major American networks to air Harvest of Despair, a riveting 55-minute Canadian documentary depicting the events of 1932-33.
This 1985 film represented the first concerted effort to bring the famine to the West's attention. Although the film won a plethora of awards abroad, all three American networks rejected it. It was only after considerable arm-twisting that PBS agreed to air Harvest of Despair on a special edition of William F. Buckley's Firing Line.
The most common criticism of Harvest of Despair, was that it did not present "the Soviet side of the story." Well, no one ever asked Rudolf Hess for the "official Nazi view" of the Holocaust; no one ever asked any former Alabama state legislators for "the official segregationist view" of Jim Crow laws. Why do we insist on this criterion of "balance" when discussing the Soviet Union?
The Ukrainian famine has also received negligible attention from the print media. When asked whether or not they planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the famine, the editors at Time replied that they would "occasionally report on historical events when they bear directly on current news."
We are talking here about an event that killed twice as many people as the Holocaust. While the Nazi regime breathed its last in 1945, the Soviet regime expired last year.
The Holocaust will remain relevant as long as hatred exists. The Ukrainian famine will remain relevant as long as people are seduced by the fact that government can solve all their problems. This cult of the state poses a far greater threat in American today.
There is a monument at the former Nazi death camp of Dachau bearing these words by historian George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
We commemorate the Holocaust so that we may avert another such tragedy. Likewise, exhuming the Ukrainian famine is an essential task if we wish to thwart a revival of Nazism's moral equivalent.
Freely Speaking: Essays by Doug Newman
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