By Charles Leroux, Tribune Senior Correspondent
Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow correspondent from 1922
to 1941, once called Josef Stalin, "the greatest living statesman."
Malcolm Muggeridge, Moscow correspondent for the Manchester
(England) Guardian, once called his colleague Duranty, "the greatest liar
I ever knew."
The Pulitzer Prize committee, in announcing its 1932 journalism award to
Duranty for dispatches on Russia, especially Stalin's emerging Five Year
Plan, lauded his "scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgement,
"Nobody Wanted to Die"
Poster by Chervotkyn, 1989
(Click on image to enlarge it)
For Anatole Kolomayets, each of those words of praise comes like a stab
in the back.
"It bothers me too much," he said. "He does not belong with the honest
men. It [the prize] was shameful."
Kolomayets lived through a story Duranty knew but didn't report -- the
famine of 1932-33 that is estimated to have killed as many as a fourth of
the population of Ukraine.
Duranty had made a deal with what turned out to be the devil.
In 1929, an exclusive interview with Stalin secured him tremendous influence
in his profession. The British-born journalist had little else going for
him. He is described as unattractive and hobbled by a wooden leg, and other
reporters didn't like him. In exchange for continued precious access to the
Kremlin, he agreed to report favorably on Stalin's plan to raise industrial
and agricultural productivity and the standard of living for citizens of the USSR.
But not all the citizens. Ukraine, one of many republics within the Soviet
Union, was an area where small, peasant-worked farms had functioned for
hundreds of years well enough that the area was known as "The Bread
Basket of Europe." Stalin forced those farms to collectivize into large,
mechanized, agricultural factories. With little or no benefit to the
workers, farmers lost any incentive to produce.
"Ukrainian people like to work. They are tied to the earth," Kolomayets
said. "[Collectivization] eliminated the good workers and left only
Production evaporated; famine soon followed.
In 1933, during the worst of it, Duranty reported that "village markets
[were] flowing with eggs, fruit, poultry, vegetables, milk and butter. . . .
A child can see this is not famine but abundance."
One child who saw it far differently was Kolomayets. At the time, he was 5.
"I remember a boiled egg," he said, "just one. It was at Christmas."
Kolomayets' father had worked the family farm near the city of
Dnipropetrovsk in east central Ukraine. He refused to cooperate in
collectivization and was threatened with arrest. When the commissars came
for him, he fled out a back window and across the fields. When he returned,
it was to move the family to the city.
Change in lifestyles
Using forged papers, Kolomayets' father was able to rent a one-room,
one-window apartment. He worked as a laborer, going to the rail yards to see
if there were cars that needed to be unloaded. His wife would go out to look
for food, and, though Kolomayets doesn't know how, she'd often come home
"My mother would put bread on top of a clock that hung high on the wall so
we [his 3-year-old brother, George, and he] couldn't get it," he recalled.
"While our parents were gone, I would stand on the bed and George would
climb on my shoulders to knock the bread down. We'd take some little bites
and then put it back with a long stick. Also, we'd watch for neighbors to
put potato peels in the trash, and we'd go get the peels and cook them in
He sometimes would get up at 6 o'clock and go to stand in the bread line at
the government distribution center for an hour and a half to get a loaf.
"There would be 100 people in line," he said. "They would let women with
babies go ahead. I remember that once, when the crowd pressed in, a `baby'
popped out of the mother's arms and flew into the air. It was a dog."
Cities had it easier than farms and villages. After 300 years of Russian
occupation, many urban Ukrainians had become Russianized, maybe speaking
Russian in preference to Ukrainian, maybe adding a Russian ending to a last
name. But the rural people remained staunchly nationalistic, and Stalin --
seeking to consolidate his power -- wanted to stamp out Ukrainian
nationalism. He turned the famine -- which conveniently stopped at the
border with Russia -- into an opportunity to force farmers to move to
industrial jobs in the cities.
He also, the Ukrainian community says, intensified the famine into what they
call the Holodomor, roughly translated as "famine-genocide," the "H"
intentionally capitalized to emphasize a parallel with the Holocaust.
"My grandparents stayed on the farm and died of starvation. Two uncles died
in prison," Kolomayets said. "The children of one of the uncles, a boy and a
girl, 5 and 6, came to live with us. One day, my cousins went out looking
for food and we never saw them again. My mother heard they had been killed
Reporters other than Duranty -- principally Welsh journalist Gareth Jones
and The Guardian's Muggeridge -- described scenes of great suffering. One
such report told of grain stores (the Soviets exported grain to the West
during the famine) guarded by armed Russian troops while Ukrainians died of
starvation nearby. Jones wrote, "I walked alone through villages . . .
everywhere was the cry, `There is no bread. We are dying.'"
Jones wrote his accounts only after he had gone home. Muggeridge smuggled
his articles out to England in diplomatic pouches. In those pieces, he
described peasants kneeling in the snow, begging for a crust of bread.
"Whatever I may do or think in the future," he wrote in his diary, "I must
never pretend that I haven't seen this. Ideas will come and go, but this is
more than an idea. It is peasants kneeling down in the snow and asking for
bread. Something that I have seen and understood."
Muggeridge's reports were discredited. He was fired, his reputation as a
reporter slandered. Duranty chimed in on the vilification, and in an August
1933 New York Times story called Muggeridge's and Jones' work "an
exaggeration of malignant propaganda." At that time, Duranty reportedly had
told a British Foreign Office acquaintance that at least 10 million people
No census figures released
The numbers are hard to nail down, with published accounts ranging from 1 to
14 million. The government in Moscow refused to release the census figures
that, Ukrainians hold, would have shown a severely reduced population.
Nikita Khrushchev, who later would head the USSR and had been born near the
Ukraine border, once was asked about the death toll.
"No one was keeping count," he said.
"We would accept anything over 6 million," said architect Orest Baranyk, who
heads the Chicago chapter of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America.
What he and like-minded Ukrainian-Americans, Ukrainian-Canadians and so
forth cannot accept is Duranty's prize. This year they have mounted an
onslaught of 15,000 postcards and thousands of e-mails and letters to the
18-member Pulitzer board urging revocation.
The board is considering the case. Sig Gissler, the board's administrator,
noted that the decision to review came in April, before the letter-writing
campaign. Nonetheless, the Ukrainian committee says 2003 is the year to
right this wrong. This is the 70th anniversary of the famine. Also, perhaps
more compelling, this is the year that the integrity of the New York Times
has taken center stage.
"Exactly like Jayson Blair, the heart of all this is journalistic integrity
and ethics," Michael Sawkiw, president of the Ukrainian committee, told The
New York City has the largest population of Ukrainians, followed by cities
such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Cleveland, but Chicago, Baranyk said, "is
the most politically active, the most interested in preserving our history
It is especially galling to Chicago's established Ukrainian community that
the 50,000 newest arrivals (making a total of around 115,000) who have come
since the breakup of the Soviet Union, never have heard of the Holodomor.
They blame Duranty.
Ukrainians contend that the long-lingering damage of Duranty's sins outweigh
the Pulitzer board's contention that the award is for specific work of the
prior year (Duranty won not for non-coverage of the famine, but for his
coverage of the forming of the Five-Year Plan). They have read the
after-the-fact New York Times repudiations of their reporter's work,
including a piece on the editorial page in 1990 calling it, "some of the
worst reporting to appear in this newspaper." That piece appeared the same
day as a review of a biography of Duranty titled "Stalin's Apologist." But
they ask why the paper never has offered to return the prize.
In 1990, The Pulitzer Board considered revocation, but decided to let it
stand, noting that it had been awarded "in a different era and under
The era was one in which the Great Depression was raging across America and
Western Europe, crippling the industries of the West. Meanwhile, the Soviet
Union was gathering industrial might. The seeming Soviet success was
compelling (if one didn't look too closely at the brutality fueling it).
Duranty was far from alone in his admiration. Though he supported Stalin
louder and longer than most, a common phrase of the era was "the great
Duranty may well have been sincere -- at least initially -- in his support
of the Soviet system. He once was asked about the dark side of its bright
promise. "You've got to break eggs to make an omelet," he replied.
During World War II, Kolomayets, his parents and his brother were taken to a
Displaced Persons camp in Germany. After the war, they moved to Belgium.
Kolomayets went to art school and was accepted at the Royal Academy. The
family came to Chicago where George worked as an engineer and Anatole was a
commercial artist doing ads for clients such as Sears and Wieboldt's. His
fine art pieces are in many collections worldwide.
He enjoys his grandchildren, takes joy in the bounty they enjoy, the food,
"They laugh at me," he said. "They say, `Grandpa, you're so dull. You're so
serious." He shrugged. "It's what I brought here."
He is talking about the memories he carries. Sometimes they show in his
"One picture shows a woman standing in a potato field," he said. "She's
looking around, looking for what's left, to see if there's one last potato."
The Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, Wednesday, June 25, 2003
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