Holodomor Digital Collections
Select 1920s Famine Photos from Ukraine and Russia


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Select 1920s Famine Photos from Ukraine and Russia

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. Carefully posed shots revealing the shocking effects of starvation on individuals in village and hospital settings appeared throughout the Western world in famine relief reports, on fundraising flyers and postcards, and in films documenting the efforts of the relief organizations. But soon the Bolsheviks were anxious to shut down those operations and remove what they perceived as foreign scrutiny and meddling in their affairs. In 1923, the relief organizations were gone, and by the end of the decade, the Bolsheviks instituted extensive new measures to manage and manipulate the image of the USSR to the outside world.

In contrast, in 1932-1933, Stalin and his regime denied that there was a famine, and any attempt to document it was considered a criminal offense. The furtive attempts at photo documentation that made it across the borders of the USSR were scarce and not widely disseminated. As a result, some of the few newspapers and books outside the Soviet Union that reported on the 1930s famine used 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 were in fact taken during the Russian and Ukrainian famine of the 1920s. Two publications from the 1930s are singled out in this Directory 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 from the 1930s. 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 provenance 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 more recently 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 of photographic content or in documentation of the 1920s famine in Russia and Ukraine. Rather, the goal is simply to feature several of the photographs that have been incorrectly used to represent the Holodomor most frequently, 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 may 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://resource.history.org.ua/item/0008991

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