[bas relief by Oleh Lesiuk]
Page 16 & 17 (Centre Spread) from a Weekly London Tabloid, called 'ANSWERS', dated 24th February 1934.
My Journey Through Famine-Stricken Russia.
By Whiting Williams
Mr. Whiting Williams as he is and (below) photographed while in Soviet Russia. [Click on photo for more detail.]
Mr. Whiting Williams, the first man to travel across the hungry Russian Ukraine since famine conditions returned in the spring of 1933, is an experienced business man and journalist and the author of many books on working-class conditions.
Before going to look at Soviet Russia’ cities and countryside, he had worked as a journeyman labourer in America’s mines and factories, as a miner in South Wales, and a steel worker in Germany, the Saar Territory, and France. He had, therefore, first-hand knowledge of the conditions of the workers in Europe and America when, in 1928, he went to Russia for the first time. Now he has returned to that land in order to discover for himself the truth about the “hunger stories” printed in the world’s newspapers during the past year and in this issue of Answers he sets down, faithfully and without exaggeration, the amazing record of what he saw and heard in that country.
I know that Whiting Williams has no bias either for or against Communism, and I therefore believe that his account the first to appear in any journal will be read with intense interest. - THE EDITOR
In a far-off Chinese mission, a doctor, weary of an unavailing light with death, whispers the word and the whisper grows into a shout that echoes round the world and presently the relief ships are racing across the oceans, carrying grain and rice to the coolies whose harvest has failed.
It is Nature‘s Challenge to man – and man meets it always in the twentieth century with the proud pledge: “They shall not starve! “There are many things about which the nations bicker, but let one of them be facing this gaunt horror of hunger, no matter how it hasp been brought about and the rest will show that the brotherhood of man” is idle phrase but a living reality.
Here, is the truest internationalism earth has ever known - an internationalism based, not on words or theories, but on the hearts of men and women who have children of their own, and cannot bear the thought of little ones starving in any corner of the world.
Police Carts gathering up abandoned and starving children... Miners going to work in Donetz coalfields... [click on photo fro more detail]
Millions Dead and Dying.
Yet, in spite of all this, during the last twelve months, in one European country, millions of people have died of starvation. They are still dying like flies today. Dying in a land which was formerly one of the richest of all the peasant states, after what has been officially described as the biggest wheat crop for fifty years.”
You think it incredible, fantastic? So did I, when the first murmurs of the catastrophe reached me.
“Only the strong will see next summer’s sun,” said the chambermaid in a Soviet hotel in which I stayed at the beginning of the tour which took me through the length and breadth of the Russian Ukraine. I laughed at her.
Travelling by rail to Kharkov, the capital of this great agricultural and industrial. province, I talked in German to an engineer who was in the same coach.
“You know that starvation has been killing off people here by the million?“ he said. He was quite matter-of-fact, almost -casual about it, as if he had been saying: “You know we have had a fine summer?”
Famine’s Final Seal.
“Nonsense,” I said. “The thing’s crazy! If there were anything like that happening, the whole world would be ringing with it and organising relief.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, let’s ask the conductor,” I said. He was, passing through the coach just then. “My own daughter died of hunger just three months ago to-day,” he said simply, when we put the question to him. Even then I could hardly believe that there had been anything beyond, perhaps, a few isolated deaths in remote villages. But as I went through the country, and particularly in the Donetz Basin, I found that the engineer had not lied.
Everywhere men and women were thinking of one thing, and that thing was bread. Would they get enough to keep them alive throughout the winter. They had only too much reason to ask the question, to look with dread to the future, for they had seen so many neighbours, friends, and relatives die of starvation already.
It has been worse than the famine of ‘twenty-one,” I was told on every hand. And I knew that the Russian famine of 1921 bad claimed 5,000,000 victims.
But I am not reporting merely what I have heard. Once I was off the beaten track which the tourists follow I saw with my own eyes the victims of famine. Men and women who were literally dying of hunger in the gutter.
Have you ever seen a human being in the last stages of starvation? If you have done so once, you can never mistake the signs. The swollen faces and. ankles which follow the break-up of the body’s normal functioning set the seal of famine upon the emaciation of long-continued want.
“Wild Children’s” Fight for Life.
They sat there in the streets, their eyes glazed with despair and privation, begging as I have never seen anyone beg before. Their little cups appealed for kopecks, but they themselves are too weak to speak, or even to raise a hand or an eye to attract charity.
“With good luck I hope to get through the coming winter,” a Donetz railway labourer told me. “But in my village, just over that hill, I have of them in one morning - sometimes more.”
All the time he was speaking he was looking round furtively to make sure that no one was within earshot. It may be possible to survive the famine, but no one in Russia today can hope to escape the Ogpu once its spies are on his track.
Dead people in the streets! I found it difficult to believe. At I mentioned it to a young woman who had given me information on other subjects.
'Factory women passing a tiny victim of famine: a dead child lying on a pavement in Kharkov. (Left) A real "hunger-marcher" - a woman reduced by famine to skin and bone, "snapped" in Soviet Ukraine. [click on picture for more detail]
“They make one last effort to get outside,’ she explained, “in the hope of finding or being given a crumb of bread. And then they are too weak-and just drop.”
A day or so later I saw an old man lying in the road on the outskirts of one Of the steel towns. I have sufficient medical knowledge to know that he was dying, and that there was nothing which I, or anyone else, could do for him.
But the worst memory I have brought out of Russia is the children. There was one youngster I saw in Kharkov. Half-naked, he had sunk, legs sprawled out, regardless of danger from passing wheels.
Another - a boy of eight or nine -was sitting among the debris of a street market, picking broken eggshells out of the dirt and examining them with heartbreaking minuteness in the hope of finding a scrap of food still sticking to them. His-shrunken cheeks were covered with an unhealthy whitish down that made me think of those fungoid growths that sprout in the darkness out of dying trees.
I saw him again, in the same place the next day motionless now, with his head sunk between his knees in a piteous abandonment.
While eating in a restaurant in the same town I saw a girl of twelve run up the steps towards a veranda table from which a customer had just risen. For a moment she hesitated; shrank back as if in fear, as she saw the man look at her. Finally, reassured by his expression, she darted boldly forward, gathered the scraps he had left on his plate in her fingers, then turned and -ran down the steps with her prize.
For all the world she was like a wild bird driven by a bard- winter to a town garden. There was the same suspicion, the same holding back, and the same momentary boldness followed by headlong flight. Something, also, perhaps, of the same grace and beauty. I shall never see her again, but I cherish the hope that she will survive.
There are hordes of those wild children in all the towns. They live and die like wild animals.
Where do they come from? I made inquiries about them, and learned that last winter, when food supplies began to fail, large numbers of peasants left their villages and came into the towns with their families, hoping that there they might get a chance to work - and eat.
There was neither work nor bread for them, and under a new regulation that required every adult in the towns to show papers to prove his right to be there, they were driven back to their foodless villages.
They believed they were returning to certain starvation. So they left the children behind. In the villages, they said, the little ones would inevitably die--in the towns, their chance of life might be slender, but it was at least a chance.
Something like 18,000 children were abandoned in this manner – abandoned because that was the only way in which their parents could help them - in Kharkov alone.
These bands of wild children are not a new phenomenon in Russia. In the early days of the Revolution they were found even in Moscow itself. Then they disappeared - we were told that they had been rounded up and placed in homes, where they would be cared for and educated and made into good citizens.
I saw some of the wild children of this winter being rounded up. A horse-drawn wagon lumbered alone the street, with two or three policemen marching beside it. When they saw one of the little Ishmaels the police gave chase. If the youngster was caught, he was placed among the others already in the wagon, and this procession moved on again.
Tragedy in the Siding.
Once, when the wagon stopped and a chase was in progress, two of the lads previously captured saw their chance, scrambled to the ground, and made off as hard as they could into a maze of narrow alley-ways.
I felt rather sorry for these youngsters, running back to the hardship and hunger of their life in the gutter, when, as I thought, they would have been fed and clad and educated in the institution to which they were being taken. But when I mentioned this to a Russian acquaintance he just stared at me.
At first I could not believe what he told me. Then I spoke to a number of other people. They all said the same thing.
These children were not sent to homes. Bread was too scarce. They were put into railway wagons and unloaded out in the open country – too far out for it to be possible to walk back to town.
And once, at least, three wagons filled with youngsters were shunted into a siding and forgotten for three days. When, at the end of that time, someone found them, not one of the children remained alive.
I don’t pretend, of course, that this was a typical case. But what chance have children dumped out in the open country? There may be a village within walking distance, but when they reach it conditions there are probably as bad as in the places to which their parents refused to take them back, because they knew they couldn’t get food for them,
What Tourists Don’t See.
Here is what a British agricultural expert reported to his principals in London after travelling hundreds of miles through the farmlands of the North Caucasus:
“In whole districts the extinction of the population through famine is in full swing. In some villages I visited the population is now almost extinct. In others about half the population has died off. In the villages I visited the number of deaths varied between twenty ,and thirty a day. There are still villages in which death from famine is not so frequent. But famine in some degree reigns everywhere in the regions I have visited.”
The man who wrote that had no thought of his report or any part of it, ever being published. He was writing simply and solely for the information of his principals. He had no political axe to grind.
Neither , for that matter, have I. I have been just as much impressed as any of the tourists, who are so carefully and efficiently conducted; with Communist guides and interpreters always at their elbow, through Russia’s show places with the great new factories, the giant ‘Palaces of culture,” the palatial workers’ clubs and hospitals. And I pay willing tribute to what the Soviets have achieved in the way of “liquidating” illiteracy.
But I have seen the darker side of the Russian experiment -the side which the conducted tourist is never allowed to glimpse. I have talked, without an Interpreter, to people whom the tourist would never even meet; have penetrated to towns and villages of which he has never heard. And I know that factories and machinery, clubs, and schoolbooks, and cinemas are no substitutes for bread, and consider it more important that I should tell the truth as I have seen it than that I should leave the door open for my return to Russia at some future date.
Driven to Cannibalism.
What this British expert found in the. Caucasus I saw wherever I went in the Ukraine, and my observations were confirmed by a thousand conversations. Here, typical of many others, is a story told me by a foreign representative who has spent five years in Russia:
“A group of Young Communists went out to visit a village where a population of over a thousand had been reduced to a mere hundred. In one house they found five people lying in one room - two of them dead, three still alive, but very weak. They asked the neighbours why the corpses hadn’t been buried.
‘Why bother?’ was the reply. ‘The other three and a few others will go shortly, and one big grave is easier to dig.’
“One member of the group was so shocked by this and by the other things he bad seen and heard that he shot himself when he got back to the town.”
There is another development n more horrible than any which I have yet described – so – horrible that I dare only touch upon it. I first heard of it while talking to a person whom I knew to be absolutely reliable.
“A relative of mine,” he said, “was arrested for a minor offence, and met in prison a woman who had been convicted of killing and eating her little boy.
“‘We couldn’t both live,’ she said, ‘and he was the weaker one. So weak that, whatever happened, he couldn’t possibly have lived two days longer. So, I thought it was better for one of us to keep going.’”
A day or two later I saw in a Russian newspaper an account of a man’s trial. He was accused of killing a number of people and selling their flesh in the free market. Then I made inquiries and found that in the Ukraine just now cannibalism has become a commonplace.
“There were so many cases in the famine of 1921 that the courts were still trying them in ‘25 and ‘26,” I was told. “And, of course, it is happening again now. It is bound to.”
Doctors Daren’t Tell.
In all Russia, how many victims - how many millions of victims - has the famine already claimed? I can’t pretend to say. There are no statistics. Officially, no one dies of hunger in the land of the Soviets. The doctors are Government employees, and they dare not report any death as caused by starvation. “Weak heart” or exposure” is the favourite formula.
All the people in a position to judge with whom I have talked, however, including engineers and experts whose work takes them all over the country, are unanimous in saying that famine conditions have been more widespread during the last twelve months than they were in the hunger year of 1921. Then, too, there was organised foreign famine relief, which saved unnumbered lives. This tine there has been no such helping hand.
It is also significant that, even among Russians who are not starving, food is the one all-absorbing topic of conversation, and that the only at about the famine is whether the death-roll amounts to fifteen millions or only ten!
That, admittedly, does not mean that even lower figure is a safe one to accept. But it seems only too much reason to believe that the number of those who have died of starvation is well in excess of the five millions who perished in the famine of ‘twenty-one.
Of course, the conducted tourists won’t believe it. They saw for themselves - what they were meant to see. I was shown a letter written by a woman in Yalta to a friend in Kiev.
“Last Tuesday we hardly knew Yalta,” it ran. ‘As you know, we had a terrible number of starving people. I have thirty of them daily at my door, and try to give a morsel to all of them so that none will drop down and die before my eyes. But last Tuesday all these were missing - and our traffic policemen blossomed out in new white uniforms. We couldn’t make out why until, about eleven o’clock, we saw that some hundreds of strangers from abroad were paying us a visit.”
Where the “Sack” Means Starvation.
In the towns the workers - that is, those who rave jobs - are getting enough, just enough, to keep them alive. In the last five years, after making full allowance for the much-advertised right of the Soviet employee to buy at privilege prices, real wages have been reduced by seventy-five per cent, and many workers can only afford to eat once a day.
That is while the job lasts. But dismissal may follow a very minor offence, such as being five minutes late for work in the morning. And once a man is discharged, not only does his income stop, but his food card is withdrawn, which means hat he can only buy bread at the top price, and he is turned out of his home.
And after that? Sooner or later famine will claim another victim.
(In a concluding article, appearing in next Friday’s issue, Mr. Whiting Williams will explain why Russia is hungry, and reveal further remarkable facts concerning the food policy of the men who govern the former “granary of Europe.” Don’t miss these eye witness revelations, - they will appear only in ANSWERS.)
The lighter side of Russia to-day - a traffic policeman has a shoe-shine outside the great new office blocks erected in Kharkov. [Click on image for more detail].
Bibliographic Note on Whiting Williams
Biographical material below is quoted from the "Guide to the Architectural Records in the Oberlin College Archives," edited by Roland M. Baumann (Oberlin, 1996), p. 25., :
(Charles) Whiting Williams (1878-1975, A.B. 1899, M.A. 1909) was born in Shelby, Ohio. He continued his studies at the University of Berlin (1899-1900) and the University of Chicago (1900-1901), serving as Chicago’s director of the Bureau of University Travel from 1901 to 1904. Williams returned to Oberlin to serve as the first assistant to the president from 1904 to 1912 under Henry Churchill King. Among his primary tasks was the raising of money for building and scholarships.
In 1912, Williams left Oberlin. Over the next three decades he was successful in reform and philanthropy movements, serving as the first executive secretary of the Federation of Charity and Philanthropy (now known as the Welfare Federation of Cleveland). Upon entering the private sector in 1917, he legally changed his name to Whiting Williams. After 1919, Williams pursued a career as a consultant in labor-management relations, and spent the greater part of his remaining life researching, speaking and writing on these subjects.
Permission for above source material granted by Oberlin College, with thanks...
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