The Hoax of the Man-Made Ukraine Famine of  1932-33

Originally published in Challenge-Desafio, newspaper of the Progressive Labor Party, February 25, 1987, pp. 11, 13-14.

On September 24, 1986, a documentary film, "Harvest of Despair," was telecast nationwide over Public Broadcasting System stations This 55-minute film claimed that in 1931-32 ten million Ukrainians were deliberately starved to death by Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

To convince viewers that the film was accurate, a 45-minute panel discussion followed the film. Robert Conquest, one of the panelists, had just published a 400-page book, Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror- Famine.

This film is a fraud. This essay will show that it uses lies, misleading film, and Nazi collaborators, to attack Stalin, the Soviet Union, and the whole idea of communism, while promoting nationalism and fascism.

Why Should We Care?

Why should we care about this? Because any attack on the then-socialist Soviet Union is an attack upon all workers today. Capitalists were horrified by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. For the first time in human history common working people -- under the leadership of a communist party -- proved they could overthrow their exploiters and run a country far better without them. This event still electrifies the world.

Capitalists will do anything to tell workers and other people that this was wrong. Their main way of discouraging workers from fighting for communism is by attacking the ten- socialist USSR under Stalin.


When the Bolsheviks (Russian communists) led the workers to seize power in October 1917, they took the land from large landowners and gave it to the peasants. by the end of the 1920s the Bolsheviks wanted the peasants to pool their land and equipment into collective farms. Greater efficiency would permit the government to collect more taxes, which could finance the industrialization of the ten-backward USSR. In order to do this, the Bolsheviks tried to win the poor and middle peasants to oppose the rich peasants, whom they thought would be the main obstacles to putting their property into collectives. Although many poor and middle peasants did support collectivization, most were either passive or hostile. Tens of thousands of committed workers were recruited in the cities and used force against those peasants who were unwilling to join the collectives.

According to the film, during 1932-33 millions of peasants in the Ukraine were deliberately started to death. This was supposedly done (1) to break the back of resistance to forced collectivization; and (2) to suppress Ukrainian nationalism by destroying the heart of the Ukrainian "nation," the peasant villages. The film claims soldiers and armed workers took most of the grain not only from those peasants who resisted collectivization, but also from those who were already on collective farms, leaving them to starve.

Both film and book were funded by Ukrainian nationalist organizations in the US and Canada. both strongly promote the idea of Ukrainian nationhood and attack communism. They repeatedly call the famine a "holocaust" and "genocide," and explicitly compare it to the German Nazis' massacre of six million Jews during WWII.

Nationalism Leads to Fascism

After the Russian Civil War (1918-21) which followed the Revolution, the leading Ukrainian nationalists fled to Western Europe, and turned to supporting Hitler. Entering the Soviet Union with the Nazi invasion in 1941, they engaged in hair-raising atrocities. The main group, the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) "adopted ... a programme palatable to the Nazis" and "prepared to engage in propaganda, intelligence, and, if necessary, sabotage through their followers in Canada, the United States, and Britain." Although claiming to speak for the Ukrainian people, they met initially with little popular support in the Soviet Union.1

In WWII, as during the Civil War, the Ukrainian nationalists were petty-bourgeois intellectuals, "unable to penetrate the mass of the population to any great extent." As a result, they relied heavily on their bosses, the Nazis: "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." 2

At least two of the persons who appear in the film are Nazi collaborators. Ivan Majstrenko, identified as a former Soviet journalist, is named by Armstrong as a founder of a nationalists émigré party in German in 1947. Metropolitan Mstyslav, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, is identified as "a deputy in the Polish Parliament in 1932-33." Armstrong reveals he was a layman, that is, not a member of the clergy, who was made archbishop by the Nazis during the Nazi invasion, and who was "the most active nationalist among the Autocephalous (Ukrainian Orthodox) bishops." 3

An `Award-Winning' Film

Much is made of the fact that "Harvest of Despair" was awarded the gold medal in the TV Documentaries category and the Grand Award Trophy Bowl for "most outstanding entry" at the 28th International Film and TB Festival of New York in November 1985. Sounds impressive, right? Here's how a film magazine describes this festival:

"International Film and TV Festival of New York. Notoriously known as a pay-through-the-nose-for-a-snatch-of- the-big-time festival, it has been denigrated [criticized] over the years in this column for its policy of giving out specious [good-looking but meaningless] official plaques to all entries regardless of quality of the work." 4

A Canadian newspaper says this of Yurij Luhovy, the film's producer and editor: "The 34-year-old film-maker... admits most of his income has come from editing feature films of questionable quality. He has a reputation as a good `doctor' -- someone who's brought in to salvage a movie which is deemed unreleasable by film exhibitors and distributors." 5

Why would the makers of the film give it to an editor whose specialty is `saving" bad films, and then submit it to a "festival" that is the laughing-stock of the film industry? Because the film is a piece of dishonest, anti-Communist propaganda, as we will see.

Phony Film and Photographs

"The hour-long film ... depends heavily on still photographs of emaciated children and bodies being carted away to recreate the conditions in Ukraine in 1932."

"There can be no question that without the films and photographs uncovered from the 1932-33 famine, the film would lose much of its authority." 6

In 1935, a certain "Thomas Walker" published a five-part story on the famine in the chain of newspapers owned by the fanatical anti-Communist and pro-fascist tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Accompanying the series were photographs, supposedly of starving Ukrainian peasants, which Walker claimed he had taken personally. In March 1935, Louis Fischer, then a pro-Soviet reporter for The Nation, expressed some doubts about "Walker's" photos: "Mr Walker's photographs could easily date back to the Volga famine in 1921. many of them might have been taken outside the Soviet Union. They were taken at different seasons of the year ... One picture includes trees or shrubs with large leaves. Such leaves could not have grown by the `late spring' of Mr. Walker's alleged visit. Other photographs show winter and early fall backgrounds. Here is the Journal [Hearst's New York City newspaper] of the twenty-seventh. a starving, bloated boy of fifteen calmly poses naked for Mr. Walker. The next minute, in the same village, Mr. Walker photographs a man who is obviously suffering from the cold despite his thick sheepskin overcoat. The weather that spring must have been as unreliable as Mr. Walker to allow nude poses one moment and require furs the next."7

The famine stories ran in the Hearst press in February, 1935. Fischer's rejection of them appear early in march. By July, "Thomas Walker" was in a New York City jail, under arrest as Robert Green, an escaped convict from Colorado, where he was returned to serve out his sentence. Green admitted his photos were frauds, not taken in the Ukraine nor by himself. This was reported in all the New York City newspapers. The Daily Worker, paper of the then- revolutionary Communist Party USA, ran two detailed series about "Walker"/Green and some other phony accounts of the famine from July-20, 1935.

On November 17, 1986, Douglas Tottle, a Canadian researcher, exposed the sources of some of the fraudulent photos at a School Board meeting in Toronto, where Ukrainian nationalists and other anti-communists were trying to get the film and a course based upon it into the Toronto high school curriculum.

Stunned by Tottle's dramatic presentation, and in the presence of reporters from all the Toronto newspapers, Ukrainian nationalist professors began to run for cover. One of them, Orest Subtelny, admitted the still shots were from the 1921-22 famine but justified their use by saying the film lacked "impact" without them. "`You have to have visual impact. You want to show what people dying from a famine look like. Starving children are starving children,' said Subtelny. He offered no apologies for the deliberate attempt to mislead."

Another nationalist who had done research for the film is Marco Carynnyk. an article of his appeared in the November 1983 issue of Commentary, a US neo-conservative Zionist monthly, in which Carynnyk bitterly attacked Louis Fischer and Walter Duranty (New York Times Soviet correspondent during the `30s) for "covering up" the famine. but Tottle's revelations forced Carynnyk to admit he'd been a party to the real cover-up. According to the Toronto Star of November 20:

"Researcher Marco Carynnyk, who says he originated the idea of the film, says his concerns about questionable photographs were ignored.

Carynnyk said that none of the archival film footage used in the movie is of the Ukrainian famine and that `very few photos from `32-33' appear that can be traced as authentic.

A dramatic shot at the film's end of an emaciated girl, which has also been used in the film's promotional material, is not from the 1932-33 famine, Carynnyk said.

`I made the point that this sort of inaccuracy cannot be allowed,' he said in an interview. `I was ignored.'"

Carynnyk is suing the St. Vladimir's Institute, the nationalist sponsors of the film, for breach of contract and for copyright infringements. Rumor has it that the filmmakers doctored or distorted some of the interviews which Carynnyk made for the film.

Carynnyk's complaints at the November 17 Toronto Board of Ed meeting are dishonest, of course. The film has been out for three years. Yet Carynnyk never made public his "reservations" about the film's dishonesty until Tottle publicly exposed it. Neither did any of his cronies, with whom he has now apparently fallen out.

The Ukrainian nationalists' admissions clearly prove their intent to deceive. perhaps a few of the still photos of starving people cannot be traced to any source. So what? The nationalists now admit they knew that many others which they used were fraudulent, and that -- we may take Carynnyk's word for it -- none of the film footage used is of the famine.

This has been suggested before. Uniforms and other datable characteristics have suggested to Soviet experts that most - -perhaps even all -- of the footage shown while the narrator is discussing the famine is in fact not of the Ukraine during the `30s, but of the Civil War period (1918-21), or even from W.W.I (1914-18).

Even one of the panelists, Harrison Salisbury, refers to the fact: "it doesn't really disturb me that - I am certain from my familiarity with a lot of documentaries -- that it's a mishmash of all kinds of things put together. It may not be specifically accurate that each one of these horrible corpses actually was in the Ukraine or was in some other place, but in general, there were people exactly like that." 8 Salisbury stresses that he sees nothing wrong with this kind of deception, showing this "honest" anti-Communist's essential similarity to the Ukrainian nationalists. Anti-communism has a certain logic to it: it always ends up as fascism.

Researcher Tottle is publishing a book on the fraudulent scholarship surrounding the "Ukrainian famine" story. It is scheduled to appear within the next six months.

Nationalist `Scholars' and the Intent to Deceive

In a 1984 discussion, James Mace revealed there were two main sources of photos: "Walker's," and the German edition of a book by Ewald Ammende, an Austrian relief worker, published in 1935. Several statements here and in another article of Mace's published that year prove Mace knew that some of the photos were of suspicious origin.

First, Mace makes no mention of any film footage, which he certainly would have it he had known of any. 9 Second, Mace knew there was something wrong with the "Walker" and Ammende photos. He stated: "...he [Dalrymple, another anti- Communist] -- like Ewald Ammende before him -- was taken in by accounts in the Hearst press in 1935, which were updated to indicate that the famine continued into 1934, whereas any of the numerous eyewitnesses who came to the West after World War II would have told him that the famine actually ended in 1933. 10 How could a man who had supposedly traveled to the countryside and personally taken pictures of starving peasants have postdated his account by a whole year?

Third, Mace knew the "Walker" and Ammende accounts. In the 1984 pamphlet Mace makes this revelation about Ammende's book: "The English translation, Human Life in Russia, took some photographs from the Walker account and omitted some that appeared in the German edition, which was published in Vienna in 1935." 11 In fact, the English edition of Ammende's book states that the photos of starving people -- the same ones "Walker" claimed he had taken himself -- were the work of a "Dr. F. Dittloff, for many years director of the German Government Agricultural Concession (Drusag) in the North Caucasus."

"The photographs were taken by Dr. Dittloff himself in the summer of 1933, and they demonstrate the conditions then prevailing on the plains of the agricultural areas of the Hunger Zone. A few of them have been published before elsewhere without his permission. Dr. Dittloff accepts full responsibility for the guarantee of their authenticity (emphasis added)." 12

Both Mace and Conquest were obviously aware of the serious questions as to whether the photos are genuine, since they refer to both Ammende's book and Walker's articles, which contradict each other. They also refer to a book by James Crowl on the journalism of the 1930s, which outlines Louis Fischer's views. Neither Mace nor Conquest reveal any of these matters to their audience.

Mace has worked for years with Ukrainian nationalist committees. He wrote introductions both for Ammende's book (reissued in 1984) and for Alexa Woropay's nationalist tract, The Ninth Circle, both of which give contradictory sources for some of the still photos. Anyone who kept the "Walker" clips from 1935 would have also known of "Walker"'s disgrace the same year. Clearly Mace knew of this, and was a party to the fraud from the beginning.


"Where there's smoke, there's fire." No one has to lie about the truth. The anti-Communist, pro-fascist story about the "great famine" is nonsense. Anti-Communist groups are beginning to show this film, and other TV stations will carry it. They should be picketed for promoting fascist, anti-worker lies and, where possible, stopped.

(Future articles will deal with the book, Harvest of Sorrow; the dishonest use of sources; what really happened; and where the working-class-led Soviet Union went wrong (including not building a communist base with the peasants) and reverted to the capitalist dictatorship it is today)


1 Alexander Dallin, German Rule in Russia 1941-1945, 2nd edition (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1981), pp.114; 115, n.3 122. Back

2 Armstrong, pp. 238; 280; 289.Back

3 Armstrong, pp. 201, 205. Back

4 The Independent (New York Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers), July/August 1985, p. 68.Back

5 Leonard Klady, "Famine film eye- opener,"Winnipeg Free Press, October 26, 1984, p. 24. Back

6 Toronto Globe and Mail, Nov. 18 1986; Klady (see note 5).Back

7 Louis Fischer, "Hearst's Russian `Famine',"The Nation, March 13, 1935, p. 296.Back

8 Transcript of film, p. 23 Back

9 The Man-Made Famine in Ukraine. Robert Conquest, Dana Dalrymple, James Mace, Michael Novak (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 1984), pp. 24-5.Back

10 James Mace, Problems of Communism [published by the United States Department of State], March-April 1985, p. 137.Back

11. The Man-Made Famine (see note 9), p. 25.Back

12. Ewald Ammende, Human Life In Russia (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1936), p. 23; emphasis added.Back

In Search of a SOVIET HOLOCAUST: A 55-Year-Old Famine Feeds the Right by Jeff Coplon, Originally published in the Village Voice (New York City), January 12, 1988.

Forward to the next article of this six-part series.