Robert Conquest, exceptional historian of Holodomor, Stalin’s terror, dies at 98
It’s hard to overestimate the role of Anglo-American Stanford University historian Robert Conquest in revealing the truth about the Holodomor famine in Ukraine, his fellow historians say.
Conquest died on Aug. 3 at the age of 98.
He was the first Western historian to reveal to the world the full horror of the 1932-1933 famine, engineered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and Communist Party leaders in Ukraine. At least 4 million people were starved to death in a Soviet bid to crush Ukrainian independence and resistance to forced collectivization.
According to Lyudmyla Hrynevych, head of the Ukrainian Holodomor Research Center, Conquest’s book “Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror Famine,” published in 1986, is also a great contribution “to our understanding of the phenomenon of totalitarianism and communism.”
“Remember that in those times they didn’t have the kind of access to the archives as we have now. He was only working with open sources, but his work is a model of how competent and truthful an analyst’s evaluation can be,” Hrynevych told the Kyiv Post. “Even from the standpoint of modern historians, it was a groundbreaking work.”
She said that at the time of the famine those Ukrainians who survived it and managed to leave the country were the only ones trying to tell the story of the millions of people who had starved to death. But for years no one listened to them.
Yaroslav Hrytsak, a Ukrainian historian who has taught at Columbia University and Harvard University, and who was a former dean of history at the Ukrainian Catholic University, said that the stories about the Holodomor circulating among the Ukrainian diaspora, while often repeated, had simply not been taken seriously.
But in the early 1980s, the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute decided to collect the oral histories of the Ukrainian famine survivors and publish them in a book. The question then arose, Hrytsak said, of whether to publish not just a collection of memoirs, but a full historical work as well.
“So they contacted Conquest and suggested that he write another book. And he agreed,” Hrytsak said.
According to Hrytsak, Conquest was the only Western historian not to be blinded by the “glory” of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II — mainly because he had fought in it himself.
“He was in Bulgaria, he saw what the Soviet regime was like, so he had no illusions,” Hrytsak says.
He said Conquest’s main desire was to reveal the truth about Stalin’s regime. His attitude was illustrated by a famous limerick by Conquest, who was not only a historian, but a poet too:
There was a great Marxist named Lenin Who did two or three million men in. That’s a lot to have done in, But where he did one in That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in. The limerick is from Conquest’s first book – “The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purges of the Thirties,” published in 1968.
According to Hrynevych, while the importance of Conquest’s earlier book on Stalin cannot be diminished, the historian won a place in the hearts Harvest of Sorrow chronicles the Stalin-ordered famine that killed up to 10 million Ukrainians in 1932-33. of Ukrainians primarily for his 1986 work.
“The phenomenon of Stalin’s terror was already understood by society by the time Conquest was writing his book about the famine, and there were other works by other historians. Also, at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party in 1956 the personality cult of Stalin was condemned, and everyone agreed there had been terror,” Hrynevych said. “But the fight to get the world to admit there had been a famine in Ukraine continued. The question of genocide hadn’t even been raised; no one even admitted that people had been starving.”
“( Conquest’s) book “Harvest of Sorrow” had a huge effect. We appreciate him primarily because he made the Western community acknowledge the humanitarian catastrophe that struck Ukraine.”
Then-U.S. President George W. Bush presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civil award, to historian Robert Conquest in the East Room of the White House on Nov. 9, 2005 in Washington, D.C. The medal is presented to those who...