The Great Famine on American Experience

 logo for Great Famine on American ExperienceThe little-known story of the American effort to relieve starvation in the new Soviet Russia in 1921, The Great Famine is a documentary about the worst natural disaster in Europe since the Black Plague in the Middle Ages.

Half a world away, Americans responded with a massive two-year relief campaign, championed by Herbert Hoover, director of the American Relief Administration, known as the ARA.

Great Famine: American Experience
4/11 9:00 pm WOSU TV
4/12 1:00 am WOSU TV
4/12 9:00 pm WOSU PLUS

Patriarch Tikhon Asks the English Archbishops to Send Food and Medicine.
Lenin Orders More Strenuous Food Levies — Germans Cold to Calls for Help.
New York Times, July 19, 1921

BERLIN, July 18 — Russia is entering on the worst famine within memory and one not exaggerated, according to an increasing volume of news as well as confirmatory private advices from Russia. Ominously the official organ Izvestia of Moscow, under the headline, ‘Bad Grain Crop in the Volga Region,’ writes:

“A bad harvest now is exceptionally hard on us because the country is so run down after the long war.” The official Soviet organ tries to pluck up courage and adds:

“But we believe we shall have strength to survive this hard time. The solidarity of the working classes will come to the help of the population which will suffer hunger.”

Famine aided by man-made events?

From Wikipedia: The Holodomor (Ukrainian: Голодомор, ‘Морити голодом’, literal translation Killing by hunger) was a man-made famine in the Ukrainian SSR, part of the Soviet famine of 1932–1933. During the famine, which is also known as the “terror-famine in Ukraine” and “famine-genocide in Ukraine,” millions of Ukrainians died of starvation.

Early estimates of the death toll by scholars and government officials varied greatly; anywhere from 1.5 to 12 million ethnic Ukrainians were said to have been killed as a result of the famine. Recent research has since narrowed the estimates to between 2.4 and 4 million deaths inside Ukraine, and up to 5 million if about 1 million deaths in heavily Ukrainian-populated Kuban are included.

The causes of the famine are controversial, and scholars disagree on the relative importance of natural factors and bad economic policies, and debate whether the intentional destruction of Ukrainian peasants took place. Some scholars and politicians use the word Holodomor to emphasize the man-made aspects of the famine, arguing that it was genocide, and some consider the events comparable to the Holocaust. They have argued that the Soviet policies were designed as an attack on the rise of Ukrainian nationalism.

This video below (uploaded in 2009) marks the 76th anniversary of the Great Famine in the former Ukrainian People’s Republic. Hundreds gather in Kyiv for the Light a Candle campaign held near 30-meter candles in the memorial complex dedicated to the Great Famine of 1932-1933. President Yushchenko reiterated that the Great Famine was genocide of the Ukrainian people.

  • margo

    I’m confused. The PBS preview indicates the Great Famine took place in 1922-23 and Herbert Hoover was instrumental in providing food and new grain for the starving. Yet other YouTube clips tell of a Haulodor (sp?) inn 1932-33 and the clip about the commemoration ceremonies were based on the genocide of 1930′s.

    I wasn’t able to watch the PBS program this evening or at 1:00 am, but, after long and persistent searching, I found information saying it will be repeated Tues. at 9:00 pm on one of WOSU’s cable channels. I hope my questions are answered then.

    By the way, I love Create.

  • Scott Gowans

    Thanks for writing. Since I wrote this post, I can clear up a bit of confusion.

    The American Experience episode (which isn’t produced early enough so that I can preview it) indeed covers the years 1922-23, and covers the Hoover effort to feed Russia – inspiring stuff.

    When I was researching the era, though, I learned about the Holodomor, an era just following (or associated with, depending on whom you ask) the 1920s, and felt it was important to mention both events.

    It had to have been a miserable time to live in the Ukraine, since Stalin made little secret of his disdain for the region and its people. The 1920s famine was real, but how the government reacted to it was either short-sided or barbaric.

    The USSR gave little thanks back to the US for their generosity, and implemented food rationing that lasted through the 1920s and 1930s. Though the US saved lives, Stalin’s regime seemed largely indifferent, and things became much, much worse in the 1930s.

    If you follow the links to the wikipedia article, you can read about Holomodor, and see perspectives from different sides. Scholars can’t agree about the full causes of the famine.