Holodomor: World Reaction, Propaganda and the Media

Holodomor Denial, Soviet Propaganda and Censorship, Role of the Media

Here we present a selection of resources dealing with government and media responses to the Holodomor, as well as how propaganda and censorship were used by the Kremlin to conceal reality. Resources include books, articles, memoirs, and several film options.

“Like the Times, I assumed that the government would import food.  The markets of the world at the moment were glutted with grain….a very minor diversion of money from machines to food would have saved millions of lives.  But the Kremlin….merely took extreme measures to conceal the disaster from the world and thus save face for the fabled Plan.  The decision made Stalin and his underlings as directly responsible for every death from typhus, every bloated baby stomach, every wagonload of corpses in the following months as if they had strangled the victims with their own hands…..

“Inwardly, I was deeply ashamed of the goose-stepping into which the press corps had been maneuvered, and I know that other correspondents shared that shame.  We talked of little else than the hunger and the terror about which we did not write or wrote in misty circumlocutions…

“Against this background of muted despair, the celebration of the official opening of Dnieprostroi,[in Ukraine, 1932] in the heart of the district soon to be devastated by man-made famine, had an edge of the grotesque… the insanity of a junket to hungerland,  the correspondents chaperoned by official hallelujah-shouters, to dedicate a mechanical mammoth among wheatfields abandoned to weeds…”    Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia, 1937.      


Gareth Jones, a Welsh reporter who wrote forthrightly about the Ukraine famine and other events of the day until his death under highly suspicious circumstances in Manchuria, not long after his reporting from the USSR.

Government responses to the Holodomor

~ “The American Response to the Famine“, in Investigation of the Ukrainian Famine, 1932-1933: Report to Congress. Adopted by the Commission, April 19, 1988, Submitted to Congress, April 22, 1988. U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine. Washington: U.S. GPO. 1988. pp. 151-184.

~ “Blind Eye to Murder: Britain, the United States and the Ukrainian Famine of 1933,” by Marco Carynnyk in Famine in Ukraine, 1932-1933, edited by Roman Serbyn and Bohdan Krawchenko. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 1986. pp. 109-138.

~ “Contextualizing FDR’s Campaign to Recognize the Soviet Union, 1932-1933: Propaganda, Famine Denial, and Ukrainian Resistance, ” by Ray Gamache, in Harvard Ukrainian Studies, Vol 37 (No 3–4), 2020, pp. 287-321.
From the abstract: “famine denial became a necessary thematic trope of the public relations campaign for FDR’s recognition of the USSR…The campaign to recognize in the midst of human suffering on a mass scale reveals how propaganda and public relations were used to deceive and obfuscate…”

~ The Foreign Office and the Famine: British Documents on Ukraine and the Great Famine of 1932-1933, by Marco Carynnyk, Lubomyr Y. Luciuk, and Bohdan S. Kordan. Kingston, Ont: Limestone Press, 1988.
Presents 85 documents that clearly demonstrate what the British Government knew and how they chose to respond regarding the Famine.

~ The Holy See and the Holodomor: Documents from the Vatican Secret Archives on the Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Soviet Ukraine, by Lubomyr Y. Luciuk and Athanasius McVay. Kingston, Ont: Kashtan Press, 2011.
An enlightening introductory essay accompanies the reproduction of numerous archival documents that portray the Vatican’s restrained response to the Famine.

~ “Skeletons in the Closet in the Light of Perestroika,” by Stanislav Kulchitsky. The Day, Kyiv, December 4, 2001.
A Ukrainian historian describes the political maneuvering that surrounded the gradual revelation of the “secret” of the Ukrainian famine to the public in Ukraine and the Soviet Union at large.

Media response to the Holodomor

~ “The American Press and the Ukrainian Famine”, by James E. Mace in Genocide Watch, ed. by Helen Fein. (New Haven: Yale University Press. 1992.) pp. 113-132.

~ Angels in Stalin’s Paradise; Western Reporters in Soviet Russia, 1917 to 1937, A Case study of Louis Fischer and Walter Duranty, by James William Crowl. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. 1982.
Close analysis, especially valuable for its research on Louis Fischer, the very influential pro-Soviet writer for The Nation during the 30’s.

~ “A Blanket of Silence: The Response of the Western Press Corps in Moscow to the Ukraine Famine in 1932-1933,” by Sally J. Taylor in Famine-Genocide in Ukraine 1932-33: Western archives, testimonies and new research, ed. by Wsevolod W. Isajiw. Pp.72-92. Toronto: Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre, 2003. (online access courtesy of UCRDC, Canada.)

~ “Breaking Eggs for a Holodomor; Walter Duranty, the New York Times, and the Denigration of Gareth Jones,” by Ray Gamache. Journalism History. Winter 2014, Vol. 39 # 4, pp.208-218.
Delineates “the circumstances and contexts within which the denigration of Welsh journalist Gareth Jones occurred… The article also analyzes the sources that chronicle the reactions by Western news media, journalists who were involved, and official responses by political leaders.”

Cover sheet to the Kliefoth memorandum mentioning Duranty and the New York Times, from the US Embassy in Berlin, 1931. For pdf access and description, Go to Kliefoth memorandum https://holodomorct.org/holodomor-information-links/holodomor-primary-sources/

~ “France, Germany and Austria Facing the Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine”, by Etienne Thevenin.
Paper presented at the James Mace Memorial Panel, IAUS Congress, Donetsk, Ukraine. June 29, 2005.

~ Gareth Jones; Eyewitness to the Holodomor, by Ray Gamache. Cardiff: Welsh Acad. Press, 2013.
“First academic study of Gareth Jones, now recognized as one of the first journalists to reveal the horror of the Holodomor… Of interest to students of journalism, Eastern-European history and political studies this book provides a fascinating insight about one of the most devastating events of the twentieth century and the social, economic and political factors that contributed to the famine.” A professor of journalism writes: “This excellent book serves as a warning to journalists not to be taken in by official sources and political ideology but to report what they actually learn through their own efforts.”

~ www.garethjones.org and specifically http://www.garethjones.org/soviet_articles/soviet_articles.htm
A fascinating website dedicated to the writings and correspondence of Gareth Jones, a Welsh reporter who wrote forthrightly about the Ukraine famine and other events of the day until his death under highly suspicious circumstances in Manchuria, not long after his reporting from the USSR.

~ “Holodomor, 1932-1933: A Visual Directory of Forbidden Photographs,” by Lana Babij, in Holodomor Photo Directory. 2020.
A research essay that provides background on the conditions of image management exercised by the Soviet government during the 1930s, and the severe restrictions and censorship that limited the possibility of photodocumentation of anything negative in the USSR. Serves also to introduce users to the scope and features of the Holodomor Photo Directory. Note:  the biographical essays included in the Directory also describe the challenges experienced – both in Ukraine and abroad – by the featured photographers.

~ The Moscow Correspondents; Reporting on Russia from the Revolution to Glasnost, by Whitman Bassow. New York: William Morrow. 1988.
Particularly, chapter 4: Concealing Stalin’s Famine provides a good description of propaganda and censorship under Stalin, while describing the lives of the major journalists reporting out of Moscow during the early 1930’s.

~ Not Worthy: Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize and the New York Times, by Lubomyr Luciuk. Kingston: Kashtan Press, 2004.
Rich collection of historical background resources and news articles that supported a campaign to posthumously revoke the award because of Duranty’s deliberate failure to report on the Holodomor that was occurring while he was NYT’s chief USSR correspondent.

~ “‘Panchromatic Lust’: Margaret Bourke-White and the Ukrainian Famine“, by Nicholas Kyle Kupensky, in Harvard Ukrainian Studies, Vol.37 (No 3–4), 2020, pp. 257-285.
From the abstract: “This article reassesses Bourke-White’s work in the Soviet Union in 1932 by analyzing the artistic, personal, and political factors that led to her blindness to the Famine and subsequent silence about a tragedy she saw up close.”

~ “Reporting Stalin’s Famine,” by Teresa Cherfas. Kritika: Explorations in Russian & Eurasian History. Fall 2013, Vol. 14 # 4, pp.775-804.
The article presents a case study of Welsh journalist Gareth Vaughan Jones’ coverage of the Great Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33. Particular focus is given to factors that led to the the famine including the grain crisis of 1928, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s First Five Year Plan (1928-1932), and the collectivization of agriculture. English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge’s coverage of the famine is also discussed.

~Rhea Clyman: A Forgotten Canadian Eyewitness to the Hunger of 1932,by Jars Balan. Published online in Ukraina Moderna , November 22, 2014.
Moscow-based correspondent for the Toronto Telegram, London Daily Express, and other newspapers, Rhea Clyman was kicked out of the Soviet Union in late 1932 -accused of writing defamatory articles about the conditions she witnessed during a 5,000 mile trip through parts of Russia, Ukraine, the North Caucasus and Georgia.
Transcription of  8 articles by Rhea Clyman that appeared in the Toronto Evening Telegram, May, 1933.  NOTE: The articles, in English,  appear AFTER a Ukrainian language introduction.

Hunger for truth : the Rhea Clyman story: dvd cover.

~ Stalin’s Apologist; Walter Duranty, The New York Times’s Man in Moscow, by S.J. Taylor. New York: Oxford University Press. 1990.
Considered the definitive biography, this thoroughly researched, fascinating study details Duranty’s life among the other Western journalists sequestered in Moscow during the 30’s, his successful cover-up of Stalin’s terrors, and his role in U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

~Starving Ukraine; the Holodomor and Canada’s Response, by Serge Cipko. Regina, Saskatchewan:  University of Regina Press, 2017.
“Through an extensive analysis of the newspapers, political speeches, and protests, Starving Ukraine examines both Canada’s reporting of the famine and the country’s response to it, highlighting the importance of journalists and protestors.”

~ “The Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33: The Role of the Ukrainian Diaspora in Research and Public Discussion,” by Frank E. Sysyn. in Studies in Comparative Genocide, edited by Levron Chorbajian and George Shirinian. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. pp. 182-215.

~ “Walter Duranty: A Liar for a Cause,” by Taras Hunczak. in Famine in Ukraine 1932-1933: Genocide by Other Means, ed. by Taras Hunczak and Roman Serbyn. New York: Shevchenko Scientific Society, 2007. pp. 30-33.

Propaganda: selling and buying into the Soviet experiment

Although none of the books listed below deal with Ukraine specifically, they describe how the Soviet Union as a whole structured its image to attract and impress the outside world, particularly during a period of economic and social crisis in Western countries.

~ Americans and the Soviet Experiment, 1917-1933, by Peter G. Filene.  Harvard University Press, 1967.

~ The Pilgrimage to Russia: The Soviet Union and the Treatment of Foreigners, 1924-1937, by Sylvia R. Margulies. University of Wisconsin Press, 1968.
Chapters include:  “The Closed Society and Foreign Guests;” “Objectives and the Soviet Image;” “The Campaign to Woo Foreigners;” “Soviet Treatment of Foreigners;” “Protecting the Soviet Image;” “Utilizing Foreigners for Propaganda;” and more.

~ Modernization from the Other Shore : American Intellectuals and the Romance of Russian Development, by David C. Engerman. Harvard University Press, 2003.  Table of Contents and Preview
Particularly, Ch. 9: “Starving Itself Great,” pp. 194-243.

~ Showcasing the Great Experiment : Cultural Diplomacy and Western Visitors to the Soviet Union, 1921-1941, by Michael David-Fox. Oxford University Press, 2014. Table of Contents and Preview
Particularly, Introduction: “‘Russia and the West’ in a Soviet Key,” pp.1-27; and Ch. 3: “The Potemkin Village Dilemma,” pp. 98-141.

~ Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, by Martin Amis. New York: Talk Miramax Books, 2002.
The famine is a topic along with Stalin’s other terrors. Of particular interest is Amis’ description of the continuing admiration for Stalin (“Koba”) among many fellow British intellectuals. Table of Contents and Preview

~ The Forsaken : An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia, by  Tim Tzouliadis. Penguin Press, 2008.  Table of contents and preview.
Extremely well written and researched story of a team of baseball players who left the US during the Great Depression to search for a better life in the USSR. They will meet tragic ends.  Though it does not deal with the Holodomor directly, this book vividly portrays the “horror that was Stalinist Russia [that] is still incomprehensible to many Americans…Reading this book is certain to open their eyes”(Richard Pipes, historian).

Memoirs by correspondents

~ I Photograph Russia, by James E. Abbe. New York: Robert M. McBride and Company. 1934.

~ Assignment in Utopia, by Eugene Lyons. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. 1937.
Personal reflections on this reporter’s stint in Moscow before and during the famine, and the intellectual climate in the US during that time.

Films related to Soviet censorship, propaganda and the media during the Holodomor

For descriptions of these films and others related to the Holodomor, go to FILM, THEATER, OPERA on this website.

~ Mr. Jones (Motion picture : 2019), Directed by Agnieszka Holland ; written by Andrea Chalupa. 114 min. Avail as DVD ; watch options. Cast: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard.
Historical motion picture drama centered on Gareth Jones.

~ Hunger for truth : the Rhea Clyman story, Directed by Andrew Tkach; Toronto: Canada-Ukraine Foundation, [2017; 2019].  Available on DVD and on demand via Vimeo.  79 min and 51 min versions available.
Documentary about Canadian journalist Rhea Clyman who was one of the first to report on the man-made famine in Eastern Ukraine.

~ Covering the Holodomor: Memory Eternal; by  Jeremy Maron.   Canadian Museum for Human Rights. [2016]. 13 min. free online video.
Brief documentary subtitled: “Misinformation and deception play a crucial role in mass atrocities such as the Holodomor.”

~ The Living (Ukr: “Zhyvi”), directed by Serhiy Bukovsky;  additional credits: Victoria Bodnar and Mark Edwards. Ukraine, 2008. 76 min. Free online video. In Ukrainian with subtitles.
Outstanding true life narrative of the young Welsh journalist, Gareth Jones interwoven with the recollections of several elderly Holodomor survivors.

~ Harvest of despair: the 1932-33 man-made famine in Ukraine; directed by Slavko Nowytski;additional credits: Yurij Luhovy and Peter Blow; originally released 1984. Toronto, The Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre (UCRDC). 56 min. Linked here free to the best quality youTube version.
First feature length documentary on the topic, with significant coverage of the Holodomor’s cover-up and denial.