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Why Stalin's mass murder in Ukraine was genocide

The German diplomat was as shocked as he was helpless: "One morning we found two dead people in a garden next to the consulate, who had apparently dragged themselves there with the last of their strength," recalled Andor Hencke, the representative of the German Reich in Kyiv Conditions in the spring of 1933.

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Why Stalin's mass murder in Ukraine was genocide

The German diplomat was as shocked as he was helpless: "One morning we found two dead people in a garden next to the consulate, who had apparently dragged themselves there with the last of their strength," recalled Andor Hencke, the representative of the German Reich in Kyiv Conditions in the spring of 1933. He “cautiously” estimated the number of victims of starvation in his consular district of the then Soviet Republic of Ukraine at “2.5 million out of a population of around 12 million”. It didn't stop at estimates, because Hencke made up his own mind: "On business trips within the administrative district, I came across completely deserted villages in some areas."

On November 30, 2022, the Bundestag wants to recognize the deaths of millions as a result of a deliberately caused famine in Ukraine, as well as neighboring areas such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, as genocide, i.e. as genocide. This provides for a joint application from the coalition factions and the CDU/CSU, which WELT has received. Member of Parliament Robin Wagener (Greens) is one of the initiators.

"The Holodomor is one of the worst crimes against humanity," said Wagener WELT: "I am pleased that the Bundestag is carrying out the political-historical classification of the Holodomor in its democratic breadth."

Currently, 15 countries have made a similar assessment, including Ukraine itself, the Baltic States, Poland, Hungary, Canada, Mexico and Australia. The US Congress, while recognizing the “genocidal character”, avoids explicitly labeling it. That puts the acknowledgment far behind Turkey's acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide, which more than 30 states have formally adopted, including the United States.

The definition comes from the Polish-American international law expert Raphael Lemkin; it was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. According to this, a genocide is an attempt to directly or indirectly “destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such, in whole or in part”. So physical mass murder is not the only requirement for classifying a political crime as genocide; anyone who intentionally places a group “under living conditions that are suitable for bringing about their physical destruction in whole or in part” also commits genocide.

According to this definition, the deliberately brought about famine in the Ukraine in 1932/33 is a genocide. On the one hand, it went back to the catastrophic consequences of the violent collectivization of mainly Ukrainian free farmers from 1927 onwards, and on the other hand to an order of the Ukrainian CP of November 18, 1932, which was actually dictated directly from the Moscow Kremlin. He planned to impose "penalties in kind" (i.e. additional deliveries) for grain deliveries under plan and to enforce them ruthlessly. Now, gangs of communist functionaries and members of the NKVD secret police went from village to village to confiscate every supply of food, including draft animals, most of which were already emaciated, and seeds for the following year.

Incidentally, at the same time, on orders from the Kremlin, the USSR exported about 1.7 million tons of grain in exchange for foreign currency. That would have been enough to save five million people from starvation. According to the historian of Eastern Europe, Gerhard Simon, Stalin was pursuing a clear goal: "This was to be proof to other countries that there was no hunger in the Soviet Union and that the rumors about it were nothing but anti-Soviet propaganda."

Not surprisingly, left-wing extremists like the tiny MLPD (Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany) splinter group speak of a “fairy tale of Stalin's 'genocide' in Ukraine”. A corresponding article from March 30, 2014, i.e. after the illegal annexation of Crimea by Putin-Russia, can still be found on the MLPD website in autumn 2022.

But surprisingly, even reputable scientists argue against classifying the mass murder by starvation, known in Ukraine as the Holodomor, as genocide. The Jena dictatorship researcher Jörg Ganzenmüller, for example, rejects the term for dying in the Ukraine, “because his definition puts the intention in the foreground”. This is puzzling, because both the cause of the collapse in harvests in the early 1930s, the violent collectivization, and the trigger for the extreme escalation in 1932/33 were concrete orders from the Kremlin - which could not have existed without "intention".

Manfred Hildermeier, emeritus professor at the University of Göttingen and author of several standard works on Russia and the Soviet Union, states explicitly: "Under no circumstances can Stalin and the Politburo be relieved of responsibility." At the same time, however, he rejects the labeling as genocide, because " not national, but Bolshevik-Marxist priorities” were the cause of the mass deaths. That's correct, of course, but it's hardly a good argument against the classification. As early as 1953, the international law expert Lemkin himself called the starvation in Ukraine “the classic example of a Soviet genocide”.

Even Robert Kindler, a former doctoral student of the Berlin Stalinism expert Jörg Baberowski, who is unsuspicious of any trivialization, is skeptical about the term genocide - because not only Ukrainians but also (and relatively speaking a larger proportion) Kazakhs had to starve en masse. However, viewed in the light of day, that does not contradict at all the classification that the Bundestag is likely to make: because in addition to Stalin's genocide of the Ukrainians, another Stalinist genocide was that of the Kazakh nomads, which Kindler himself first described in detail in his award-winning doctoral thesis in 2012 has lit.

In 1933, Consul Hencke, who was in other contexts a troubled figure in German diplomacy during the Second World War, informed the Embassy in Moscow and the Foreign Office in Berlin precisely about the mass deaths in the Ukraine. He tried to organize food deliveries through the Christian charity Brothers in Need.

But the Soviet government insisted that there were only "difficulties in the supply" of bread, but no hunger and certainly no starvation deaths. Of course, the German relief organization did not recognize Moscow, it was not allowed to become active on Soviet soil; only privately organized deliveries, primarily to local consulate staff, were tolerated. Of course that was far too little.

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