A 55-Year Old Famine Feeds The Right
Something therefore always remains and sticks from the most impudent lies…
The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed.
— Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf
The girl is dying. She looks about five years old, but we know she may be older, diminished by hunger. She leans wearily against a gate. Her long hair falls lank about bare shoulders. Her head rests against her arm. Her neck is bent, like a stalk in parched earth. Her eyes are the worst — large and dark, glazed yet still wistful. The child is dying, starving, and we feel guilty for our witness …
The Ukrainian émigrés who made Harvest of Despair knew a gripping image when they saw one. The black-and-white still, played over an arching, minor-mode chorus, was chosen to close the Canadian documentary on the Ukraine of 1932-33. The same photograph was used to promote the film, to symbolize a long-dormant cause célebre: a “man-made” famine, “deliberately engineered” by Stalin to crush Ukrainian nationalism and cow a stubborn peasantry into permanent collectivization. Seven million Ukrainians were killed, the narrator tells us, as “a nation the size of France [was] strangled by hunger.”
The result, intoned William F. Buckley, whose Firing Line showed the film last November, was “perhaps the greatest holocaust of the century.”
The term “holocaust” still burns the ears, even in our jaded time. As we watch the film and see corpses piled in fields, bloated bodies sprawled in streets, pale skeletons grasping for bits of bread, we wonder: How can such a terrible story have been suppressed so long?
Here is how: The story is a fraud. The starving girl, it turns out, wasn’t found in 1932 or 1933, nor in the Ukraine. Her picture was taken from a Red Cross bulletin on the 1921-22 Volga famine, for which no one claims genocide. Rather than an emblem of persecution, the photograph advances the most cynical of swindles — a hoax played out from the White House and Congress through the halls of Harvard to the New York State Department of Education. Pressing every pedal, pulling all the strings, is a Ukrainian nationalist lobby straining to cloak its own history of Nazi collaboration. By revising their past, these émigrés help support a more ambitious revisionism: a denial of Hitler’s holocaust against the Jews.
There was indeed a famine in the Ukraine in the early 1930s. It appears likely that hundreds of thousands, possibly one or two million, Ukrainians died — the minority from starvation, the majority from related diseases. By any scale, this is an enormous toll of human suffering. By general consensus, Stalin was partially responsible. By any stretch of an honest imagination, the tragedy still falls short of genocide.
In 1932, the Soviet Union was in crisis. The cities had suffered food shortages since 1928. Grain was desperately needed for export and foreign capital, both to fuel the first Five-Year Plan and to counter the growing war threat from Germany. In addition, the Communist Party’s left wing, led by Stalin, had come to reject the New Economic Plan, which restored market capitalism to the countryside in the 1920s.
In this context, collectivization was more than a vehicle for a cheap and steady grain supply to the state. It was truly a “revolution from above,” a drastic move toward socialism, and an epochal change in the mode of production. There were heavy casualties on both sides — hundreds of thousands of kulaks (rich peasants) deported to the north, thousands of party activists assassinated. Production superseded politics, and many peasants were coerced rather than won to collective farms. Vast disruption of the 1932 harvest ensued (and not only in the Ukraine), and many areas were hard-pressed to meet the state’s grain requisition quotas.
Again, Stalin and the Politburo played major roles. “But there is plenty of blame to go around,” as Sovietologist John Arch Getty recently noted in The London Review of Books. “It must be shared by the tens of thousands of activists and officials who carried out the policy and by the peasants who chose to slaughter animals, burn fields, and boycott cultivation in protest.”
Such a balanced analysis, however, has never satisfied Ukrainian nationalists in the United States and Canada, for whom the “terror-famine” is an article of faith and communal rallying point. For decades after the fact, their obsession was confined to émigré journals. Only of late has it achieved a sort of mainstream credibility — in Harvest of Despair, shown on PBS and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and at numerous college campuses; in The Harvest of Sorrow, an Oxford University Press account by Robert Conquest; in a “human rights” curriculum, now available to every 10th-grade social studies teacher in New York State; and in the federally funded Ukraine Famine Commission, now into its second year of “hearings.”
After 50 years on the fringes, the Ukraine famine debate is finally front and center. While one-note faminologists may teach us little real history, they reveal how our sense of history is pulled by political fashion until it hardens into the taffy of conventional wisdom. And how you can fool most of the people most of the time — especially when you tell them what they want to hear.
Harvest of Despair was the brainchild of Marco Carynnyk, a Ukrainian translator and poet who lives in Toronto. In 1983, Carynnyk found a sponsor in St. Vladimir’s Institute, which formed a Ukrainian Famine Research Committee of well-to-do émigrés . The committee raised $200,000 for the documentary, including a major grant from the Ukrainian Canadian Committee (a spiritual descendant of the fascist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists), and a loan from the similarly right-wing World Congress of Free Ukrainians.
As chief researcher for the film, Carynnyk had two major functions — to locate and interview famine survivors, and to find archival photographs. Talking heads would not be enough to make a case for genocide. To gain its intended shock value, the film would have to show what the famine was like. “There can be no question,” assessed The Winnipeg Free Press, “that without the films and photographs uncovered from the 1932-33 famine, the film would lose much of its authority.”
“I gave them two sets of photographs,” Carynnyk said. “I told them, ‘Here are the ones from the 1930s, and here are the ones from 1921-22.’ But in the cutting of the film, they were all mixed up. I said this can’t be done, that it will leave the film open to criticism … My complaints were ignored. They just didn’t think it was important.”
One problem, Carynnyk said, was that producer Slawko Nowitski faced an impossible five-month deadline to ready the film during the famine’s 50th anniversary. (In fact, Harvest of Despair would not be completed until late 1984.) But the researcher believes it was more than mere sloppiness at work. “The research committee was more interested in propagandistic purposes than historical scholarship,” said Carynnyk, who has sued the Famine Research Committee for copyright violation. “They were quite prepared to cut corners to get their point across.”
In October 1983, Carynnyk left the project — “relieved of his duties,” according to Nowitski, “because he did not produce the required material.” Three years and seven awards later, the lid blew last November at a meeting of the Toronto Board of Education, where terror-famine proponents were pressing to include the film in the city’s high school curriculum. The show stopped cold when Doug Tottle, former editor of a Winnipeg labor magazine, stood up and declared that “90 per cent” of the film’s archival photographs were plagiarized from the 1921-22 famine.
Tottle traced several of the most graphic photos, including that of the starving girl, to famine relief sources of the 1920s. (Some of these resurfaced in 1933 as anti-Soviet propaganda in Voelkischer Beobachter, an official Nazi party organ.) Other pictures were lifted from the 1936 English edition of Human Life in Russia, by Ewald Ammende, an Austrian relief worker in the earlier Volga famine. Ammende attributes them to a “Dr. F. Dittloff,” a German engineer who supposedly took the photos in the summer of 1933. The Dittloff pictures have their own bastard pedigrees — three from 1922 Geneva-based relief bulletins, others from Nazi publications. Still other Dittloffs were also claimed as original by Robert Green, a phony journalist and escaped convict who provided famine material to the profascist Hearst chain in 1935. Green, a convicted forger who used the alias “Thomas Walker,” reported that he took the photos in the spring of 1934 — almost a year after the Ukraine famine had ended, and in direct contradiction of Dittloff.
Although Green was exposed by The Nation and several New York dailies by 1935, right-wing émigrés have used his spurious photos for decades. “It’s not that these pictures were suddenly discovered in 1983 and accidentally misdated” in the film, Tottle noted.
Tottle had done his homework. Carynnyk confirmed that “very few” photos in Harvest of Despair could be authenticated, and that none of the famine film footage was from 1932-33. But the Ukraine Famine Research Committee decided to stonewall. At first they insisted that any photos from the 1920s were used only when the film discussed the Volga famine — a blatant evasion, since that segment lasts a scant 28 seconds and uses only two still photos, neither especially potent. Committee chairman Wasyl Janischewskyj recently softened that stance: “We have researched further and made discoveries that some photos we thought were from 1932-33 were not … We are now having further deep investigations of these pictures.”
In the main, however, the filmmakers have sought to justify their fraud. “You have to have visual impact,” said Orest Subtelny, the film’s historic adviser. “You want to show what people dying from a famine look like. Starving children are starving children.” A documentary, added producer Nowitski, must rely on “emotional truth” more than literal facts.
“These people have never attempted to refute my claims,” said Tottle. (His book on the subject, Fraud, Famine, and Fascism, will be published this fall by Toronto’s Progress Books, an outlet for Soviet releases.) “They have tried to lie and cover it up, but they have not tried to refute it.”
Nor have the nationalists refuted Tottle’s contention that several “witnesses” in the film were Nazi collaborators, including two German diplomats who served in the Third Reich and an Orthodox Church layman who blessedly rose to bishop while the Third Reich occupied the Ukraine in 1942.
“Just because they’re collaborators,” countered Nowitski, “does that mean we cannot believe anything they tell us? Just because they’re Nazis is no reason to doubt the authenticity of what happened.”
This slant pervades émigré research on the famine. Soviet sources are rejected out of hand, while Nazi sources (or known liars like Walker and Dittloff) are accepted unconditionally. In the Goebbels tradition, the nationalists’ brief always serves their anticommunism — no matter how many facts twist slowly in the process. Harvest of Despair follows unholy footsteps, and never breaks stride.
According to a 1978 article in The Guardian of London, Robert Conquest got his big break shortly after World War II, when he joined the Information Research Department of the British Foreign Office. Staffed heavily by émigrés, the IRD’s mission was a covert “propaganda counter-offensive” against the Soviet Union. It was heady, hands-on work for a young writer, a chance to slant media coverage of Russia by adding political “spin” to Eastern bloc press releases and funneling them to top reporters. The journalists knew little about the IRD, beyond the names of their mysterious contacts. The public knew nothing at all, even as their opinions were being sculpted.
After Conquest left the IRD in 1956, the agency suggested that he package some of his handiwork into a book. That first compilation was distributed in the U.S. by Fred Praeger, who had previously published several books at the request of the CIA.
The shy and courtly Conquest has come a long way since then, from gray propagandist to éminence grise. He is now a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford, as well as an associate of Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute. But his heart and his pen never left the IRD. The Soviet Union would be Conquest’s lifetime obsession. He churned out book after book on the horrors of communism: The Nation Killer, Where Marx Went Wrong, Kolyma: The Arctic Death Camps. His landmark work of 1968, The Great Terror, focused on Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s. But by 1984, his work had turned surreal; What To Do When the Russians Come was the literary equivalent of that politico-teen-disaster flick, Red Dawn. Yet he remained a mainstream heavyweight, coasting on reputation, his excesses accepted as Free World zeal.
In 1981, the Ukrainian Research Institute approached Conquest with a major project: a book on the 1932-33 famine. The pot was sweetened by an $80,000 subsidy from the Ukrainian National Association, a New Jersey-based group with a venerable, hard-right tradition; the UNA’s newspaper, Swoboda, was banned by Canada during World War II for its pro-German sympathies. (The grant was earmarked for Conquest’s research expenses, including the assistance of James Mace, a junior fellow at URI.)
The nationalists knew they’d be getting their money’s worth. At the time, faminology was virgin ground. There was little source material available, since the Soviet archives remain sealed. More to the point, most non-émigré historians viewed the 1932-33 famine as an outgrowth of collectivization, not a political phenomenon of itself, much less a stab at genocide. But Conquest was different. In his Terror book, he’d already concluded that more than three million Ukrainians were killed by the famine. Here, clearly, was the right man for the job, a man who once stated: “Truth can thus only percolate in the form of hearsay … basically the best, though not infallible, source is rumor.” And with no one on record to dispute the issue, Conquest’s rumors could rule.
In The Harvest of Sorrow, Conquest outdoes himself. He weaves his terror-famine from unverifiable (and notoriously biased) émigré accounts. He leans on reportage from ex-Communist converts to the American Way. He cites both “Walker” and Ammende. Black Deeds of the Kremlin, a period piece published by Ukrainian émigrés in 1953, is footnoted no less than 145 times.
Conquest can be deftly selective when it suits his purpose. He borrows heavily from Lev Kopelev’s The Education of a True Believer, but ignores Kopelev when the latter recalls Ukrainian villages that were relatively untouched by famine, or relief efforts by a Communist village council.
By confirming people’s worst suspicions of Stalin’s rule, The Harvest of Sorrow has won favorable reviews from The New York Times, The New Republic, and The New York Review of Books. But leading scholars on this era are less impressed. They challenge Conquest’s contention that Ukrainian priests and intelligentsia — two major counterrevolutionary camps — were repressed more ruthlessly than anywhere else in the country. They point out that the 1932-33 famine was hardly confined to the Ukraine, that it reached deep into the Black Earth region of central Russia. They note that Stalin had far less control over collectivization than is widely assumed, and that radical district leaders made their own rules as they went along.
Most vehemently of all, these experts reject Conquest’s hunt for a new holocaust. The famine was a terrible thing, they agree, but it decidedly was not genocide.
“There is no evidence it was intentionally directed against Ukrainians,” said Alexander Dallin of Stanford, the father of modern Sovietology. “That would be totally out of keeping with what we know — it makes no sense.”
“This is crap, rubbish,” said Moshe Lewin of the University of Pennsylvania, whose Russian Peasants and Soviet Power broke new ground in social history. “I am an anti-Stalinist, but I don’t see how this [genocide] campaign adds to our knowledge. It’s adding horrors, adding horrors, until it becomes a pathology.”
“I absolutely reject it,” said Lynne Viola of SUNY-Binghamton, the first U.S. historian to examine Moscow’s Central State Archive on collectivization. “Why in god’s name would this paranoid government consciously produce a famine when they were terrifed of war [with Germany]?”
These premier Sovietologists dismiss Conquest for what he is — an ideologue whose serious work is long behind him. But Dallin stands as a liberal exception to the hard-liners of his generation, while Lewin and Viola remain Young Turks who happen to be doing the freshest work on this period. In Soviet studies, where rigor and objectivity count for less than the party line, where fierce anti-Communists still control the prestigious institutes and first-rank departments, a Conquest can survive and prosper while barely cracking a book.
“He’s terrible at doing research,” said veteran Sovietologist Roberta Manning of Boston College. “He misuses sources, he twists everything.”
Then there are those who love to twist, and shout — to use scholarly disinformation for their own, less dignified purposes. In the latest catalogue for The Noontide Press, a Liberty Lobby affiliate run by flamboyant fascist Willis Carto, The Harvest of Sorrow is listed cheek-by-jowl with such revisionist tomes as The Auschwitz Myth and Hitler at My Side. To hype the Conquest book and its terror-famine, the catalogue notes: “The act of genocide against the Ukrainian people has been supressed [sic] until recently, perhaps because a real ‘Holocaust’ might compete with a Holohoax.”
For those unacquainted with Noontide jargon, the “Holohoax” refers to the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews.
In 1982, the New York State Department of Education set out to blaze a new trail: a definitive curriculum on the Nazi holocaust. The department assembled a distinguished review committee, including such Holocaust experts as Terrence Des Pres and Raul Hilberg. It assigned the actual writing to three top-rated social studies teachers. The finished two-volume project, which went to classrooms in the fall of 1985, does credit to everyone involved. It is a balanced mix of archival documents, survivor memoirs, and scholarly essays.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the high schools: The Ukrainian nationalists stole the show. Their point man was Bohdan Vitvitsky, a New Jersey attorney and author who was invited to join the state’s advisory council, which would steer the curriculum’s development. Vitvitsky’s first move was to gain inclusion of an excerpt of his book on Slavic victims of the Nazis. His second victory was to eliminate all but passing mention of Ukrainian war criminals.
“I took the position they should be dealt with,” said Stephen Berk, a Union College history professor and advisory council member, “but Vitvitsky insisted there should be no dwelling on [Nazi] collaborators.” (The Catholic lobby didn’t fare so well; over its protests, the curriculum includes a critical assessment of Pope Pius XII’s inaction.)
But Vitvitsky’s major coup, helped along by a nationalist letter campaign, was to install material on the Ukraine famine of 1932-33. In the curriculum’s second draft in 1984, the famine was treated as a 17-page precursor chapter to the second Holocaust volume — a plan which met heated resistance from Jewish groups. By the time the material reached the schools last fall, however, it had swollen into a separate third volume, with 90 pages on the “forced famine,” and another 52 on “human rights violations” in the Ukraine.
A key player in the transition was Assemblyman William Larkin (Conservative Republican, New Windsor), a retired Army colonel, assistant minority whip, and old friend of Gordon Ambach, then the state commissioner of education. Larkin had ample incentive to help; his district contains about 8000 ethnic Ukrainians. He arranged “four or five” meetings between the state education staff and 20 upstate Ukrainian nationalists in 1985. He also enlisted other Republican assemblymen to press for the famine book, and says he spoke personally to Ambach. The commissioner “offered to do anything be could,” Larkin said. “But if we didn’t go up there in force, if we didn’t push it, it wouldn’t have happened.”
By most accounts, the political pressure was intense — enough to squeeze a department deemed relatively apolitical. The Ukrainians mounted “an enormous letter-writing campaign with the Board of Regents,” said Robert Maurer, the executive deputy commissioner. “There were phone calls and visits. There’s not often that much interest in curriculum matters; it was very unusual.”
The famine boosters found an especially sympathetic ear in Regent Emlyn I. Griffith, then chairman of the committee that unanimously endorsed Volume Three in 1985 — a vote which ensured its future use. “As a member of a minority people put down by a majority government, I emphathized” with the Ukrainian nationalists, said Griffith, an ethnic Welshman. “There was a significant lobbying effort … It was persuasive. It wasn’t threatening, it was positive.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly who made the fatal decision on Volume Three. Griffith said his committee acted on a strong staff recommendation. Ambach failed to return phone calls for this story. Maurer lodged responsibility with Deputy Commissioner Gerald Freebome, who in turn pointed to Program Development Director Edward Lalor, who referred questions to a low-level official named George Gregory, the chairman of the Human Rights Series advisory committee.
Shrouded by this corporate haze, Vitvitsky ran in an open field. No one challenged his basic premise. The famine “certainly does represent another example of genocide,” Gregory asserted. “It was a planned attempt by Stalin to eliminate the Ukrainian people.”
(“George is the consummate bureaucrat,” said one educator involved with the series. “His experience is mainly in grade-school curricula — like ‘Appreciating Our Indian Heritage,’ or ‘The Importance of the Finger Lakes Region.’ When I started up there, he really didn’t know anything about the Holocaust.”)
To write the famine material, Gregory hired Walter Litynsky, a Troy High School biology teacher and a local chairman of Americans for Human Rights in Ukraine. For the job of principal reviewer, Litynsky recommended James Mace, the Conquest protégé who also directs the Ukraine Famine Commission under a $382,000 congressional appropriation. Mace and Litynsky proceeded to stack the review committee with Ukrainian academics, the omnipresent Vitvitsky, and four upstate nationalists. “No contrary [review] letters were either solicited or received,” Berk acknowledged. “I’m sorry this came out, because it was distorted — but I felt it was a fait accompli.”
When asked about contrasting viewpoints from such scholars as Lewin and Viola, Gregory was unmoved. “Quite frankly, we have not heard of any of them,” he said. “We tried to present a balanced point of view. We didn’t ask for the Soviet opinion, since the Soviet view was that the famine never happened. [In fact, the Soviets now concede that a famine was “impossible to avoid,” because of drought, mismanagement, and kulak sabotage.] We relied heavily on James Mace; he’s the leading historian of that time period.”
This paean would startle academe, where Mace’s work is infrequently read and rarely found in footnotes, the baseline of a scholar’s importance. He is widely regarded as a right-wing polemicist, an indifferent researcher who has made a checkered career out of faminology.
“I doubt he could have gotten a real academic job,” Manning said. “Soviet studies is a very competitive field these days — there’s much weeding out after the Ph.D. If he hadn’t hopped on this political cause, he would be doing research for a bank, or running an export-import business.”
The Mace-Litynsky partnership yielded a predictable end product — the undistilled nationalist line. The state curriculum on the Ukraine famine apes both Harvest of Despair and The Harvest of Sorrow. (The education department now supplies the embattled documentary, as an audiovisual supplement, to any interested teacher.) Like the film and the hook, the curriculum features faked photos from Ammende, dubious atrocity tales (including 16 selections from Black Deeds of the Kremlin), and sections of the “Walker” Hearst series, all without caveat. Like Conquest and Nowitski, the famine volume red-baits anyone who challenged the genocide scenario, such as New York Times reporter Walter Duranty. It goes Conquest one better by referring to the region as Ukraine, with no article, in deference to a sovereignty that exists only in nationalist fables.
The curriculum is most obviously exposed in its estimate of the famine death toll: “… it is generally accepted that about 7 million Ukrainians or about 22% of the total Ukrainian population died of starvation in a government planned and controlled famine.”
How did Litynsky arrive at this talismanic figure, cited over and over again in emigre literature? “I don’t pretend to be an expert on this subject,” the biology teacher said. “This is not my field. I had a list of people who went from 1.5 million to 10 million. In my reading I saw seven million used more than any other figure, and I decided that was realistic. It got to the point where it was so confusing that you had to decide.” (Mace has opted for 7.9 million Ukrainian famine deaths in his own work, with an “irreducible minimum” of 5.5 million. Conquest fixes on seven million famine deaths, including six million Ukrainians, with no appendix to show how his numbers are derived.)
But the magic number, like the genocide theory it shoulders, simply can’t pass scrutiny. Sergei Maksudov, a Soviet émigré scholar much cited by Mace and Conquest, has now concluded that the famine caused 3.5 million premature deaths in the Ukraine — 700,000 from starvation, and the rest from diseases “stimulated” by malnutrition.
Even Maksudov’s lower estimates are open to challenge. Writing in Slavic Review, demographers Barbara Anderson and Brian Silver maintain that limited census data make a precise famine death count impossible. Instead, they offer a probable range of 3.2 to 5.5 million “excess deaths” for the entire Soviet Union from 1926 to 1939 — a period that covers collectivization, the civil war in the countryside, the purges of the late ’30s, and major epidemics of typhus and malaria. According to these experts, and Maksudov as well, Mace and Conquest make the most primitive of errors: They overestimate fertility rates and underrate the impact of assimilation, through which many Ukrainians were “redesignated” as Russians in the 1939 census. As a result, the cold warriors confuse population deficits (which include unborn children) with ex cess deaths.
Which leaves us with a puzzle: Wouldn’t one or two or 3.5 million famine-related deaths be enough to make an anti-Stalinist argument? Why seize a wildly inflated figure that can’t possibly be supported? The answer tells much ahout the Ukrainian nationalist cause, and about those who abet it.
“They’re always looking to come up with a number bigger than six million,” observed Eli Rosenbaum, general counsel for the World Jewish Congress. “It makes the reader think: ‘My god, it’s worse than the Holocaust.’ ”
Your husband’s courage and dedication to liberty will serve as a continuing source of inspiration to all those striving for freedom and self-determination.
— Letter from President Reagan to the widow of Yaroslav Stetsko, ranking OUN terrorist, murderer, and Nazi collaborator, read by retired general John Singlaub at a conference of the World Anti-Communist League, September 7, 1986.
In the panel discussion that followed Harvest of Despair on PBS last fall, Conquest addressed the issue of Ukrainian war crimes. “It’s not the case,” he said blandly, “that the Ukrainian nationalist organizations collaborated with the Germans.” Once again, the aging faminologist had tripped on the public record. It is one thing to suggest, rightly, that Ukrainian nationalism had little popular support among the peasantry. (It was actually a narrow, urban, middle-class movement.) Millions of Ukrainians fought with the Red Army and partisans. Many others can be accused of nothing worse than indifference, and a smaller number risked their lives to save Jews from the Germans. But on the matter of the OUN, the principal nationalist group from the 1930s on, the record is quite clear: It was fascist from the start.
In its original statement of purpose in 1929, the OUN betrays a raw Nazi influence: “Do not hesitate to commit the greatest crime, if the good of the Cause demands it … Aspire to expand the strength, riches, and size of the Ukrainian State even by means of enslaving foreigners.” This sentiment was echoed in a 1941 letter to the German Secret Service from the OUN’s dominant Bandera wing: “Long live greater independent Ukraine without Jews, Poles, and Germans. Poles behind the [river] San, Germans to Berlin, Jews to the gallows.”
As the authoritative John Armstrong, a staunch anti-Communist and pro-Ukrainian, has written: “The theory and teachings of the Nationalists were very close to Fascism, and in some respects, such as the insistence on ‘racial purity,’ even went beyond the original Fascist doctrines.”
But the OUN storm troopers, like any terrorist group, prized action over theory. Their wartime brutalities have been amply documented (Voice, February 11, 1986, “To Catch a Nazi”). They recruited for the Waffen SS, pulled the triggers at Babi Yar and Sobibor, ran the gas chamber at Treblinka. During their brief interludes of Nazi-sponsored “independence” (in the Carpatho-Ukraine in 1939 and in Galicia in 1941), pogroms were the order of the day, in the spirit of their revered Simon Petlura. They strove to outdo the Nazis at every turn.
And when the Third Reich fell, the nationalists fled — to Munich, to Toronto, and (with the covert aid of the U.S. State Department, which viewed them as potential anti-Soviet guerrillas) to New York and Chicago and Cleveland.
This is not ancient history. The Ukrainian émigré groups still contain more than a few former OUN members, and many of their sons and daughters. The nationalists still heroize their wartime past. On occasion their old passions surface as well — as in Why Is One Holocaust Worth More Than Others?, recently published by Veterans of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army: “In 1933, the majority of the European and American press controlled by the Jews were silent about the famine.”
From this perspective, the “conspiracy” lives on: “In (February} 1986 the Jewish newspaper Village Voice … published one-and-one-half pages of accusations against a high-standing member of the Ukrainian nationalist movement, Mykola Lebed.”
And finally, most transparently: “Tens of millions of people have been killed since the Zionist Bolshevik Jews, backed by the Zionist-oriented Jewish international bankers, took over Russia.”
Not surprisingly, Ukrainian émigrés are among the harshest and most powerful critics of Nazi-hunting. They have sought to kill both the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations and the Canadian Deschenes Commission — and with good reason. Sol Littman, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Toronto, recently presented the commission with the names of 475 suspected Nazi collaborators. He reports that Ukrainians were “very heavily represented” on the list.
It may not be sheer coincidence that faminology took wing just after the OSI was commissioned in 1979. For here was a way to rehabilitate fascism- — to prove that Ukrainian collaborators were helpless victims, caught between the rock of Hitler and Stalin’s hard place. To wit, this bit of psycho-journalism from the 33 March 24 Washington Post, in a story on accused war criminal John “Ivan the Terrible” Demjanjuk: “The pivotal event in Demjanjuk’s childhood was the great famine of the early 1930s, conceived by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as a way of destroying the independent Ukrainian peasantry … Several members of [Demjanjuk’s] family died in the catastrophe.”
Coupled with the old nationalist canard of “Judeo-Bolshevism,” faminology could help justify anti-Semitism, collaboration, even genocide. An eye for an eye; a Nazi holocaust in return for a “Jewish famine.”
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. Faced with failing fascist allies around the world, from Nicaragua to South Africa, the U.S. war lobby needs to boost anti-Communism as never before. Public enthusiasm to fight for the contras will not come easy. 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 …. Well, we just might be set up for the next Gulf of Tonkin. One cannot appease an Evil Empire, after all.
As Conquest noted on PBS, after the starving girl’s image finally faded from the screen: “This was a true picture we saw … It instructs us about the world today.”
It turns out that the picture is far from true — that the purveyors of a famine genocide are stealing a piece of history and slicing it to order. It’s a brash bit of larceny for Conquest and company, even within the prevailing vogue of anti-Stalinism. But if they say it loud enough and long enough, people just might listen. Lie bold enough and large enough, and — as the man once said — it just might stick. ❖
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 21, 2020