April 24, 1983

1932-34 Great Famine: some further references


The article below was published as an addendum to Dr. Dana Dalrymple’s earlier piece on the Great Famine. It, too, appeared in the journal Soviet Studies, in the April 1965 issue. Dr. Dana Dalrymple is an agricultural economist who specializes in international agricultural research.

Medical account

Perhaps the most authoritative reference is provided by Dr. W. Horsley Gantt in an article which originally appeared in the British Medical Journal. 1

Dr. Gantt, a member of the school of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, was formerly chief of the medical division of the American Relief Administration, Leningrad Unit (1922-23), and later was a collaborator in Pavlov’s Laboratories (1925-29). In the summer of 1933 he returned to Russia to continue his work with Pavlov.

The famine quickly attracted his attention. Through conversations with Russian doctors who were able to provide first-hand reports, and personal travel outside the cities, he was able to gain a perspective of the famine equalled by few. And while his article was not published until 1936, Dr. Gantt indicates that he provided much of the information on the extent of the famine used by American correspondents during this period – in particular the article by Ralph Barnes (cited on p. 253, fn. 17, of my original paper).

Most of the points presented in Dr. Gantt’s article on the causes, extent and handling of the famine are in agreement with those presented in my article. Dr. Gantt, however, provides considerably more detail in the medical aspects of the famine, especially the associated deficiency diseases and the contagious epidemics (see pp. 155-156). He reports that the peak of the typhus epidemic coincided with that of the famine. Deaths from typhus were not recorded as such, but as “Form No. 2.” While the highest mortality estimate which I cited was 10 million, Dr. Gantt indicates that he privately got the maximal figure of 15 million from Soviet authorities. He adds, however, that because starvation was complicated by the epidemics, it is not possible to separate which of the two causes was more important in causing casualties.

Contemporary observers


A study of previously unopened records of the U.S. Department of State for 1933 brought to light one paper which provided some idea of knowledge of the famine among the diplomatic corps in Moscow. 3

According to the memorandum, the existence of the famine “was frankly admitted on several occasions by officials of the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs to members of the Moscow diplomatic corps.” It was the general opinion of the diplomats that the famine was even more severe than that of 1921-22. The number of people dying from starvation was placed at 7 to 8 million. The reasons given for the famine and for suppression of its knowledge were essentially those which I outlined in my earlier article.

Similar interpretations are provided by Frederick L. Schuman in “Soviet Politics at Home and Abroad,” 4 and Homer Smith in “Black Man in Red Russia.” 5 Both traveled through Ukraine during the famine. Schuman notes that while newsmen were prohibited from going into the famine area, others, paradoxically, were not. Smith summarizes his observations by stating that “Stalin’s unwritten motto was simply: machines instead of food.”

Emigre reports

Rather more intimate accounts of the famine are provided in several publications by Ukrainian emigres. Perhaps the most extensive collection is presented in “The Great Famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933.” 6 The sections of most value include an article by Petro Dolyna on “Famine as Political Weapon” (pp. 29-135), and a collection of a large number of individual accounts of the famine and excerpts from several Russian-language newspapers (pp. 431-710).

Two other recent works, in Ukrainian, also take a similar approach. In an autobiography, “Povest Krivykh Let” (The Tale of the Ragged Years), Tatiana Fessenko relates the effect of the famine on a German colony near Kiev (pp. 44-47, 49-50). 7 Wasyl Barka presents a more extensive account in his novel “Zhovty Kniaz” (The Yellow Prince). 8 The book describes a collective farm family’s futile struggle for survival during the famine and reflects most of the typical occurrences of that period. A less personal treatment is provided in “Ukraine: A Concise Encyclopaedia.” 9 Of particular interest are the sections on “The Economic Situation and the Famine of 1932-33” (pp. 820-822, 825), and “Changes in the Population After 1930, The Events of 1930-32” (pp. 200-201). The authors suggest that the death toll in Ukraine was around 3 million, while the increased incidence of diseases and the reduction of the birth rate (a point which I perhaps did not sufficiently emphasize) ultimately cut the popuiation by 5 to 7 million.

Previously cited references

In my original paper, I noted in some detail the early famine reports of Gareth Jones (pp. 253, 279-280). I have since learned that Jones was more than a former secretary to Lloyd George: he was a well-trained student of Russian affairs in his own right. He had received a first in Russian at Cambridge and was enrolled for a Ph.D. at the University of London under Pares while he worked for Lloyd George. Pares seems to have regarded him as his heir-apparent. Much of Jones’s information on the famine was gained by loading up on all the condensed food that he could carry, and walking from village to village. 10

My study concluded (p. 284) by referring to Ivan Stadnyuk’s remarkable account of the famine, “Lyudi ne angely” (Neva, December 1962, pp. 3-114). This work has now been translated into English, and published under the title “People Are Not Angels.” 11

Khrushchev on famine

Shortly after my paper went to press, Khrushchev saw fit to comment on famine conditions during the Stalin period. In December 1963 he acknowledged – for the first time – that famine had existed under Stalin and Molotov. 12 His comments, however, were confined to 1947. He stated: “Their method was like this: they sold grain abroad, while in some regions people were swollen with hunger and even dying for lack of bread.” These words seem equally applicable to the famine of 1932-34. Perhaps the new Soviet leadership will some day extend them to cover this period.

* This note, like the earlier paper, was a personal project; the views expressed are my own.


  1. W. Horsley Gantt, “A Medical Review of Soviet Russia: Results of the First Five-Year Plan,” British Medical Journal, July 4 and 18, 1936, starting on pp. 19 and 128, respectively; reprinted with slight changes in his Russian Medicine (Vol. XX of Clio Medica), Paul B. Hoeber (Medical Book Department of Harper & Bros.), (New York, 1937) pp. 146-162, especially pp. 151-56. I have also benefitted from conversations with Dr. Gantt in December 1963 and October 1964, and from a letter dated March 6, 1964.
  2. One account which – because of its suspect nature – will only be mentioned here appeared in Alexander Kerensky’s publication Dni (Paris). In the May 21, 1933, issue (No. 172, p. 5), the Moscow correspondent reported that in the autumn of 1932 Molotov – with Stalin’s approval – had made a speech to the active group of the Communist Party which indicated a considerable degree of premeditation to the famine. Two previous issues, April 9 and 23, (No. 170, pp. 1-2, and No. 171, p. 1), also carried articles on the famine.
  3. Memorandum of a conversation held by Felix Cole (Chargé d’Affaires, Riga) and John Lehrs with a member of the staff of a foreign legation in Moscow. Cole to Secretary of State dispatch No. 1633, October 4, 1933, General records of the Department of State, National Archives Record Group 59, Decimal File 861.48/2450.
  4. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1946, pp. 218-219. The same account appears in his “Russia Since 1917” (Knopf, 1962) p. 152.
  5. Johnson Publishing Co., Chicago, 1964, Ch. III, pp. 17-21.
  6. Vol. 2 of “The Black Deeds of the Kremlin; A White Book,” ed. by S. O. Pidhainy (DOBRUS, Detroit, 1955, 712 pp.). (DOBRUS is an abbreviation of Democratic Organization of Ukrainians Formerly Persecuted by the Soviet Regime in the U.S.A.)
  7. Novoye Russkoye Slovo, New York, 1963, 221 pp. Mrs. Fessenko was formerly with the Library of Congress.
  8. Munich and New York, 1962, 211 pp. Mr. Barka, who is with the Radio Liberty Committee in New York, indicates that his novel is based on individual recollections, and also on “many details of that time, which were later collected over a number of years.”
  9. University of Toronto Press (for the Ukrainian National Association), Toronto, Vol. I, 1963.
  10. Bernard Pares, “A Wandering Student” (Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, 1948) pp. 309-311 (also see “Mr. Jones Replies,” The New York Times, May 13, 1933, p. 12; cited in fn. 23, p. 253 of my original paper). As a result of his articles, Jones was not officially allowed to return to Russia, he subsequently tried to make his way in through Mongolia, but was captured by bandits and eventually shot (p. 311).
  11. Mono Press, London, 1963, 238 pp. (trs. by P. A. Spalding and I. Antonenko). Unfortunately this translation appears to be virtually unknown in the U.S. At the time this note was prepared, only one major library (UCLA) had reported to the National Union Catalogue that it had a copy.
  12. Pravda, December 10, 1963, p. 1 (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, December 25, 1963. p. 5).
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