Accounts of Cannibalism in the 1933 Famine

One of the earliest written accounts of cannibalism during the famine was the letter of a female Ukrainian doctor in 1933 writing, Our situation is such: I have not yet become cannibal, but I am not sure that I shall no longer be one by the time my letter reaches you.9

Written documentation of the famine is hard to come by, because the Soviet government did what they could to cover up the episode with the easiest method of doing so to either censor or destroy anything correspondence that made mention of it.

Harry Lang also found the situation in the Ukrainian region disturbing when he found himself looking at a poster in the office of a Soviet functionary.

It showed the picture of a mother in distress, with a swollen child at her feet, and over the picture was the inscription: EATING OF DEAD CHILDREN IS BARBARISM. The Soviet official explained to [him]: '...We distributed such posters in hundreds of villages, especially in the Ukraine. We had to.'10

We had to has two implications:

  • As Soviet officers they had to follow their orders.
  • The Soviet government felt the need to reeducate the problematic outlying regions with the most basic lessons in humanity.

It is believed that the government used this famine as a punitive measure for the Ukrainian peasants who had balked at total collectivization of their crops. There were resources in collection centers during the famine that were under guard and a law was created at the end of 1933 stating that anyone who was caught trying to steal from the center would be sentenced to ten years in a labor camp- meaning death. It is not until 1934 and the harvest is the worst in three years, when Moscow allows some of the resources to be distributed to the starving now that their point had been made.

Fedor Belov was from a small village in the Ukraine and he describes this famine in much the same way as Thierry Brun described the 1921-22 famine:

The peasants ate dogs, horses, rotten potatoes, the bark of trees, grass- anything they could find. Incidents of cannibalism were not uncommon. The people were like wild beasts, ready to devour one another. And no matter what they did, they went on dying, dying, dying.11

This illustrates the nutritional progress of situations where cannibalism becomes increasingly likely. People will eat to the very last substance to avoid being forced to turn first to their dead brethren and sometimes even hunting the living for nutrients12

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This web page is a creation of Sarah Duryea for course LIS 650 (created April 2011), LIU-Palmer School of Library Science based on a paper written during undergraduate studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz in 2005.

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