“Holodomor” is a Ukrainian word derived from “holod” (hunger) and “mor” (extermination). In 1932 and 1933, 3.5 million people are estimated to have died during Joseph Stalin’s intentional starvation. He called it a natural famine, as did other journalists and governments, especially the New York Times journalist and later Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Duranty. Duranty was stationed in Moscow, as were other reporters. Duranty said of Ukraine, “There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from disease due to malnutrition… conditions are bad. But there is no famine.” He never retracted his statement. Governments going through the Great Depression wanted the story buried.
Duranty wasn’t alone in Moscow. Among the reporters stationed there was Gareth Jones. A movie was made recently of his life (Mr. Jones, 2019). I watched it with some trepidation. As a frequent reader of the Holocaust, I was prepared for horror. It was a good film. A few other journalists also wrote about the Holodomor. Gareth snuck into Ukraine to see what Stalin was doing to the Ukrainians. According to the movie, Gareth was arrested by Soviet soldiers and released but pressured to not speak a word of what he saw in his travels through the Ukrainian countryside.
Environment and Society wrote, “The Soviet government banned any discussions relating to the famine until the late 1980s, and ordered historians to depict the famine as an unavoidable natural disaster… some scholars have compared the devastating event to the Holocaust.”
While it was considered to retract Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize posthumously, it was never revoked. Gareth Jones’ journalism career took him to Mongolia to pursue another story of injustice to which his guide, thought to be with the Soviet Secret Police, helped get him shot and killed a day before his 30th birthday.
The New York Times has a statement about Walter Duranty on their website. “Duranty, one of the most famous correspondents of his day, won the prize for 13 articles written in 1931 analyzing the Soviet Union under Stalin. Times correspondents and others have since largely discredited his coverage.” They also said, “The Pulitzer board has twice declined to withdraw the award, most recently in November 2003, finding ‘no clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception’ in the 1931 reporting that won the prize, and The Times does not have the award in its possession.”
Without eye-witness testimony or proof like the photos that came out of the Holodomor, people who claimed the unpopular opinion that the starvation was not a grievous famine could have been labeled “conspiracy theorists.” Before Gareth and a “few” journalists published their pieces, no one knew what was happening in Ukraine.
There is a museum that reminds people it did happen. You can click here to read it.
Picture from the Museum page.