The Holodomor – Deliberate Genocide or Economic Disaster?

The Holodomor – Deliberate Genocide or Economic Disaster?

Pedestrians walking past bodies of starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933.

Historians and Scholars continue to debate the issue of the event called “Holodomor” which is a term that stands for a man-made famine inflicted upon the Ukrainian population during Joseph Stalin’s regime in 1932 to 1933.  Serious interpretation of the facts and analyzation into the cause didn’t really occur until 60 years after the fact when Ukraine finally gained its independence in 1991.

There are three camps of thoughts and beliefs:

  1. Those that are in complete denial of the whole intentional genocide theory. They feel the famine was solely the result of natural causes and poor economic times.
  2. Those that believe the famine resulting in millions of deaths by starvation was caused by a series of political blunders and policies. Joseph Stalin’s industrialization and collectivization polices are indicated as leading reasons.
  3. Those that believe the Holodomor is an earlier version of the Holocaust in Germany – a deliberate attempt to eradicate and exterminate a race of people – the Ukrainians.  Stalin is compared to Hitler in an outrageous, attempt at mass genocide. Only about 13% of 196 nations recognized this theory as of 2008.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin is thought by some to have orchestrated the famine.

Whether intentional or caused by natural phenomenon, the facts are pretty clear that millions of Ukrainian peasants (half of them children) died during the period of peace time between the World Wars.  Harvest figures show a drop in grain production from 7.2 million tons to 4.3 in 1932, yet Joseph Stalin and his administration put an updated policy in place to increase production quotas by 44, an impossible figure to meet. Ukrainian farmers were forced to accept extermination by hunger for themselves and families by ration cutting and compliance with the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Ukraine.  To declare the actions deliberate and intentional does not seem unreasonable in retrospect.

Before the famine, there is evidence of the deportation of Ukrainian peasant farmers and executions of religious, political, academic and cultural leaders. This too, is similar to the tactics of Hitler in an era yet to come. In 1928 Stalin introduced collectivization farms, which in effect took away all the privately owned farms and stocks and forced Ukrainians into communism.  Those who rebelled against this were accused of Bourgeois nationalism and arrested. It is reported that Stalin wanted to liquidate the Ukrainian peasants as a class.

Passers-by and the corpse of a starved man on a street in Kharkiv, 1932

Collective farms were state owned and a law was decreed in August of 1932 that food also belonged to the state and it was a crime to steal it.  The law resulted in many arrests and executions of starving peasants taking bits of grain and potatoes.  Youth organizations were actively enforcing the rule from 700 watchtowers erected for that purpose near the fields.

Changes were also made at this time from growing grain to sugar beets and cotton.  At a time when Ukrainians were starving, there is said to be grain that went unharvested or wasted. In 1933, it was estimated that 2,500 Ukrainians were dying per day.  The total number of deaths from this famine has been another widely varied and debated topic.  As high as 10 million deaths has been bandied about, but on a more realistic level, most historians believe the figure to be 3 million deaths of adults and children, with possibly 6 million birth defects, and stillborn babies.

The soviet policies under Joseph Stalin against the Ukrainians as a race were not so very different from Hitler’s regarding the Jews. In 1930 approximately 850,000 Ukrainians were dragged from their homes and shipped to Siberia without food or shelter. Stalin’s methods were to “teach through famine.”

Holodomor Memorial in Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Through widespread propaganda that there was no famine and complete disregard for international aid by Stalin, even the Western civilizations were in the dark.  In November of 1933, after millions of Ukrainians had lost their lives due to intentional hardships, Franklin Delano Roosevelt accepted a new trade agreement with Stalin.  The League of Nations also accepted the Soviet Union into its membership. 

Today, as more information is obtained and debated by historians, the Ukrainians mark a holiday called Holodomor Memorial Day on the fourth Saturday of November.  Ukrainians today call the Holodomor a “man-made famine,” a “terror famine,” and a “famine genocide.”