The Ukrainian Holodomor: Trauma Beyond Trauma (Part III)

Perceived Injuries

The personal narrative of Miron Dolot, Execution by hunger: The hidden Holocaust (1985) was written over the course of many years. Penned under a pseudonym and published during the last years of the failing Soviet empire, Dolot describes what happened in his village from 1929 through 1933. He introduces his narrative by stating that his book is a “reconstruction of what I saw and experienced personally. Although conversations and speeches are not reproduced verbatim, they accurately convey what was said at specific times. I based them on living memories” (p. xv).

Anticipating the disbelief of his readers, as many survivors of trauma know all too well, Dolot explains that his ability to reconstruct the events of the past is not a mystery.

First of all, one does not forget the trauma and tragedy of one’s life, no matter how hard on tries. Secondly, one cannot forget the details of one’s struggle to survive. This was a time when all people, in all of Ukraine, lived from one campaign to another, from one leader’s speech to another, from one Party resolution to another, from one government decree to another, and finally from one village or factory meeting to another. I cannot forget these things. Details and dates of the events described within this book have been verified through Soviet periodicals of that time which can be found in major American libraries. This book gives an accurate portrayal of events in my village during the collectivization (pp. xv-xvi).

Dolot also notes that history has never recorded famine as a crime perpetrated against an entire nation.  In order to back up his claim, Dolot researched famines in order to identify similar occurrences.   The Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century and the periodic famines in India and China had natural causes. They were the results of drought, insects or vermin. As an eyewitness to the Holodomor, Dolot confirms that the overall injury to the Ukrainian people was the political intent of Moscow to eradicate all expressions of political, religious, and cultural identity. The arrests, executions, or banishment to concentration camps of religious leaders, writers, actors, poets, politicians, and academics, which began in 1929, continued with the implementation of a seemlingly innocuous plan to collectivize farming for the purposes of agrarian efficiency which resulted in the denial of food and the starvation of the backbone of a country which was known as the “breadbasket of Europe.”

Miron Dolot’s (1985) narrative begins with a descripton of the village of his childhood with its eight hundred households.  He mentions that in typical European fashion the houses of the village were grouped together, that they were of a simple construction, the roofs usually thatched with straw, and the floors made of clay. Most homes had only one room, which was used for mutiple purposes, including cooking, eating, and sleeping. Each home had a simple plot for farming, a few fruit trees, and a barn for a cow, horse, and pigs. Poultry was truly free range, since the chickens, geese, and ducks were kept in the backyard. Most people were poor but content, and enjoyed a variety of entertainment such a plays, music, singing, and dancing.  A church stood at the center of the village.

Life in this village began to change in December of 1929 with the appearance of “strangers.” The villagers quickly learned that these individuals were official representatives of the Communist party and the Soviet government.  It was there job to organize a collective farm, and do to so as rapidly as possible. Dolot (1985) makes reference to the fact that although these officials “exhibited curiosity and enthusiasm about their new environment, they could not hide their ignorance of country ways” (p. 5). Their speeches were trite and full of party slogans, they rarely greeted a villager and when they did it was disrespectful. All of these officials carried weapons, but at first, this was done discretely.

The first incident which can be identified as a traumatic injury was the arrest of the village leadership on a very cold morning in January of 1930. Fifteen of the most prominent members of the village were rounded up before dawn, hauled into a van, and disappeared before the village awoke. Among them were a school teacher, the village clerk, a store owner, and a very popular and charismatic figure considered to be good at giving legal advice. No one was given a reason for their arrest, there was no recourse for legal counsel, and no one was told where they were being taken.  Upon awakening, the populace was informed that those arrested were “enemies of the people,” and that their property was confiscated (Dolot, 1985).

Through arrests, intimidations, the confiscation of property, the encouragement of children to spy on their parents and report to party members, the machine of collectivization was set into motion.  The next traumatic incidence took place when army soldiers appeared one day with posters and banners praising collective farms and denouncing the church. The parish priest was nowhere to be found. The soldiers stampeded toward the church throwing “stones, bottles, and sticks, smashing windows and doors…long ladders appeared at the church wall…ropes were tied around the crosses…the crosses fell…the bells taken down…the cupolas destroyed” (Dolot, 1985, pp. 29-29). The villagers stood by silently, with lowered heads and prayed. What was left of the structure was turned into a theater.

Dolot’s (1986) father died in 1919 when he was three years of age. Fortunately, his three uncles lived in this village and were a great source of support for their deceased brother’s wife and children. They too were arrested, their property confiscated, and taken to the train station where they were herded into box cars that took them to an unknown destination. Dolot’s own brother was arrested after a skirmish in their house when a drunken member of the Communist Party came to search the house and found his mother’s Bible. This drunken comrade began making sexual advances towards Miron’s mother. She tried to fight him off, and her eldest son, Serge, managed to push him away. The next day Serge was arrested, tried for assaulting a member of the Communist Party, and then banished from the village. His family never saw him again, but received an anonymous letter two years later that he had died from torture and exhaustion while digging a canal connecting the Baltic Sea to the White Sea (Dolot, 1985).

This is a brief overview of the injuries incurred by the people of a small village in central Ukraine prior to the Great Famine of 1932-33. Dolot’s (1986) book presents a narrative perspective essential in comprehending the multiple incidents of harm prior to the famine itself.  It was politically expedient to break the back of the farming community of Ukraine, and demonize them as rampant capitalists. The systemic destruction of the leadership of the community, the arrests of clergy, and the deportation of anyone suspected of being a potential threat provides us with an initial understanding of how the villagers were traumatized.

Those who remained in the village were forced into collectivization in order to survive. Anyone who still had livestock needed to surrender it. Cows and horses were herded together and became disease ridden due to neglect and unsanitary conditions. The Communist Party insisted that all farm work was to be done collectively, and no individual family plots were permitted. All emphasis was placed on the production of grain, and harvest quotas were exceedingly high. The most horrifying aspect of the enslavement of the farming collective was that during the harvests of 1932-33, the farmers were not given grain in return for their work. Describing the harvest of 1932, Dolot (1985) writes:

From the very start of the harvest to the end, not a single pound of wheat had been distributed to the village inhabitants. We were told that all grain had to be transported to the railroad stations. We also learned that there it had been dumped on the ground, covered with tarpaulins, and left to rot.

As a result of these harsh conditions, some of the villagers attempted to run away, while others tried to sell as many personal items as they could in order to buy food.  People began eating cats and dogs, and then each other.

Brief acknowledgment should be made of another personal narrative. This is the narrative of Viktor Kravchenko (1946) who was one of the Communist Party members involved in implementing collectivization. In a chapter in his memoirs titled “Harvest in Hell,” he describes the most horrifying aspect of the starvation of farmers.

The most horrifying sights were the little children with skeleton limbs dangling from balloon-like abdomens. Starvation had wiped every trace of youth from their faces, turning them into tortured gargoyles; only in their eyes still lingered the reminder of childhood. Everywhere we found men and women lying prone, their faces and bellies bloated, their eyes utterly expressionless (p. 118).

Having witnessed these images, and with full knowledge that his comrades in the Communist Party had plenty of food to eat, Kravchenko did everything he could to feed the starving farmers. His disgust for the Soviet regime began to grow, and as a result of a turn of events in his life he requested asylum in the United States at the end of World War II.  In 1966, he was found dead with a bullet wound to his head in New York. The death was deemed a suicide, but some suspect that it was the work of a KGB assassin.

Any suggestion that the multiple harms which have been reviewed are “perceived” traumatic injuries would be disingenuous. The overwhelming evidence from these two personal narratives indicates that the very framework of trauma must accommodate a range of incidents from simple humiliation, discrimination, mistreatment, to persecution, arrests, executions, lack of due process and legal recourse, and ultimately the inhuman refusal to feed one’s workers. The lack of case studies of survivors bars a depth psychologist’s ability to access these traumas at a clinical level, and as a result prevents interpreting them in terms of archetypal defense mechanisms. The collective trauma of Ukrainian famers, however, does suggest that the suffering was of such a proportion that any meaning which can be culled from it can be referenced by a depth psychological interpretation of the story of Job.

The militant destruction of religion by the Soviets unleashed archeytpal energies from the collective unconscious. The Soviet political system which destroyed God, created a psychic vacuum which unconsciously assumed the role and power of God.  Donald Kalsched (1996) explains that according to Jung, the primal Self which contained polar energies of love and hate, creation and destruction, found symbolic expression in the Hebrew God Yahweh. Job’s encounter with Yahweh is best understood as an encounter with an undifferentiated force incapable of being conscious of its own destructiveness. By confronting God and not cowering in defeat and humiliation, Job reflects back to Yahweh his destructiveness. This may well present a paradigm for reflecting the utter destructiveness of Stalin’s era to those who hold on to his heroic narrative and vigilantly resist investigations into his crimes against humanity.

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