WASHINGTON—The great famine in the Ukraine in 1932–1933—called the Holodomor—is known by relatively few people. This was a man-made famine during Joseph Stalin’s rein where an estimated 6 million–10 million people, mostly Ukrainian peasants, were left to starve to death as the world was kept in the dark.
Even less known than this atrocity, was the role that the Welsh journalist Gareth Jones played in revealing it.
Behind the story of Gareth Jones and the reporting of the famine is the world press corps that suppressed the truth and “forgot” the man most responsible for exposing the Holodomor.
To tell this story, the grandnephew of Jones, Nigel Linsan Colley, spoke as a guest of the National Press Club’s Newsmaker on Nov. 21. He assisted his mother, Margaret Siriol Colley, and Jones’s niece in the writing of two books on Gareth Jones.
Gareth Richard Vaughan Jones was a Wales Englishman, born on Aug. 12, 1905. After graduating from Trinity College-Cambridge in 1929, he went to work for Lloyd George, the former British Prime Minister (1916–22), as a “foreign affairs adviser.” Jones was fluent in Russian, German, and French, which served him well as a foreign correspondent.
As the “eyes and ears” of Lloyd George, many doors opened for the young man around the globe, enabling him to meet powerful people, including Adolf Hitler whom he interviewed and accompanied on a flight from Berlin to Frankfurt.
The foreign press reporter Eugene Lyons acknowledged that Jones provided the first reliable report of the Russian famine in his 1937 book, Assignment in Utopia, in which he described him: “An earnest and meticulous little man, Gareth Jones was the sort who carries a notebook and unashamedly records your words as you talk.”
Jones also meticulously kept diaries of his travels, which were only discovered in 1990 when his elder sister’s home was being cleared out by his niece.
Between 1930 and 1933, Jones visited the Soviet Union on three occasions and after each, he wrote articles for a number of newspapers regarding conditions he observed resulting from Stalin’s Five-Year Plan.
The strategic goal of the first Five-Year Plan (1928–33) was to accelerate industrialization, based on Stalin’s notion that Russia was backward and needed to catch up with the West. The communist aim was to force peasants into collective farms. Stalin had said the “state needed to seize grain for export to finance expansion of mining and manufacturing output,” writes Robert Service in his biography Stalin. The policy was ruthlessly applied.
“Nothing less than a hysterical campaign to collect and sell wheat abroad would satisfy [Stalin],” wrote Service.
This policy brought about disruptions to the economy and starvation in Ukraine, south Russia, and Kazakhstan.
President Obama paid tribute to the victims of the famine on Ukrainian Holodomor Remembrance Day in November 2009:
“[In 1933] millions of innocent Ukrainians … starved to death as a result of the deliberate policies of the regime of Joseph Stalin … From 1932 to 1933, the Ukrainian people suffered horribly during what has become known as the Holodomor—’death by hunger’—due to the Stalin regime’s seizure of crops and farms across Ukraine.”
Eyewitness to Ukraine Famine
During Jones’ first trip to Russia (in the 1930s, the U.S.S.R was referred to as Russia) in 1930, he wrote three articles for the London Times, which were unsigned, where he described the onset of famine conditions in the U.S.S.R.
He returned again in 1931. “Sleeping in bug-infested floors of the Soviet peasantry,” he said he experienced the further worsening of starvation in Ukraine. He learned from several sources that hunger was severe in southern Russia and that famine was already a reality in the Ukraine. In October 1932, Jones wrote articles for a Welsh newspaper, “Will There Be Soup?” in which he predicted a bleak Soviet winter.
Jones knew, however, that to be credible he needed to see the famine with his own eyes. The Soviet censors would always deny its existence.
Next: Jones arrives in Moscow …