Holodomor

The story of Holodomor, a famine affecting Ukraine in the course of the Soviet famine of 1932–33, is one of the most hotly debated topics in Ukrainian historiography. There is a consensus that the famine took place, but not as to the question whether it was a forced starvation, and thus a genocide, committed under Stalin's rule.

This article does not concern itself with the backgrounds to the famine, but with the historiographic dispute that has divided generations of historians.

The story of a forced starvation by Soviets was first popularized by the Hearst press in 1935. The first series of articles appeared in January of that year by a journalist called Gareth Jones,1 followed by another series in February by a certain "Thomas Walker," accompanied by pictures and "firsthand accounts" that play on one's heart strings. Thomas Walker, as it later turned out, was a fraudster, whose real name was Robert Green, and whom Jones describes as "pawn of Hearst."2

Hearst communications was the largest media company in the U.S. at that time, and fully supporting the surging anti-red campaign in the 1930s. George Seldes, a prominent journalist and contemporary witness, called Hearst "America's No. 1 Nazi":3

It is true that the New York World-Telegram and the 18 other papers controlled by Roy Howard of the Scripps-Howard press, and the 19 papers controlled by America's No. 1 Nazi, William Randolph Hearst, did their best to whitewash Aluminum Corporation, Standard Oil, General Motors and General Electric and all the other members of the Nazi trusts.

In Facts and Fascism, Seldes aptly diagnoses:4

Faraway Fascism has been attacked, exposed, and denounced by the same publications (the Saturday Evening Post for example) which for years ran articles lauding Mussolini and his notable backers in all lands; and the Hearst newspapers, which published from 1934 to Pearl Harbor [Dec 1941] dozens of signed propaganda articles by Dr. Goebbels, Goering and other Nazis, now call them names, but no publication which takes money from certain Big Business elements (all of which will be named here) will dare name the native or nearby Fascists. In many instances the publications themselves are part of our own Fascism.

Hearst was even meeting with Hitler in 1934, and according to Seldes, struck a deal with the dictator. Seldes recounts that the American Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, told him that5

"[When] Hearst came to take the waters at Bad Nauheim [Germany] in September 1934 … Hitler sent two of his most trusted Nazi propagandists, Hanfstangel and Rosenberg, to ask Hearst how Nazism could present a better image in the U.S. When Hearst went to Berlin later in the month, he was taken to see Hitler."

Seldes reports that a $400,000 a year deal was struck between Hearst and Hitler, signed by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. "Hearst," continues Seldes, "completely changed the editorial policy of his nineteen daily newspapers the same month he got the money."5 From then on,5

Hitler had the support of the most widely circulated magazine in history, Readers Digest, as well as nineteen big-city newspapers and one of the three great American news agencies, the $220-million Hearst press empire.

... Hearst … was the lord of all the press lords in the United States. The millions who read the Hearst newspapers and magazines and saw Hearst newsreels in the nation's moviehouses had their minds poisoned by Hitler propaganda.

Seldes bases his statements also on court documents filed on behalf of Dan Gillmor, publisher of the magazine Friday, in response to a lawsuit by Hearst, in which he states:5

Promptly after this visit with Adolf Hitler and the making of said arrangements... plaintiff, William Randolph Hearst, instructed all Hearst press correspondents in Germany, including those of INS (Hearst's International News Service) to report happenings in Germany only in a friendly manner. All of correspondents reporting happenings in Germany accurately and without friendliness, sympathy and bias for the actions of the German government, were transferred elsewhere, discharged, or forced to resign.

Similar developments were described by the American Jewish community at that time, as The Jerusalem Post remarked:6

Hearst's meeting with Hitler in 1934, his sympathetic remarks about some of Nazi Germany's policies in the early and mid 1930s and his publication of articles by both Hitler and Mussolini, reinforced his image among American Jews as a reactionary, and possibly even a closet anti-Semite. Kristallnacht appears to have been the turning point for Hearst. The nationwide Nazi pogrom in which nearly a hundred Jews were murdered, 200 synagogues were burned down and thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked convinced him that Hitler was "making the flag of National Socialism a symbol of national savagery." After Kristallnacht, Hearst began advocating creation of "a homeland for dispossessed or persecuted Jews." When news of the mass murder of Europe's Jews began reaching the United States in 1941-1942, the Hearst newspaper chain gave it prominent coverage - by contrast with newspapers such as The New York Times, which routinely confined it to the back pages (as Prof. Laurel Leff documented in her definitive study, Buried by 'The Times').

Having a closer look at the authors of the two authors that had spun the story of "Six million perish in Soviet Famine," Gareth Jones and Robert Green alias "Thomas Walker", everything points to them being Hearst propagandists.

Gareth Jones

During the 1930s, Jones was a reporter for the Western Mail, a daily originally founded by Welsh coal and iron industrialists. In late January and early February 1933 Jones was in Germany covering the accession to power of the Nazi Party, and was in Leipzig on the day Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor. A few days later, on February 23, in the Richthofen, the fastest and most powerful three-motored aeroplane in Germany, Jones became the first foreign journalist to fly with Hitler as he accompanied Hitler and Joseph Goebbels to Frankfurt where he reported for the Western Mail on the new Chancellor's tumultuous arrival in the city. From the end of February to the end of March 1933, Jones traveled to the Soviet Union and eluded authorities to slip into Ukraine, where he kept diaries about a purportedly "man-made starvation" he witnessed during his one-month stay. On his return to Berlin on March 29, 1933, his findings were published by several newspapers, including The Manchester Guardian and the New York Evening Post.

Robert Green alias "Thomas Walker"

"Thomas Walker" was a fraud, as also acknowledged by a website honoring the works of Gareth Jones:2

On the 13th March 1935, in an open letter to the American weekly, The Nation, Louis Fischer successfully exposed Thomas Walker's articles and photos to be a fraud, alleging that it was part and parcel of Hearst's ant[i]-red campaign ... In fact, Thomas Walker was a real fraud. ... In June 1935, he was deported from the UK and on arrival back in the USA was re-arrested for absconding from a Colorado prison in 1921 for forgery, under the name of Robert Green ... Thomas Walker / Robert Green was held up to be a pawn of Hearst ...

Holodomor in historiography

It was in 2006, that the Ukrainian Ministry for Foreign Affairs issued a declaration entitled "International Recognition of the Holodomor as an act of Genocide." Looking for international supporters, it apparently collected signatories from over a dozen other countries, but despite a biased website called "Holodomor Education", there are no sources backing that either.7

According to aforementioned  website, Holodomor has been recognized "as an act of genocide" by the government of Ukraine and 15 other countries, including Australia, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, and the Vatican. As can be seen on the list, neither the U.S. nor Western European countries have signed the Ukrainian campaign.7

And only five countries have recognized the Holodomor as a criminal act of the Stalinist regime, including Argentina, Chile, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain.7

In 2006, a commemorative plaque honoring Gareth Jones was installed at the University of Wales. The event was attended by prominent members of the Ukrainian diaspora, Ihor Kharchenko, Ukrainian Ambassador to London and Professor Lubomyr Luciuk, on behalf of the Ukrainian Canadian community (which would attack the historian Per Anders Rudling later). The plaque was also blessed by Ukrainian priests. The BBC, the Western Mail, News Wales, and the London Times reported favorably on the event.8

Also the Guardian chimed in, when it wrote a puff piece on Jones, which states:9

Gareth Jones's accounts of what was happening in Soviet Ukraine in 1932-33 were different from other western accounts. Not only did he reveal the true extent of starvation, he reported on the Stalin regime's failure to deliver aid while exporting grain to the west. The tragedy is now known as the Holodomar and regarded by Ukrainians as genocide. ... After his Ukraine articles Jones was banned from the USSR and, in many eyes, discredited. The only work he could get was in Cardiff on the Western Mail covering "arts, crafts and coracles", according to his great-nephew Nigel Linsan Colley. But again his life changed. He managed to get an interview with a local castle owner: William Randolph Hearst who owned St Donat's Castle near Cardiff. The newspaper magnate was obviously taken by Jones's accounts of what had happened in Ukraine and invited the reporter to the US.

The piece not only confirms that the opinion of a majority of contemporary experts disagreed with Jones, but also that he started working with Hearst in the hey-days of his Nazi-collaboration.

On May 2, 2006, a memorial plaque honouring the Welsh journalist, Gareth Jones, was unveiled at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. Source: www.garethjones.org.
The plaque was also blessed by Ukrainian priests.

According to the Swedish-American historian, Per Anders Rudling:

Holodomor is the term introduced in the late 1980s by the Ukrainian diaspora for the man-made famine of 1932–33. Along with the veneration of the OUN and UPA, the quest to present the 1932–33 famine as a deliberate act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation was a cornerstone in Iushchenko’s Geschichtspolitik.10

Rudling became the subject of international attention in October 2012 when a group of Ukrainian organizations in Canada delivered a signed protest to his employer, accusing him of betraying his own university's principles.

The letter came as a response to Rudling's own public criticism of the promotion and glorification of the OUN-B (Stepan Bandera faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists), the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), as well as of the Nazi-collaborationists Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych by Ruslan Zabily from Ukraine in his intended Canadian and American lecture tour.1112 Rudling delivered a communiqué from Lund to concerned universities pointing out to the role of OUN-B in the Holocaust in Ukraine and the UPA involvement in the massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia.11 He also wrote about Bandera's antisemitism and political violence during World War II leading to ethnic cleansing of not only Poles and Jews but also Ukrainians themselves.13 In response to the Canadian-Ukrainian complaint about Rudling, an open letter was published in his support, signed by 38 scholars of the Holocaust and professors of leading universities supporting him, including Omer Bartov, Kristian Gerner, John-Paul Himka, Dovid Katz, Alexey Miller, Ruth Wodak, and Efraim Zuroff.14

Bibliography

  • Rudling, Per Anders. "Memories of 'Holodomor' and National Socialism in Ukrainian Political Culture," in Yves Bizeul (ed.), Rekonstruktion des Nationalmythos?: Frankreich, Deutschland und die Ukraine im Vergleich (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht Verlag, 2013), 227-258.
  • Seldes, George. Facts and Fascism (New York: In Fact Inc., 1943). https://archive.org/details/FactsAndFascism/.