Two destitute children sit near a sleeping woman by a grassy embankment in Kharkiv
- Wienerberger, Alexander, 1891-1955, Photographer
- Media Type
- Item Types
- Book illustrations
- Pamphlet illustrations
- In a location that appears to be somewhat sheltered from the view of passersby, Wienerberger focuses on two children in the foreground. One is looking at the camera, while the younger boy stares off in another direction. The gaunt child looking at the camera has very short hair and is not wearing the typical traditional headscarf worn by girls and women; however, she is wearing a skirt and a shawl. A barefoot woman near them with her back to the camera appears to be sleeping. Possibly this is a homeless family who left their starving village, rather than strictly abandoned children - “bezprizornye” as the caption to the published photo states. Another homeless person can be seen lying further in the background.
Context: Homeless children during the Holodomor
As famine conditions in Ukraine became ever more severe in the 1930’s, the numbers of homeless youth increased dramatically. Starving parents from the countryside sometimes dropped off their children in urban areas in the desperate hope that they had a better chance for survival there. Perhaps they might be taken in by a kind stranger or an orphanage. Older children sometimes left their dead or dying families in the villages of their own accord, also in the hope of finding a means to stay alive in the city.
Formidable obstacles awaited them in a large overcrowded city such as Kharkiv, whose population had nearly doubled between 1920-1933. Officially, Ukraine’s rural residents were now considered illegal aliens in the cities, and as illegals without close family or friends in the city, it would be almost impossible to find a place to stay, and by law, no public shelters were available. Most ended up sleeping and congregating in vacant lots or simply along streets and sidewalks. The weakened, impoverished migrants living in such unsanitary conditions were susceptible to often fatal diseases carried by lice or caused by unclean drinking water. Older homeless children tended to band together, begging, scrounging for scraps, and stealing to survive. Prostitution was not uncommon.
Homelessness among children was particularly acute in Kharkiv. Officials report 9,000 children picked up off the streets in one week alone in May, 1933. There were not enough provisions in the overcrowded orphanages, where the death rate was 30% and higher from disease and starvation. Conditions were so appalling that more able-bodied children often escaped to return to a chance for survival in the streets.
- Photo taken between spring – late summer, 1933.
Photo source: Ammende, Ewald, and Alexander. Wienerberger. Muss Russland Hungern?: Menschen- und Völkerschicksale in der Sowjetunion. Wien: W. Braumüller Universitäts-Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1935, Abb.7.
The title loosely translated as, “Must Russia starve? The fate of the peoples of the Soviet Union, ” this book was a remarkably revealing, detailed and damning portrayal of the USSR in the early 1930s by a respected expert on nationalities issues. It also included a photographic supplement: 21 photographs on 11 pages of plates with the title: "Der Hunger in der Hauptstadt der Ukraine. Bilder, Aufgenommen in Charkow im Sommer 1933." [Famine in the capital of Ukraine. Photographs taken in Kharkiv during the summer of 1933.] According to Ammende, the photographs were unattributed to protect the identity of the photographer, but later were proven to be Wienerberger’s.
The original 1935 edition was followed by an English translation, Human Life in Russia, published in London after Ammende’s untimely death in 1936. This edition, however, included only half of Wienerberger’s photos and added others – some of possible legitimacy from the North Caucasus region of Russia, and the remainder proven to be from the 1920s famine in Russia and Ukraine. Reprinted in the US in 1984 for its important historical text, hardly anyone knew of the false and unverified nature of some of the photographic content. Regrettably, therefore, Human Life in Russia became an accepted resource for all its photographic documentation as well.
For related photo, essays, and a listing of originals and versions published through 1939 with their captions, see Related Features below photo and Home page menus.
- Caption: “Hungernde und verwahrloste Kinder, die sogenannten ‘Besprisornyje.’” [Starving and neglected children, the so-called [in Russian] bezprizornye.]
- Date of Original
- Date Of Event
- Image Dimensions
Image Width: 11cm
Image Height: 7cm
- Local identifier
- Alexander Wienerberger: Beyond the Innitzer album
- Language of Item
- Geographic Coverage
Latitude: 49.98081 Longitude: 36.25272
- Copyright Statement
- Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
- Copyright Holder
- Samara Pearce https://www.samarapearce.com/
- Recommended Citation
- Ammende, Ewald, and Alexander. Wienerberger. Muss Russland Hungern? : Menschen- und Völkerschicksale in der Sowjetunion. Wien: W. Braumüller Universitäts-Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1935, Abb.7. Retrieved from: http://vitacollections.ca/HREC-holodomorphotodirectory/3636214/data
- Location of Original
- Location of original photograph reproduced in this publication is unknown.
- Rightsholder requests that the name of the photographer, Alexander Wienerberger, accompany each authentic reproduction of his work.
- Reproduction Notes
- Reproduced with the permission of rightsholder Samara Pearce. Source: Book cited in NOTES above.