Case History CA04

Anonymous narrator, b. 1913 and was in Kirovohrad in 1933. Narrator's father was a cooper. In the late spring of 1932, narrator was in a village where some of the dead were still in their houses. In the summer of 1933, narrator went to Odessa and also saw starving people there in the hospital.

Anonymous witness from San Francisco.

I was born in Ukraine in 1913 into a family of laborers. I finished the medical technology school in Kirovograd, and then I studied from 1933 to Medical school. Now I'll talk a little about the famine in Ukraine that occurred in the years 1932 and 1933. In 1932, I was still in Kirovohrad, just finishing up my studies at the medical technology school and had some co-op work to do with that course. I was sent with a couple of doctors and nurses to a village, whose name I don't remember. However, everyone in Kirovohrad knew about this famine. In fact, we had famine in towns too, maybe not as bad as in the villages, where people didn't have anything to eat. I'll never forget the picture of devastation in this small village. It was around, I would say, late spring, 1932. I really don't know what the population was there, but from what I had heard later on, people who could still walk left that place. However, we did find some people who had died there, I would say maybe 20, maybe 30. Some of them were still in houses – all had swollen and died of starvation. Oh, it was terrible the impression if this village – all the devastation that had taken place. We made our reports to someone, but I really don't know where now .maybe I knew at that time, but I don't remember now. They probably reported to some kind of leaders of the city or the Red Cross maybe, because we were sent there by the Red Cross. I remember many episodes of famine in Ukraine. Not only in towns, because we all were starving. There was nothing, but at least we could buy a few things. Anyway, we did not starve completely. They had taken all the grain, all the food from the farmers. The government took it away. It was a pretty good harvest at that time, but everything was taken away. I remember some people telling me that they couldn't even take gleaned grain home from the fields. They were arrested for this and sent somewhere. This is an episode that I really remember well. Then in the summer of 1933, I went to Odessa from Kirovohrad and started medical school I also worked in an Odessa hospital – the Krisovsk. I worked as a nurse there – I didn't have a degree at that time. All the years that I was in medical school I worked in hospitals, and I do know that there were people – 20, 30, and 50 – who had been admitted and who were on the verge of dying – this was just plain starvation. Some of them got into some wards and maybe recovered, but we did not have much to eat in hospitals. When I recall the terrible soup that they were giving patients, I just find it hard to believe – it was a terrible situation at that time. Many of them were dying in the emergency room, in the admission ward; they were never let out for treatment. I saw these patients myself, I know how they looked – all swollen ,some were semi-conscious, some of the unconscious were dying there. This was in 1933, and a bit in 1934. strangely enough, we got so used to this that we paid no attention to what was going on then.

Question: Were you ever allowed to say that starvation was the cause of death?
Answer: Ah, I didn't. Being a nurse, not a doctor, I didn't write any records at that time. Ah, but I think some of them managed to do so. I remember a few – some of them who died had the cause of death records as pneumonia or stomach troubles, or other reasons. As for our newspapers, nothing was mentioned of the famine. Also, people did not read newspapers. I didn't. I just didn't have time working and going to medical school. Anyway, there was nothing in the newspapers to read. When I still was in medical school, students, not only from the medical school but from all universities and institutes, were called to the village to help out with the harvest. And so it was in 1934, 1935, I think for about two or three years, in August, right before the start of school in September. They would gather all the students and send them to the villages. I really don't remember the name of the village, where I was sent except that it was in the Novobratsky raion, but we were working there for a whole week.
Question: You did work there?
Answer: yes, I worked all week, not very well (laughter) -they fed us very poorly.
Question: Did you notice any signs of what had happened in the villages?
Answer: Yes, I could notice only that everybody was so poor and that there were so few people around. And they were so listless, they did not feel like doing any work at all. Obviously they weren't very healthy. These people didn't like collectivization, that was started a year before. During the 1930s, all these kolkhozes – collective farms – were rebellious about this. But I remember, it was two or three that we were gone, I don't recall exactly, but u do know, it was more that one year (a voice in the background: one year and two weeks). Of, I remember, maybe I went for a week too… It was two years in a row, because I remember we were talking about going to different villages. You see over there farmers don't live in separate farms like they do here. They have little villages – some smaller, some bigger. I think I was twice there. As far as I remember, it was one week, maybe two weeks, I'm not quite sure, but we worked like slaves there. Otherwise, they would not let us go to school. We worked right. I'm not from a farm family, and I really don't know much about farming. When we got to Germany, I went to help a farmer harvest his potatoes, because we didn't have anything to eat.
Question: Your father had been an industrial worker?
Answer: No, my father was a cooper. He made barrels, all kinds of things from wood. Not only barrels, but many things, such as bathtubs, washtubs, all these things. I also have a few words to say about the famine of 1920 and 1921.
Question: Oh, if you have something to say about that, please do so.
Answer: Oh, I remember one incident. I'll never forget it. I was rather young at that time – six, seven, eight years old. But I remember, that we didn't have anything to eat back then, in Kirovohrad. So my father took us all to my grandparents in the village, in Holokanovka, about 30 kilometers from Kirovohrad. Their horse, and pulling all these dead people. They were covered with some kind of ald blankets or something like that, but you could still see the people dead, their hands or arms hanging from beneath, their legs. I'll never forget this certain little boy, about 11 years old, who came to our door and was crying and begging for something to eat. I was outside, I ran inside, to tell my mother, that that boy was asking for something. When we came out, he was dead already from starvation. We were a big family – there were 12, 13, or 14 people. My father was the oldest, his brothers and sisters were not married yet, they lived at home, and they had some grain. They were better farmers, I would say, than the average family there at that time, because they also were making some money with cooper's shop, and my grandfather was too. And so my grandmother would bake bread, one loaf was divided into slices for everybody, one slice of bread a day. And we just lived on that for a whole day or sometimes a few potatoes or some other vegetables that had been saved in the cellars, but there wasn't much. And if you saw the movie Doctor Zhivago, you'll remember the place where all these farmers, all these kulaks running to the train, fighting and everything. These things I saw.
Question: Do you remember events of the Revolution then?
Answer: I don't remember much about the Revolution, but I remember a few things about the Civil War.
Question: Civil War? What do you remember from that time?
Answer: I remember we were in Kirovohrad at that time, and we did not know, who was in town at that time.
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