Denial of the Holodomor is the assertion that the 1933 famine claiming millions of lives in Soviet Ukraine, known today as the Holodomor, did not occur.. This denial and suppression was made in official Soviet propaganda and was supported by some Western journalists and intellectuals.
Denial of the famine by Soviet authorities, including President Mikhail Kalinin and Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, was immediate and continued into the 1980s. The Soviet party line was echoed at the time of the famine by some prominent Western journalists, including Walter Duranty and Louis Fischer. The denial of the famine was a highly successful and well orchestrated disinformation campaign by the Soviet government . Stalin "had achieved the impossible: he had silenced all the talk of hunger... Millions were dying, but the nation hymned the praises of collectivization", said historian and writer Edvard Radzinsky. That was the first major instance of Soviet authorities adopting Hitler's Big Lie propaganda technique to sway world opinion, to be followed by similar campaigns over the Moscow Trials and denial of the Gulag labor camp system, according to Robert Conquest
The term "Holodomor" (Ukrainian: Голодомор, often translated as "to inflict death by hunger") became widespread in the late 1980s as an expression of the horrific toll the famine had taken on Ukrainians. The term implies that Ukrainians were intentionally starved. In November 2006, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a bill branding the Holodomor an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. In November 2007, the government of Ukraine proposed a law which would criminalize public statements of both Holodomor and Holocaust denial. The law was never put to parliamentary vote.
Today, no serious academic scholars claim that the famine did not take place but the very fact of the famine's existence is still disputed by fringe writers and organizations. The causes, nature and extent of the Holodomor remain topics of controversy and active scholarship.
Soviet leadership undertook extensive efforts to prevent the spread of any information about the famine by keeping state communications top secret and taking other measures to prevent word of the famine from spreading. When Ukrainian peasants traveled north to Russia seeking bread, Joseph Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov sent a secret telegram to the party and provincial police chiefs with instructions to turn them back, alleging Polish agents were attempting to create a famine scare. OGPU chairman Genrikh Yagoda subsequently reported that over 200,000 peasants had been turned back.
Stalin's wife, Nadezhda Allilueva, learned about the famine from Ukrainian students at the technical school she was attending. They described acts of cannibalism and bands of orphaned children. Allilueva complained to Stalin, who then ordered the OGPU to purge all the college students who had taken part in collectivization.
Soviet President Mikhail Kalinin responded to Western offers of food by telling of “political cheats who offer to help the starving Ukraine,” and commented that, “only the most decadent classes are capable of producing such cynical elements.
In an interview with Gareth Jones in March 1933, Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov stated, “Well, there is no famine", and went on to say, "You must take a longer view. The present hunger is temporary. In writing books you must have a longer view. It would be difficult to describe it as hunger.”
On instructions from Litvinov, Boris Skvirsky, embassy counselor of the recently opened Soviet Embassy in the United States, published a letter on January 3, 1934, in response to a pamphlet about the famine. In his letter, Skvirsky stated that the idea that the Soviet government was "deliberately killing the population of the Ukraine" "wholly grotesque." He claimed that the Ukrainian population had been increasing at an annual rate of 2 percent during the preceding five years and asserted that the death rate in Ukraine "was the lowest of that of any of the constituent republics composing the Soviet Union," concluding that it "was about 35 percent lower than the pre-war death rate of tsarist days."
The true number of dead was concealed. At the Kiev Medical Inspectorate, for example, the actual number of corpses, 9,472, was recorded as only 3,997. Similar falsifications of official records were widespread.
The January, 1937 census, the first in 11 years, was intended to reflect the achievements of Stalin's rule. It became evident that population growth particularly in Ukraine failed to meet official targets—evidence of the mortality resulting from the famine and from associated indirect demographic losses. Those collecting the data, senior statisticians with decades of experience, were arrested and executed, including three successive heads of the Soviet Central Statistical Administration. The census data itself was locked away for half a century in the Russian State Archive of the Economy.
The subsequent 1939 census was organized in a manner which certainly inflated data on population numbers. It showed a population figure of 170.6 million people, manipulated so as to match the numbers stated by Joseph Stalin in his report to the 18th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party that March. No other census was conducted until 1959.
The Soviet Union denied all existence of the famine until its 50th anniversary, in 1983, when the world-wide Ukrainian community coordinated famine remembrance. The Ukrainian diaspora exerted significant pressure on the media and various governments, including the United States and Canada, to raise the issue of the famine with the government of the Soviet Union.
While the Soviet government admitted that some peasantry died, it also sought to launch a disinformation campaign, in February 1983, to blame drought. The head of the directorate for relations with foreign countries for the the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), A. Merkulov, charged Leonid Kravchuk, the chief idealogue for the Communist Party in Ukraine, with finding rainfall evidence for the Great Famine. This new evidence was to be sent to the Novosti press centers in the U.S. and Canada, denouncing the "antidemocratic base of the Ukrainian bourgeois Nationalists, the collaboration of the Banderists and the Hitlerite Fascists during the Second World War. Kravchuk's inquiry into the rainfalls for the 1932-1933 period found that they were within normal parameters. Nevertheless, the official position regarding drought did not change.
The United States Congress created the Commission on the Ukraine Famine in 1986. Soviet authorities were correct in their expectation that the commission would lay responsibility for the famine on the Soviet state.
Increased international awareness of the famine did not dissuade Soviet authorities from further disinformation in anticipation of the 55th anniversary of the famine. In Canada, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians (a cultural and educational organization founded in 1918 and still preserving its original pro-Communist leanings) published numerous articles denying the famine in its publications, available to the public through its bookstore outlets. In 2007, newly released correspondence confirmed instructions for the content of these materials had come directly from Soviet authorities.
Ultimately, as President of Ukraine, Kravchuk exposed the official cover-up attempts and came out in support of recognizing the famine, named the "Holodomor, as genocide.
"The biggest and most infamous blank spot in the Soviet history of Ukraine is the hollow silence for over 50 years about the genocide of the Ukrainian nation organized by Stalin and his henchmen ... The Great Famine of 1932-33, which took millions of human lives. In one year—1933—my people lost more than throughout all of World War II, which ravaged our land."It was during this period of glasnost that Soviet authorities admitted that agricultural policies played a direct role in the causing the famine.
In the post Soviet era, an independent Ukraine has officially condemned the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. The Russian Foreign Ministry counters that not only Ukrainians died in the Great Famine, that to single out Ukrainians as victims insults others who died, that the "declaration of the tragic events of that time as act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation is a unilateral misinterpretation of history in favor of modern conformist political and ideological principles.
One of the first Western Holodomor deniers was Walter Duranty, the winner of the 1932 Pulitzer prize in journalism in the category of correspondence, for his dispatches on Soviet Union (called incorrectly Russia) and the working out of the Five Year Plan. While the famine was raging, he wrote in the pages of The New York Times that "Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda," and that "There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.
In his reports, Duranty downplayed the impact of food shortages in Ukraine, although in private he told Eugene Lyons and reported to the British Embassy that the population of Ukraine and Lower Volga had "decreased" by six to seven million.. While other Western reporters reported the famine conditions as best they could due to Soviet censorship and restrictions on visiting areas affected by the famine, Duranty's reports frequently echoed the official Soviet view. As Duranty wrote in a dispatch from Moscow in March 1933, "Conditions are bad, but there is no famine... But—to put it brutally—you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs."
Duranty wrote articles denying the fact that the Holodomor was taking place in Ukraine. He also wrote denunciations of those who wrote about the famine, accusing them of being reactionaries and anti-Bolshevik propagandists. He continued to do this despite visiting the famine-stricken areas. Duranty repeated Soviet propaganda without verifying its veracity. As the New York Times notes: "Taking Soviet propaganda at face value this way was completely misleading, as talking with ordinary Russians might have revealed even at the time."
In August 1933, Theodor Cardinal Innitzer of Vienna called for relief efforts, stating that the Ukrainian famine was claiming lives “likely. . . numbered. . . by the millions” and driving those still alive to infanticide and cannibalism. The New York Times, August 20, 1933, reported Innitzer’s charge and published an official denial: “in the Soviet Union we have neither cannibals nor cardinals”. The next day, the Times added Duranty’s own denial.
Some historians consider Duranty's reports from Moscow to be crucial in the decision taken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to grant the Soviet Union diplomatic recognition in 1933.. Bolshevik Karl Radek said that was indeed the case .
British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge characterised Duranty as "the greatest liar of any journalist I have met in 50 years of journalism. Others have characterized Duranty as "the number one Useful Idiot for Lenin first, and later or Stalin.
Campaigns were launched in 1986 for the retraction of the Pulitzer Prize given to The New York Times. The Times however declined to relinquish it, arguing that Duranty received the prize for his reporting several years before the occurrence of the famine. While conceding that Duranty's coverage of the famine has since been "largely discredited", the Times noted that:
Duranty's cabled dispatches had to pass Soviet censorship, and Stalin's propaganda machine was powerful and omnipresent. Duranty's analyses relied on official sources as his primary source of information, accounting for the most significant flaw in his coverage - his consistent underestimation of Stalin's brutality.The Times also acknowledges that "some of Duranty's editors criticized his reporting as tendentious", and that "collectivization was the main cause of a famine that killed millions of people in Ukraine, the Soviet breadbasket, in 1932 and 1933 - two years after Duranty won his prize."
Initially critical of the Soviet grain procurement program because it created the food problem, Fischer by February 1933 adopted the official Soviet government view, which blamed the problem on Ukrainian counter-revolutionary nationalist "wreckers." It seemed "whole villages" had been "contaminated" by such men, who had to be deported to "lumbering camps and mining areas in distant agricultural areas which are now just entering upon their pioneering stage." These steps were forced upon the Kremlin, Fischer wrote, but the Soviets were, nevertheless, learning how to rule wisely.
Fischer was on a lecture tour in the United States when Gareth Jones' famine story broke. Speaking to a college audience in Oakland, California, a week later, Fischer stated emphatically: "There is no starvation in Russia." He spent the spring of 1933 campaigning for American diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union. As rumors of a famine in the USSR reached American shores, Fischer vociferously denied the reports.
Fischer's article entitled "Russia's Last Hard Year," stated, "The first half of 1933 was very difficult indeed. Many people simply did not have sufficient nourishment." Fischer blamed poor weather and the refusal of peasants to harvest the grain, which then rotted in the fields. Government requisitions drained the countryside of food, he admitted, but military needs (a potential conflict with Japan) explained the need for such deadly thoroughness in grain collections.
Fischer maintained his general optimism about the Soviet Union through the publication of his Soviet Journey in 1935. The book devoted three pages to a discussion of the famine of 1932-1933, in which Fischer described his October travels through Ukraine. He told of food left rotting in the fields as the result of peasants' "passive resistance." Fischer blamed the peasants directly for having "brought the calamity upon themselves." Fischer stressed the positive results ensuing from Bolshevik victory in the countryside, and connected the famine to peasant action (or inaction).
In Chicago, on December 17, 1933, several hundred Communists mounted a massed attack on the vanguard of 5,000 Ukrainian American marchers, leaving over 100 injured in what The New York Times called "the worst riot in years":
"Brick, clubs, rotten eggs and other missiles rained on the marchers from the Hermitage Avenue elevated station bridging Madison Street. The street fight which followed saw brass knuckles, blackjacks, fists and rifle butts used until a dozen squads of police restored order."
In 1934 the British Foreign Office in the House of Lords stated that there was no evidence to support the allegations against the Soviet government regarding the Famine in Ukraine. The testimony of Sir John Maynard, a renowned famine expert who visited the Ukraine in the summer of 1933 rejected tales of famine-genocide propagated by the Ukrainian Nationalists.
The height of manipulation was reached during a visit to Ukraine carried out between August 26 and September 9, 1933, by French Prime Minister Edouard Herriot, who denied accounts of the famine and said that Soviet Ukraine was "like a garden in full bloom" . The day before his arrival, all beggars, homeless children and starving people were removed from the streets. Shop windows in local stores were filled with food, but purchases were forbidden, and anyone coming too close to the stores was arrested. The streets were washed. Just like all other Western visitors, Herriot met fake "peasants," all selected Communists or Komsomol members, who showed him healthy cattle. Herriot declared to the press that there was no famine in Ukraine, that he did not see any trace of it, and that this showed adversaries of the Soviet Union were spreading the rumour. "When one believes that the Ukraine is devastated by famine, allow me to shrug my shoulders," he declared. The September 13 1933 issue of Pravda was able to write that Herriot "categorically contradicted the lies of the bourgeoisie press in connection with a famine in the USSR..
The lack of knowledge of this genocide was observed by English writer George Orwell, who commented that "huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English Russophiles".
Orwell clearly knew of a press cover-up about the famine as in his 1945, Proposed Preface to Animal Farm he wrote: “...it was considered equally proper to publicise famines when they happened in India and to conceal them when they happened in the Ukraine. And if this was true before the war, the intellectual atmosphere is certainly no better now.” For an interesting 'work-in-progress' including a discussion on the influence of the Ukrainian Famine and Holodomor denial by Duranty on Orwell's book "Animal Farm" see Nigel Colley's article Was Gareth Jones's surname behind George Orwell’s naming of ‘Farmer Jones' in Animal Farm?
In February 1983, Alexander Yakovlev, the Soviet Ambassador to Canada, in a secret analysis "Some thoughts regarding the advertising of the Ukrainian SSR Pavilion held at the International Exposition "Man and the world" held in Canada" put forward a prognosis for a campaign being prepared to bring international attention to the Ukrainian Holodomor which was spearheaded by the Ukrainian nationalist community. A. Yakovlev proposed a list of concrete proposals to "neutralise the enemy ideological actions of the Ukrainian bourgeoise nationalists.
By April 1983, the bureau of the Soviet Novosti Press Agency had prepared and sent out a special press release denying the occurrence of the 1933 Famine in Ukraine. This press release was sent to every major newspaper, radio and television station as well as University in Canada. It was also sent out to all members of the Canadian parliament.
On July 5 1983 the Soviet Embassy issued an official note of protest regarding the planned opening of a monument in memory of the victims of the Holodomor in Edmonton attempting to smear the opening of the monument.
In October 1983, the World Congress of Ukrainians lead by V-Yu Danyliv attempted to launch a international tribunal to judge the facts regarding the Holodomor. At the 4th World Congress of Ukrainians held in December 1983, a resolution was passed to form such an international tribunal.
A. Makarov from the Soviet Consulate in a discussion held December 3, 1984 with the Canadian minister for foreign affairs Ron Halpin demanded that the Canadian government "use concrete measures to stop the anti-soviet campaign of provocations regarding the so-called "Famine", and stop aggressive actions of the Ukrainian emigre centres against the Soviet Union and to take legal action against "war criminals" who had committed crimes on temporarily occupied Soviet territory."
Further, the Soviet Communist Party approached the Canadian Communist Party to engage journalist Douglas Tottle to prepare counter-propaganda materials under the title "Fraud, Famine and Ukrainian Fascism". Before final publication, the official reviewers of the tome in Kyiv suggested that the name of the book be changed, as stated in their explanation "Ukrainian fascism never existed". they also suggested that the citations of Soviet authors K. Dmytriuk and V. Stryrkula be removed from the publication.
His book, published by the pro-Communist Progress Publishers in Toronto, appeared practically at the same time Ukrainian Communist party leader Volodymyr Shcherbytsky publicly acknowledged the Famine, in December 1987. As a result the book was subsequently withdrawn from circulation. Nevertheless, the book is available on the internet, and continues to be cited as an "invaluable" and "important" book by groups such as the Stalin Society in Great Britain, author Jeff Coplon, and others.
In a review of Tottle's book in the Ukrainian Canadian Magazine, published by the pro-Communist Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, Wilfred Szczesny wrote: "Members of the general public who want to know about the famine, its extent and causes, and about the motives and techniques of those who would make this tragedy into something other than what it was will find Tottle's work invaluable" (The Ukrainian Canadian, April 1988, p. 24).
In his book, Searching for place, Lubomyr Luciuk comments: "For a particularly base example of famine-denial literature, see Tottle, Fraud, famine, and fascism...".
In 1988 the International Commission of Inquiry Into the 1932–33 Famine in Ukraine was set up to establish whether the famine existed and its cause. Tottle was invited by the commission to attend the hearings, however he ignored the request. While the commission was organized along judicial lines, it had no judicial power to compel witnesses to attend or testify. However Tottle's book was examined during the Brussels sitting of the commission, held between May 23 - 27, 1988, with testimony from various expert witnesses. The commission president Professor Jacob Sundberg subsequently concluded that Tottle was not alone in his enterprise to deny the famine on the basis that material included in his book could not have been available to a private person without official Soviet assistance.
Other similar writings include an article by Wilfred Szczesny ("Fraud, Famine and Fascism", The Ukrainian Canadian, April 1988); an unsigned article ("The Ukrainian Famine: Fact or Fiction"), which appeared in the McGill Daily, November 22, 1988, and Challenge-Desafio's article ("The Hoax of the Man-Made Ukraine Famine of 1932-33"), which appeared in a newspaper of the Progressive Labor Party in 1987.
Tottle's book inspired a number of articles such as Jeff Coplon's article "In Search of a Soviet Holocaust". This article denies the Holodomor, and also tries to associate those who continued to bring the Holodomor to the attention of the public with the Nazis, even giving quotes from Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf to stress this point.
"Just as the Nazis used the OUN for their own ends, so has Reagan exploited the famine, from his purple-prosed commemoration of "this callous act" to his backing of the Mace commission. ... But if people could be convinced that Communism is worse than fascism; that Stalin was an insane monster, even worse than Hitler; that the seven million died in more unspeakable agony than the six million ... One cannot appease an Evil Empire, after all.Coplon also penned the article "Rewriting History - How Ukrainian nationalists imposed their doctored history on High School Students" heavily relying on Tottle with his additional comments regarding the inclusion the Holodomor as one of a number of subjects included in the curriculum for social studies classes in New York. In the article published in the magazine "CAPITAL Region" March 1988, he wrote:
"The losers, of course, are the New York state schoolchildren, who will absorb this disinformation between algebra and chemistry - and may even be asked to parrot the fraud for a higher score on their regents exam."Other similar writings include an article by Wilfred Szczesny ("Fraud, Famine and Fascism", The Ukrainian Canadian, April 1988); an unsigned article ("The Ukrainian Famine: Fact or Fiction"), which appeared in the McGill Daily, November 22, 1988, and Challenge-Desafio's article ("The Hoax of the Man-Made Ukraine Famine of 1932-33"), which appeared in a newspaper of the Progressive Labor Party in 1987.
In 1989, Stephan Merl (a professor at Bielefeld University) published "Entfachte Stalin die Hungersnot von 1932-1933 zur Auslöschung des ukrainischen Nationalismus?". This publication, relying heavily on Tottle, describes the work of James Mace and Robert Conquest as part of a campaign by Ukrainian nationalists to discredit the Soviet Union and pillory liberal journalists like Walter Duranty..
Sousa's arguments against the Holodomor are based on his interpretation that the early Holodomor campaign was started by the Nazis and was later taken up and funded by Ukrainian refugees who he states were Nazi collaborators. It was later supported by the CIA during the Cold War specifically aimed at slandering and discrediting the Soviet government.
"The Ukrainian famine-genocide myth", a pamphlet penned by British physician John Puntis, was published in July 2002 by the Stalin Society based in London. This pamphlet heavily relies on Tottle's book. Facts are reinterpreted and sources and numbers questioned with the whole history of the famine interpreted as the continuation of the Cold War.
A draft law "On Amendments to the Criminal and the Procedural Criminal Codes of Ukraine" was submitted by President Viktor Yushchenko for consideration by the Ukrainian Parliament. The draft law envisages prosecution for public denial of the Holodomor Famine of 1932–1933 in Ukraine as a fact of genocide of the Ukrainian people, and of the Holocaust as the fact of genocide of the Jewish people. The draft law foresees that public denial as well as production and dissemination of materials denying the above shall be punished by a fine of 100 to 300 untaxed minimum salaries, or imprisonment of up to two years.