Select 1920s Famine Photos from Ukraine and Russia
- Media Type
A Note on the Collection
The disastrous 1920s famine in parts of Russia and Ukraine was well documented in word and image. Because the young Bolshevik regime ultimately allowed outside relief workers to provide assistance, an unprecedented level of transparency was presented to the world – not only to the ravages of famine in the Soviet Union, but also to the disarray and underdeveloped conditions that prevailed. By the end of the decade, transparency disappeared as extensive measures were taken by the Bolsheviks to manage and manipulate the image of the USSR.
Unlike a decade earlier, Stalin and his regime denied that there was a famine in 1932-1933, and visual documentation of it was considered a criminal offense. The lack of photo documentation prompted some of the few newspapers and books outside the Soviet Union that reported on the 1930s famine to use photographs from the 1920s – wittingly or unwittingly – to provide visual emphasis to their texts.
Purpose and Scope
The purpose of this collection is to provide evidence regarding several photos that were used as early as the 1930s to portray the Holodomor but are in fact from the Russian and Ukrainian famine of the 1920s. Two publications in particular have been singled out for examination of their purported Holodomor photo documentary content. The first is Human Life in Russia, the 1936 English language edition of the original German language Muss Russland Hungern, by Ewald Ammende. The first edition, in German, was illustrated exclusively with Alexander Wienerberger’s Kharkiv photos. The English language edition (reprinted in the US in 1984 with a forward by James Mace) unfortunately removed half of Wienerberger’s photos and added others – some of possible 1930s legitimacy from the North Caucasus regions but others now proven to be from the 1920s famine in Russia and Ukraine.
The second publication of interest, Alfred Laubenheimer’s Und du siehst die Sowjets richtig (UdSSR), was clearly a more politically motivated anti-Bolshevik compilation of essays primarily by Germans who had spent time in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s as consultants and engineers. This publication, which went through several editions in the mid-1930s, features a photo documentary insert that includes some of the same photos seen in Human Life in Russia that are of possible 1930s legitimacy from the North Caucasus regions, along with photos that were taken in the 1920s. Notably, no photographs by Alexander Wienerberger are included in Laubenheimer’s publication.
In addition, this Directory features a few additional 1920s photos that came into popular use since the 1930s to portray the Holodomor. Unfortunately, these false representations of the Holodomor serve not only to reinforce misinformation but provide fodder for the contrived arguments of Holodomor deniers. The search for clear evidence regarding the provenance of several other photos of unproven veracity continues. It is not the aim of this collection to be comprehensive either in scope or documentation of the 1920s famine in Russia and Ukraine. Rather, the goal is simply to offer several familiar photographs that have been used to represent the Holodomor along with one or a sampling of sources that display authenticated 1920s versions of these photographs.
A Few Titles for further Reading
For further information about the 1921-1923 famine, the list below should be helpful as a starting point.
Patenaude, Bertrand M. 2002. The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.
Serbyn, Roman. "Photographic Evidence of the Ukrainian Famines of 1921-1923 and 1932-1933." Holodomor Studies 2, no. 1 (2010): 63-94 . Issue here: http://history.org.ua/LiberUA/HolSt2_2010/HolSt2_2010.pdf
Serbyn, Roman. 1992. Holod 1921-1923 i ukraïnsʹka presa v Kanadi: materii︠a︡ly upori︠a︡dkuvav i zredaguvav. Toronto: Ukrainian Canadian Research & Documentation Centre; Instytut ukraïnsʹkoï arkheohrafiï (Akademii︠a︡ nauk Ukraïny). // Сербин Р. Голод 1921–1923 і українська преса в Канаді…. http://resource.history.org.ua/item/0009310
Vogt, Carl-Emil. “Fridtjof Nansen et l’aide alimentaire européenne à la Russie et à l’Ukraine bolcheviques en 1921-1923.” Materiaux pour lhistoire de notre temps N° 95, no. 3 (2009): 5–12. https://www.cairn.info/revue-materiaux-pour-l-histoire-de-notre-temps-2009-3-page-5.htm
A Few Titles on the Humanitarian and Political Uses of Photographs with Reference to the 1920s Famine
Mahood, Linda, and Vic Satzewich. “The Save the Children Fund and the Russian Famine of 1921–23: Claims and Counter-Claims about Feeding ‘Bolshevik’ Children*.” Journal of Historical Sociology 22, no. 1 (2009): 55–83. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6443.2009.01342.x.
Stempowski, Tomasz. “Bezlitosne fotografie: głód w Rosji w latach 1921-1923.” Fototekst (blog), November 12, 2017. http://fototekst.pl/bezlitosne-fotografie-glod-w-rosji-w-latach-1921-1923/.
A Few Primary Resources from the 1920s: Texts
Herasymovych, Ivan. Holod Na Ukraïni. Biblioteka Ukraïnʹkoho Slova 31. Berlin: Ukr. Slovo, 1922. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=inu.32000004088656;view=1up;seq=1.
Nansen, Fridtjof, Gerhart Hauptmann, and Maxim Gorki. Russland Und Die Welt. Berlin: Verlag für Politik und Wirtschaft, 1922. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=inu.32000014437950&view=1up&seq=1
Quisling, Vidkun. “La Famine En Ukraine, Rapport.” Information, 22. Geneva: Comité international de secours à la Russie. Haut commissariat du Dr. Nansen,..., 1922. http://diasporiana.org.ua/wp-content/uploads/books/16481/file.pdf.
Primary Source Films
Famine: The Russian Famine of 1921 [Posted on YouTube by Ted Gerk as Volga Famine of the 1920s]. Silent film, 00:32:00 [00:31:07 on YouTube]. Documentary. Save the Children Fund, 1922. (Original at the National Film Archive in Great Britain, Video library no. 803.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=hIJirOk7O6w.
[Famine in Russia (Soviet Film)], 00:14:19. Documentary. 1921. https://avarchives.icrc.org/Film/5449. Important Note: The description of this film in the ICRC catalog matches another film (see below) that shows two segments, one an abbreviated version of this Soviet film, with the second segment showing scenes from Nansen's mission, and is available at https://avarchives.icrc.org/Film/5448. It appears that the labelling has been reversed for the two films.
Mewes, G. H. [La Famine En Russie (Film Nansen)], 00:14:19. Documentary. Save the Children Fund, 1921. https://avarchives.icrc.org/Film/5448. Important Note: The description of this film in the ICRC catalog matches a Soviet film that is the extended version of the first half of this film, and is available at https://avarchives.icrc.org/Film/5449. It appears that the labelling has been reversed for the two films.
Archival Resources Cited
Archives d'Etat de Genève (State Archives of the Canton of Geneva), Switzerland. (Referenced photos are not digitized; not viewed on site.)
Bildarchiv of the Bundesarchiv, Koblenz, Germany. (Referenced photos are not digitized; viewed on site.)
Earlham College Archives, Richmond, Indiana. https://digital.palni.edu/digital/collection/ecplow/id/22689
Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA. Digital collection resource: American Friends Service Committee lantern slides of World War I relief work, PA 189; part of the Quaker Relief in Europe, 1914-1922 Collection: http://triptych.brynmawr.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/SC_Relief
International Committee of the Red Cross, Audiovisual Archives, https://avarchives.icrc.org/
Херсонський обласний краєзнавчий музей (Kherson Regional Museum). http://hokm.ks.ua/kontakti.html
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/
National Film Archive of Great Britain. (referenced item not viewed on site).
National Library of Norway digital collection. https://www.nb.no/en/the-national-library-of-norway/
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain, Library of the Society of Friends. Friends Emergency War Victims Relief Committee (FEWVRC) archive. https://www.quaker.org.uk/resources/library