A recommendation to me by my former soccer coach and an excellent one at that. The book “Execution by Hunger” by Miron Dolot, details a human atrocity behind the iron curtain of the Soviet empire, specifically Ukraine. You can divide the book up into two pieces. The first being the process of collectivizing the farms by the Soviet Union. Having read quite a few books of life under Stalin, this was new and a welcome surprise. For those who do not dare tackle Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago”, this is a much shorter and riveting route to understanding the terror of life in the Soviet Union under the Stalinist regime.
Set in a small rural farming village in the Ukraine the first half of the book start’s in 1929 detailing the process of collectivizing farms. Collectivizing meant handing over your family farm to the state. This was because in a communist paradise everyone worked for the greater good and thus there was no need for people to have private property. The first part of the book deals with getting the farmers to “buy” into the new systems. What one comes away with is the system put into place to essentially bully the farmers into voluntarily joining the system. They would divide each section of farms into communal organizations and force them to attend nightly propaganda meetings. The point being to indoctrinate the people and if they did not sign up things would only get worse. One instance was the “Path Treaded” where if a farmer did not sign up they would be told to take a note to another commune. Once there they would essentially be questioned once again. the paths in the snow that were created would become known as the “Path Treaded”.
As time passed the efforts made to get people to collectivize would become more severe. Coming to homes and confiscating items. Those who would not join, well some would be arrested and sent away. They would be referred to as “Kurkuls” (in short, private farmers) and based on the propaganda machine they were “enemies of the people”. Most of these men perished in the gulag. What is most impressive and horrifying is just how organized and well run these propaganda machines were. They were like a well run American Corporation, but the end results were not a product just brainwashing.
When all the arm shad been collectivized it was time to get ready to plant and harvest. As part of the communist five-year all wheat was transported to Russia little food was left for the villagers. During the harvest they received a small stipend, but when winter set in they were all on their own. It was important for the Soviet Union to show the world how productive they were, that communism was leading to a new world order. In this case it would just lead to death.
During the two winters the villagers were locked up in their homes. Many of the men were gone, locked up and removed to the remote regions of Russia, leaving just the woman and children to fend for themselves. Many would die mercilessly in their homes as first the child would die and then the mother. Sometimes by freezing to death and sometimes by suicide. The pain endured by these people is unmentionable. They became just corpses frozen until the spring thaw. Those who ventured out would be found on the road side in a field. Some not appearing until the snow melted.
In one chapter the mother and son venture to the village, walking for miles in the bitter cold. As the approach the village they come across a garden of grotesques statues. The statues however are not marble but human bodies lining the road into the village as if to warn strangers from venturing closer. As they enter the village things only become more horrific. At one point the son turns the corner to see a pile of human corpses reminiscent of what we would later see in the Nazi Holocaust. The son says it is a site etched in his memory. With all the horrors he has seen it’s amazing he could differentiate.
Hunger may be one of the cruelest struggles humanity has to face and luckily for most of us we never face it. In this case it was forced upon farmers not to teach a lesson but to simply destroy what vestige of humanity was left. Hunger also leads to insanity. So in the end, it is no surprise, that in the harsh winters it led to cannibalism. Our main character and his younger brother confront his wretched disease. What amazed me in the writing is as horrific as the incident was there was no bitterness towards the man as it was just a sad result of human suffering.
If there is one character I admire it is the mother. Her strength throughout the book is awe-inspiring. Whether confronted bu the communist machine or in the face of hunger she alway protects what is left of her family. She even takes others in when possible. During the period of the iron curtain I imagine there are probably a thousand stories of courage that took place similar to this mother. Most of which we will never know or hear about, just passages in the sands of time. Blown quickly away, never noticed never seen.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann June 7, 2011