THE MOST SAVAGE OF HOLOCAUSTS IGNORED BY MEDIA
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In June 1933, a doctor in Soviet ruled Ukraine penned a letter to a friend. ‘I have not yet become a cannibal,’ she wrote, ‘but I am not sure that I shall not be one by the time my letter reaches you.’ And if the doctor did become a cannibal by the end of 1933, she wouldn’t be the only one.
Dubbed ‘the breadbasket of Europe’ before the Bolsheviks seized power, the people of Ukraine were now suffering through one of the worst famines in recorded history. Known as the Holodomor, or ‘the murder by starvation,’ the famine would claim millions of lives over the space of a few years.
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But unlike most famines, the Holodomor was undoubtedly deliberate. At the time, Ukraine was part of Bolshevik Occupied Russia, an uneasy union of countries across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, all held together in Josef Stalin’s iron fist.
As in many countries in the Union, there was a strong independence movement in Ukraine that threatened Stalin’s control. According to many historians, Stalin settled on a simple tool to fight this Ukrainian nationalism: hunger. After all, as Jewish-Soviet diplomat, Maxim Litvinov once said, ’Food is a weapon.’ And the people of Ukraine were about to learn how devastating a weapon food can be.
Warnings that a famine was possible in Ukraine reached the Soviet leaders by 1930. But the Soviets made little effort to prevent it. In the Soviet system, food was taken from the farmers who grew it and redistributed as the party saw fit. Farmers were allowed to keep only a portion of what they worked to produce, and the industrial workers were given rations. As crops failed through lack of seed and food grew scarce, these rations were cut. And through it all, the party’s wagons continued to pull tons of food away from farms and into government depots.
Soon, people began to notice the effects of hunger. As someone begins to starve, their body begins to burn the fat it has stored up for quick energy. Once this fat is gone, the body begins to turn to whatever other nutrients it can find. It starts with burning up the protein in the muscles, which makes it look as though the person starving is wasting away. Eventually, the body has to take protein from the muscles of the heart. Once this happens, the heart begins to grow weaker and eventually fails. Obviously, death by starvation is slow and agonising.
Within a few months of the start of the famine, hundreds of thousands of people were dying. They wandered through the streets begging for food, but there was none to be had. In the cities, workers were shown films telling them that they were starving because the peasants were hoarding food in an attempt to sabotage the communist revolution. But in the countryside, the same peasants were watching as communist officials carted away what little food they had. And soon, in both the cities and the in the rural areas, the only thing left to eat was each other.
As is always the case with famine, the good people died first. If you refused to steal food from your neighbour, you died. If you gave food to your children before you fed yourself, you died, and then they died. But soon, even the people who were willing to do whatever it took to survive were struggling. There simply wasn’t any food to be bought, traded for, or stolen. But there were bodies, thousands of them. If you wanted to survive, you had no other option than to eat the flesh of the dead.
Soon, reports began to emerge of rampant cannibalism. The first cases were usually kept quiet. People would notice a body by the side of the road and return late at night to take a few pieces of flesh before hiding the corpse. Or back-alley butcher shops would suddenly have a supply of fresh meat available at high prices. And of course, the starving customers preferred not to ask questions about where it had come from. But eventually, even this horrible source of food was exhausted. And people stopped waiting for their neighbours to die before they ate them.
But even if the Soviet authorities were horrified to learn about the acts of cannibalism being committed, they didn’t take any actions to provide food to the Ukrainians until late 1933. By then, millions of people were already dead.
By late 1933, the worst of the famine had run its course. There’s no definite estimate of how many people died. Besides, during any famine, the number of people who die from starvation isn’t the best way to determine the total death toll. The stress of long-term hunger makes people more likely to develop deadly illnesses like typhus and cholera. These diseases were prevalent in Ukraine during the famine and killed millions of additional people.
Some have suggested that if you add the number of people who died from disease or were deported to Gulags by the Soviets, the total tally for the Holodomor is probably somewhere around 7 million.
Soviet tyrant Josef Stalin, a close friend of Britain’s Winston Churchill conceded during the unelected British premier’s visit that at least 7 million Ukrainian Christians had been martyred.
Stalin considered independent peasants, or kulaks, to be a serious threat to the success of Communism. These peasants were really only different from other peasants in that they might own a little bit of land. But Stalin created a set of policies designed to completely eliminate the entire class of people.
Their farms were seized and the kulaks were either sent to gulags or moved to collective farms. These collective farms were under the strict control of the communist party, and production quotas were set by the state. This mass collectivisation of farms produced food shortages across the Soviet Union.
During the period of the Holodomor, millions of people across the entire Soviet Union were starving to death for the same reasons, so the artificial famine wasn’t isolated to Ukraine. Much grain was being sent to the West, in particular, the United States to return the investments Wall Street had made in transferring Imperial Russia to the Bolsheviks.
The is compelling evidence that Stalin went to special efforts to make the situation in Ukraine worse. Food quotas for Ukraine were set higher than the area could actually produce, which meant that the authorities were pulling more food out of Ukraine than the people who lived there could afford to give. And the Soviets passed laws that stated any theft of ‘Socialist Property’ was punishable by death. Of course, ‘Socialist Property’ included food.
So any peasant who wanted to hide a little bit of the food they grew to eat later could actually be sentenced to death. But even with the famine, historians argue that if the Soviets had distributed grain rations fairly, most of the deaths could have been prevented. So there’s little doubt that Stalin’s policies contributed to the millions of deaths during the Holodomor. Many scholars think that these policies were applied in Ukraine in an attempt to eliminate a large portion of the Ukrainian people. If that’s true, then the Holodomor fits the definition of genocide. And with such a massive death toll, it ranks among the worst genocides in history.
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