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tv   American Relief Administration 1921-22 Soviet Famine  CSPAN  May 23, 2020 5:00pm-6:01pm EDT

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>> this memorial day weekend on american history tv on c-span3. in 1921, millions of soviet citizens faced starvation in one of the worst famines in history. setting aside political differences, vladimir lenin's new soviet government asked herbert hoover's american relief administration for help. next on american history tv, historian douglas smith gives an illustrated talk about the story based on his book, "the russian job: the forgotten story of how america saved the soviet union from ruin." hillwood estate, museum and gardens hosted this event.
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kate: good evening and welcome to hillwood estate, museum and gardens. i know many of you know already, but in case we have not met, my name is kate markert, and i am the executive director here. i want to thank you in joining us tonight as we welcome back douglas smith, longtime friend of hillwood and author of the book "the russian job: the forgotten story of how america saved the soviet union from ruin." you may have noticed that the theater looks just a little bit different tonight. i am very pleased to welcome c-span. while this is their very first time in hillwood, it is not the first time that our lectures are accessible to folks at home. many of our fantastic programs are available on the hillwood museum youtube channel, so check that out in case you missed something or want to see something again. before we continue, i know you know what i am going to say next -- please be sure that you have silenced anything that chirps or barks or beeps.
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you may know that hillwood's founder, marjorie post, began her russian collection while she was posted to soviet era moscow in 1937, 1938. over the next 30 years, she was dedicated to building the most comprehensive collection of russian imperial art outside of russia. she realized, as the collection grew, that her personal passion could inspire and educate the public and made plans for hillwood to become a museum. post's lasting legacies, generosity. public service, family, and lush gardens, as well as the new biography, "marjorie merriweather post: the life behind the luxury," by estella chung, inspired this year's holiday decorations. i invite each of you to share hillwood with friends and family for the holiday season for what we are calling a very "merriweather" christmas. we will raise a glass to hillwood members, which i know
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most of you already are, at our annual members open house on december 3. and, of course, hillwood memberships are a perfect gift for everyone you know. now it is my great pleasure to introduce douglas smith. doug is an award winning historian, translator, author of "rasputin" and "former people." his books have been translated into a dozen languages. the recipient of a guggenheim fellowship, doug has written for "the new york times" and "the wall street journal" and has appeared in documentaries with the bbc, national geographic, and netflix. before becoming a historian, he worked for the u.s. state department in the soviet union and as a russian affairs analyst for radio free europe/radio liberty. doug is a frequent guest here at hillwood, although it has been nearly three years since his last lecture.
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i am really delighted to have him back, and i want to thank especially international councilmembers and our dear friends kyra cheremeteff and tom richardson for hosting him this evening. please join me in welcoming douglas smith. [applause] douglas: thank you, kate, for that nice introduction. it is wonderful to be back at hillwood. i am trying to remember if this is my fourth or fifth time to give a talk. i think of myself as a repeat offender, but only in the best of sense. i also want to thank erin lourie for helping put all of this together with all her organizational skills. to c-span and richard for
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wanting to tape this tonight. i need to thank my local hosts, kyra cheremeteff and her husband tom richardson, who are taking good care of me. last night, maybe too good of care -- if i am a little incoherent tonight, it is their fault. but it was a fun evening. and i want to thank you all for coming out tonight. there's always a lot of demands on our time. i know disney is now streaming live. [laughter] so to come out and learn about a russian famine shows true dedication and intellectual curiosity. so i applaud you for that. i think the plan is i'm going to
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talk for about 30 minutes or so, and then happy to open it up to whatever questions people might have. what i want to talk tonight was about arguably one of the noblest acts in american history. yet, sadly, something that few of us seem to remember of ever having heard about -- a fact that could also be said about russia itself. at its heart, it is a story of charity and compassion, two things that are, i would say, always in short supply. and, it seems to me, in recent days in particularly short supply. on the 13th of july, 1921, the russian writer maxim gorky penned an appeal to the world titled "to all honest people." he wrote, "gloomy days have come for the land of tolstoy, dostoevsky, mendeleev, pavlov, and mussorgsky. russia's misfortunes offer humanitarians a splendid opportunity to demonstrate the vitality of humanitarianism. i ask all honest europeans and
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americans for prompt aid to the russian people. give bread and medicine." in 1921, one of the worst famines in world history descended on russia. 30 million people, almost a quarter of the population across the vast territory, were facing starvation and death. there were several causes for the famine. in the short-term, it was precipitated by two horrible droughts in 1920 and 1921 that decimated the harvest. but there were longer, in a sense more important, factors that led to the famine. there had been seven years in russia of unending war and revolution, beginning with 1914 and the start of world war i, when millions of peasants left the land to go off and fight, to 1917, where we had two revolutions in the span of one
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year, the collapse of the 300 year romanov dynasty in february followed by the bolshevik coup in november of 1917. the bolshevik seizure of power led to a civil war that lasted until 1920. both the reds and the whites laid waste to the russian countryside and spread terror wherever they went. now, lenin had long understood the connection between power and food. 30 years before, in 1891, a similar famine had gripped russia. many in educated society at the time, led by the example of leo tolstoy, organized to offer help to the starving peasantry. but not lenin. lenin did not believe in charity. he believed that the only answer for russia's working class and peasants was revolution. he said, at the time, the overthrow of the tsar's monarchy, this bulwark of the landowners, is their only hope for some sort of decent life, for escape from hunger and unending poverty. lenin was convinced that hunger
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and misery could be used as a tool to undermine tsarist rule and lead to revolution. now that lenin and the bolsheviks were in power, they waged a war on the peasants. they forced the peasants to hand over their grain at gunpoint. they needed the grain to feed the workers in the cities and the red army soldiers. the peasants, obviously, resisted. they hid the grain down the well or in fake walls in their cottages. they even created an army, a peasant army, to try to fight back. they also reduced the amount of land under cultivation. this meant that there was no cushion when the drought hit. there were no reserves that
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anyone could fall back on. by march of 1921, lenin was terrified. there was no food. the soviet state itself might collapse because, without the support of the workers and the army, starving now almost as well, there would be no more interest in a bolshevik government. he said at the time, if there is a harvest, then everybody will hunger a little and the government will be saved. otherwise, since we cannot take anything from people who do not have the means of satisfying their own hunger, the government will perish. herbert hoover was born in west branch, iowa in 1874 into a family of quakers. orphaned at the age of nine, he was sent off to live with an uncle in oregon. in 1891, he enrolled in the first class at stanford university, and, four years later, graduated with a degree in geology. by all accounts, he was an average student with average grades and left with average expectations. none of his fellow students and professors held out much hope for a bright future for young herbert hoover.
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he proved them wrong. he went off first to the gold mines of the australian outback, a place he described as pure hell, before moving on to china. very quickly, he rose the ranks of international mining business. he had a rare talent as an administrator, and he had a way of finding new opportunities that no one had seen before, of turning around failing operations and making a lot of money. by 1914, he was living in london with his family. he was now the head of his own international firm with offices around the world. he was extremely wealthy, he was extremely successful, but he was also getting bored. the fun had sort of gone out of the game, if you will. world war i gave him an opportunity to try something new. after germany invaded belgium, starvation faced the entire country. hoover realized that somebody had to step in and try to save the country, so he created something known as the committee for the relief of belgium and
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ended up feeding millions of people during world war i and became known as the savior of belgium. in 1917, back in the united states, then-president woodrow wilson appointed him head of the u.s. food administration, based on his success in belgium. two years later, in 1919, after the war, he pushed president wilson to create an organization called the american relief administration, with an appropriation of $100 million from congress that would be used to feed war-ravaged europe. by 1921, hoover was now secretary of commerce in the warren g. harding administration. it was as secretary of commerce on july 22 of that year that he read, in an american newspaper, a publication of maxim gorky's appeal to the world. he immediately sprang into action, and he cabled back to gorky saying, yes, the americans would come. not everybody was excited about the idea of american relief to
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soviet russia, to red russia. there was a good many people in the united states who argued against hoover's request for additional money for the ara to go off and help the starving people on the other side of the world. some of the criticism came from the political left, who insisted that hoover, who was a well-known anti-bolshevik, was really not interested in aid but was in fact sort of coming up with some sort of scheme for counterrevolution. they insisted that the only way soviet russia could truly be helped was through official political recognition by the united states government. most of the criticism, however, came from the right. some insisted there was no real need to go help russia, that, in fact, what hoover was trying to do was give a sop to american
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farmers who had produced too much grain and were looking for the government to buy it off their hands. some insisted that charity needed to begin at home, that we had enough poor, hungry people in the united states that we did not need to run off to faraway russia. henry ford put out his own spin on why we should not help and insisted that the ara, led by hoover, was in fact a corrupt organization controlled by jews and bolsheviks. we know about henry ford. [laughter] others insisted that the russians were starving due to their own fault, their own incompetence, their own stupidity. and that, in fact, the best thing was to let the russian people starve, for this would then destroy bolshevism once and for all. hoover batted back all of these arguments against doing something. he said at the time, "the sole object of relief should be humanity. it should have no other political objective or aim than the maintenance of life and order." he did agree that, in his idea, soviet russia was what he called a murderous tyranny, but felt
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that the united states, nonetheless, had a humanitarian obligation. he also went on to say that, in a country like the united states, which, at that time, could spend $1 billion a year on things he described as tobacco and cosmetics, an additional $20 million to the ara would not be felt by anyone. here is a photograph of one of the ara warehouses in new york city with american grain getting ready to be shipped overseas to russia. now, it was not just some voices in the united states who were wary of hoover and his intentions. the soviets were extremely concerned about what hoover might be up to. lenin, and obviously the bolsheviks, had led a revolution to overthrow capitalism, to do away with the old economic political order. and here they were contemplating letting one of the great american capitalists into their
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country at their weakest moment. some were convinced that the ara, led by hoover, was in fact nothing but a trojan horse that would lead to the overthrow of their government. lenin ordered strict surveillance placed over all the americans who were preparing to come to russia. he tasked the cheka, the notorious secret police that would later become known as the kgb, to infiltrate the ara as soon as it arrived and place agents inside. nevertheless, he felt they had to agree to the terms the americans put had forward -- that without american help, they had little chance of survival. the first americans arrived in moscow on the 27th of august, 1921. the first food shipment arrived in petrograd on the first of september. five days after that, the first ara kitchen opened in petrograd on moika street. four days after that, the first
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kitchen opened in moscow in the hermitage restaurant, which before the revolution had been a place for the wealthy and fashionable to dine. now, this was arguably the most spectacular of all the ara feeding locations. some of you maybe even recognize it. this is the alexander palace at tsarskoye selo outside of st. petersburg, home of russia's tsars. in fact, this was the home, the last home, for nicholas and alexandra and their children. this particular kitchen was feeding, at one point, 2000 people a day. according to ara records, among the kitchen staff was one of tsar nicholas's former chefs and various servants of the romanovs. the original plan when the americans went over was to feed one million children. but they fairly quickly realized that the scale of the famine was much worse than they had anticipated. by december, they realized they were going to have to be feeding
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somewhere around 7 million. one of the americans who was sent over, a man by the name of frank golder, was the first to explore the famine zones. he wrote at the time, "the famine is bad beyond all imagination. it is the most heartbreaking situation that i've ever seen. millions of people are doomed to die, and they are looking it calmly in the face. to see russia makes one wish that he were dead." these are the kinds of things that golder and the other americans were seeing when they arrived. this is a photograph of young refugees at a refugee camp in the samara province, victims of the famine. this is something what awaited the americans, and it was something that none of them
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could have prepared themselves for. golder remembers and wrote about being particularly disturbed by a scene he that came upon in one village, where there was an old woman down in the dirt on all fours, fighting with a group of pigs for a tiny scrap of pumpkin rind. he heard tales of mothers killing their children and then killing themselves, since it was too painful to watch their children starve. the worst places were the orphanages and children's homes and hospitals. some of these children homes were set up originally for no more than 30 kids and were now crammed with 400 to 500 orphan children. the conditions were beyond description. typically, the children just lay in rags on the floor. one ara man said, after visiting one of these orphanages, there is just enough food and heat to make their death a slow one. around this time, another ara man wrote to his fiancee back in the united states, "i often think now of how people in new york told me how they envied me the opportunity of seeing so many interesting things. yes, 'interesting.' that is the word. yes, it is very interesting to move among people who, at a glance, tells you would be
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better off dead than alive. there is no escape, even in this railway car, for men and women come to the door begging for bread, and children can be heard whining beneath the car window whenever the light is showing." a great many of the men soon develop something they dubbed "famine shock," sort of a new version of world war i's shellshock. the starving peasants first ate whatever remaining grain they had. after that, they would kill and eat all of their livestock. next, they hunted down and killed and ate every last dog or cat in the village. this was followed by trying to survive on grass, weeds, tree bark, and then the thatch off of their roofs. finally, some succumbed to cannibalism. sometimes, people murdered their victims after luring them into their homes. or, more commonly, they would raid cemeteries and dig up the freshly buried and bring them back to carve up and eat.
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the problem became so pronounced that the local authorities typically had to put the bodies who just died in stables and sheds, lock the door, and keep a guard outside. pitirim sorokin, then a young scholar, who later went on to become one of the famous sociologists of the 20th century and teach at harvard, toured the famine zone at the time, interested in studying what happens to people subjected to such conditions. he wrote in a memoir, not long after coming to the united states, "revolution promised to save the people from despotism. the bolsheviks promised to give food to everyone. if they did not keep those vows, at least they gave the people the communion of human sacrifice, human flesh and blood." the image i am showing here was from a series of drawings and
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paintings done by a man we know almost nothing about that are now in the collection at the hoover institution out at stanford university. the russian text on the bottom says, "russian village, 4 february-march." we know the year was 1922 that he did this. on the far right, it says "lyudoyedstvo," which is russian for "cannibalism." the russians have two words for cannibalism. they have "lyudoyedstvo," which means people eating, and "trupoyedstva," which means corpse eating. they made a distinction between the two. i did much of the research for this book at the hoover institution, since that is where the ara's files, records, photographs ended up. one thing that was truly difficult for me researching it was to go through these hundreds of photographs that were taken by the americans and by soviet officials of the famine and the acts of cannibalism, which were recorded.
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they are horribly disturbing images. i struggled a lot to figure out what is the right balance in a way to make sure i could convey the real depth of this horror and suffering without, in any way, trying to sensationalize it. thus, for my talk that i am giving around the states now, i purposely have avoided any of the photographs of this and went instead with this particular image. from the very beginning, the americans, as i have mentioned, realized the famine was much worse than they had ever imagined it was going to be. you will sometimes hear about this famine as the volga famine, the volga river famine, the povolzhye famine, but that is entirely wrong -- it was much broader, much more widespread. it covered something like one million square miles of territory at its peak. this is a map that the ara made.
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here is moscow up here. the shaded areas show you all of the extent of the famine and where americans were working. so it extended all throughout ukraine, which had a population then of 26 million, 9 million of whom were starving. the americans worked there. they also worked all the way down in the caucasus in dagestan and all the way deep into the ural mountains as well. it was way beyond the limits that we sometimes think of. now, the size of the famine made it an enormous challenge to try to deal with, but there were other challenges as well. one of them was the mere fact of, you know, the number of people that needed help. at its peak, you had about 200 american men working the famine in russia. obviously, they could only do so much. so they put together an army, literally, of russian employees, who worked under them. this network of russians who worked for the ara eventually reached 125,000 people. and none of this work could have been done without the russians. so while it was american relief that was orchestrating it all, much of the work was done by the russians themselves. transportation, as you can imagine, over one million square miles was one of the biggest headaches.
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the railroad network had been destroyed as a result of the civil war. much of it was no longer simply working. the rail lines that were working were frequently attacked by bandits and thieves. and they did not reach out into the most remote villages, where much of this aid was desperately needed. and as a great many of you know, russia is not famous for its network of paved roads. so much of the year, especially in the spring, where you have the rasputitsa, the muddy season, where villages become almost isolated islands, it was extremely difficult to get the aid and food out to these people. this is an example of one of these aid caravans. winter was, in fact, the best time, because you could move on sleds over the ice and snow. they typically preferred horses,
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but there were times when they did have to rely on camels. this was a photograph taken in tsaritsyn, now volgograd, of one of these convoys taking food. the americans had arrived, as you would expect americans to do, with a fleet of cadillacs, and fords, and some trucks. but beyond petrograd and moscow, these were not a great deal of help. life in most russian towns was pretty grim in 1921, after revolution and civil war. the living conditions were harsh, rustic at the best. this is the main street of the city of kazan in early may of 1922. it gives you a sense of, again, the mud and just sort of what life looked like, what cities and towns looked like at the time. it was not just that they were uncomfortable. they were incredibly dangerous as well.
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all of the ara men got guns pretty quickly after they arrived, some sort of a pistol or revolver. and whenever they would leave their personnel house, the offices at night to go walk to the personnel houses, they typically would walk down the middle of the road so they would have a bit of time to see if someone was running at them to try to rob them. there were repeated attempted burglaries of the ara's personnel houses. the men in orenburg, for example, one night were awakened by the sound of marauders coming in with their guns drawn. the americans jumped out of their beds with their guns, there was a gun battle, and they chased them off. there was another group who woke up in the middle of the night to smell the smoke and realized
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someone was trying to burn their house down around them. in addition to this, they were constantly being monitored and surveilled by the cheka, by the secret police, who watched their every step and then also tried to force the russian employees to spy on the americans. but the greatest threat of all was typhus. typhus was the disease that all americans lived in fear of. it was so widespread. it was in all of the railway carriages' upholstry. it was fleas and infected lice crawling on floors and on the walls of buildings and home. the ara men, when they would go to these orphanages, would desperately want to pick up the children or to pat them on the head, but they were afraid to do that for fear of getting bitten and coming down with typhus. the russian couriers, who had to ride the railways and bring supplies out to the americans, suffered the most. at one point, something like half of all the russian couriers ended up in the hospital with typhus. mission creep quickly took over the ara. the americans realized that, while food was vital, they needed to do much more to try to save russia. the country had been hit not only by typhus but by other infectious diseases.
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there was cholera, smallpox, malaria. so the americans went out to try to literally fix much of the completely ravaged medical system. they went into hospitals, which now no longer even had aspirin. bandages were being wrapped in old newspapers. so they brought supplies. they imported millions of dollars worth of vaccines and drugs, blankets, disinfectants. they set up free dental clinics. they outfitted a large hospital train that went from town to town offering free medical care. they installed water purification systems in a number of cities to try to reduce the rates of cholera. that was just one such clinic there, of children being inoculated in petrograd. you saw earlier a photograph of those poor little children in their rags. the ara helped import roughly half a million pounds of shoes
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and clothing from the united states to give to young russian children. this is an example here in odessa of three little kids with their new shoes from the ara. the leather looks so stiff it must have been really painful to walk in. but i am sure they were glad to have them. and their clothing is made from repurposed american sacks of grain, sewn into dresses, pants, and tunics. they also created special programs to help russia's intellectuals, academicians, artists, and theater performers. they created special feeding operations. they brought in literally 28,000 pounds of the latest scientific literature for various specialties, biology,
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physiology, physics. it is hard to imagine, but russia's intellectual class had been cut off from all of the work that had been done outside of russia basically since 1917. so they were starving for information that pertained to the latest research. so the ara helped make that possible. they gave free subscriptions to medical journals to a number of russian universities. obviously, i am sure many of you recognize who we have here. this is ivan pavlov, nobel laureate, with one of his famous dogs, who was being visited by a group of ara men who had brought him things for his laboratory in petrograd. the ara would take refugees who had fled in search of food and, in return for payment in american corn, they would organize them into work brigades, and they would send them out to fix destroyed bridges, repair schools, buildings. they went out and installed drinking fountains that had not existed before. they dug wells and did a number of works to try to, in some way, begin to restore the utterly devastated infrastructure. as you can imagine, this was grueling work for the men of the ara who, at times, felt like they did nothing but work. but of course, one needs a little r&r, one needs some time to let one's hair down and
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relax. those who were in moscow, petrograd, and the bigger cities were able to go to the theater, to the opera and the ballet. in the summer, they would picnic at the estates of the former nobility, go for boat rides. some even went skinny-dipping in the moscow river, not far from the kremlin. and they played baseball. this is a game of some americans stationed in the city of simbirsk having a little baseball game. they over brought their bats, their ball, a couple mitts. here they're having a game. there is a russian over here watching, probably thinking, what in the world are they doing? on the fourth of july in 1922, they had a series of these baseball games organized as a way of marking independence day. there was a good deal of
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partying. they had their victrolas with them. they had some photograph records with them. they would invite young russian women, often from the theater, ballet dancers, to come and party with them in their personnel houses. there was a good deal of foxtrotting, dancing. the most famous party happened in moscow on thanksgiving of 1921, when the star attraction was isadora duncan, who danced for all the men. apparently, it got quite rowdy, from written accounts. there was also a good deal of drinking, as you might imagine. the soviet officials that the americans interacted with loved trying to drink the americans under the table. this was not fine wine or something like that. this is what the russians called samogon, russian moonshine. one ara man recalled being given a cup of the stuff to drink. he said it looked like water but it smelled like a mixture of gin, 3-in-one oil, and kerosene.
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he was too polite to refuse, though. he drank it down, but, after that, didn't dare light his pipe for several minutes. [laughter] and there was a good deal of romance. the americans went over, mostly young men in their 20's, a lot of them veterans of world war i. they did not speak a word of russian, for the most part, so they had to hire a lot of translators and interpreters and others to work in their offices. many of these were young women from the former educated classes of tsarist russia. some of them from within this group were in fact daughters of the old russian nobility, the "former people," if you will. we do not know how many affairs there were, but there were something like 30 marriages between the americans and the russian women, who became known as "famine brides." one of them involved this particular woman by the name of georgina de brylkine-klokacheva. this is a portrait that was done by a fairly well-known russian artist named nicolai fechin from 1922. she was another one of these former people from a noble family in st. petersburg, who
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had lost everything in the revolution. she had been reduced to selling matches on the streets to support her and her mother. she had been educated all over europe and spoke fluent english and french and was hired by the ara in petrograd to work in their office there. and it was in that office that a man by the name of j. rives childs first saw georgina, and it was love at first sight -- at least for him. i am not so sure about georgina. here is a picture of childs on the far right in the dark suit and hat in a kitchen in kazan. childs was from lynchburg, virginia. he went on to harvard and then fought in france in world war i. like many of the men who signed up for the ara, he went partially out of a desire for adventure. he found the united states too
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boring after the war. he also had dreams of becoming a writer and thought the experience fighting the famine would provide him with a lot of great material. he was also a man motivated by a sense of service to humanity. he had a certain sympathy for the revolution itself. he was a committed socialist. he voted in the 1920 presidential election. and reading his letters back onto his mother and father and his diaries and things, i became convinced he was sort of the idealist, if you will, of my history. when i was trying to figure out how i was going to tell the story of the ara and the famine and tell it in a way that would be engaging and would bring people to life, i realize that, to discuss large groups of people, 30 million people starving, or an entire village, it is hard to connect that sort of thing.
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it becomes almost an abstraction. i wanted to find several of these ara men who had left behind letters and diaries and memoirs and things, who would allow me to tell the story through their experiences. one of them i came up with was childs. and i should say, too, they are all men, not for my own failing, but the ara did not hire any women, because they thought it would be too dangerous for them. i would have included women if i could. but childs was an idealist. i then found my realist in a man i mentioned earlier, frank golder. he was born in russia to a jewish fmaily.
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his family fled russia due to the pogroms to the united states. later converted to christianity. he got a phd in harvard and then taught for a couple of years at washington state university -- that line got a big applause when i talked in seattle. not on this coast, i guess. [laughter] then moved on to stanford university. i found my cynic and a man by the name of william kelley from kentucky, also went to harvard -- for some reason, all of my stars went to harvard. fought in world war i as well. later became a new york ad executive. he was one of these people who went over without any great idealism, without any romanticism, and quickly soured on the whole experience of famine fighting. he wrote these letters to friends and his fiancee back home that are just dripping with sardonic and cynical and, at times, tasteless comments. but i thought this was a good contrast with the idealism of someone like childs. and then i have a romantic in harold fleming, again a harvard man, studied economics.
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he went over thinking it would be a great adventure as well. but the first few months, he found miserable in moscow. he regretted having come, told his mother and father in his letters he really wished he could get back the united states soon. and then he hired paulina, a russian language tutor, and, all of a sudden, things changed, he never wanted to go back to the united states and had a series of romances. even after he left russia kept wishing he could go back and meet up with paulina and the others. so these are my four characters i used to tell the story. back to childs. here is a photograph of childs, in the middle outside of a student feeding hall, dining hall number two in kazan with one of the trucks, surplus trucks, that the ara brought with them. childs arrived in russia in
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september of 21 and was sent to the city of kazan to work in the tatar republic. 4.5 million people spread out over 96,000 square miles. and he worked like a dog, practically day and night. most of the russians, it should be said, worked equally hard. i did find a couple instances where the russians did not really care for american work habits. there was one russian man, who when told they started work at the area office five days a week at 9:00 a.m., responded, "ah, yes, this is how the capitalists exploit us." [laughter] he did not last long. childs practically gave his life to fighting this famine. he came down with typhus and, for several days, lingered close to death. he was forced to go to germany to recuperate for a while. but even after that, he couldn't wait to go back russia, to kazan. he wrote his mother from the hospital in germany i am so
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anxious to get back to kazan. the russian experience is the richest i've ever had. i would not take anything for it. much of this, i think, had to do with georgina. he had her transferred from petrograd to kazan. later that summer, they went back to petrograd and were married in saint isaac's cathedral. later, the two of them left russia together. in two years, from 1921 to 1923, the ara carried out the greatest humanitarian relief effort in history, at that time. the numbers are amazing. 11 million people were being fed a day at the peak of the operation. they work in 28,000 cities, towns, and villages. they shipped one million tons of food, seed clothing, and medicine. they distributed medical supplies to 15,000 hospitals. they inoculated 10 million people against infectious
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diseases. nevertheless, best estimates would be roughly 6 million people died as a result of the famine. but the americans did manage to save well over 10 million lives. and what is more, the ara gave the russian people hope, which they had not had before. this is an amazing letter that i found at the hoover institution archives that was written by some women to the men of the ara. the archive has a lot of these, many of them are beautifully illustrated like this one. you see at the top, the new york city skyline the statue of liberty and the american aid ship dropping these life rings with "ara" on them down into the bloody sea. this one was written in the crimea on march 14, 1923. it reads at the top "we, the woman and mothers, overflowing with fervent gratitude extend to you our sincere thanks for the health and concern you have extended to our children at this trying time. tears of emotion pour from our eyes at the sight of how our children's faces, that were pale and exhausted, are once again
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fresh and healthy thanks to the fraternal help of the americans. our children are happy. we mothers are joyous and have for the future. may the hearts that made this possible be forever blessed and may the hand that gives always be full." this is one of my favorite photos that i found. this is again that hermitage restaurant in moscow that had been turned into an ara kitchen. four girls having their lunch in march of 1922. on the 20th of july, 1923, the ara closed up its operations for good in moscow and the americans went home. a little bit before this, gorky wrote a letter to hoover in which he said, "in all the history of human suffering, i
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know of nothing more trying to the souls of men than the events through which the russian people are passing. and in the history of humanitarian, i know of no accomplishment which, in terms of magnitude and generosity, can compare to the relief that you have accomplished. the generosity resuscitate dream of fraternity in a time when humanity greatly needs charity and compassion. your help will be inscribed in history as a unique and giant accomplishment worthy of the greatest glory and will long remain in the memory of millions
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of russian children whom you have saved from death." gorky was right. in 1975, a half-century after the end of america's mission to russia, j. rives childs returned to the soviet union. he was an old man, now in his mid-80's. he had spent his life working for the state department throughout the world, including serving as ambassador to saudi arabia and ethiopia. he had stayed married to georgina until her death in 1964. when he arrived in the soviet union, he told one of the officials there that he had been a member of the american relief administration. with that, the man's eyes widened, his face lit up, and he whispered with reverence, "ara." [laughter] many russians, at that time, still remembered and were still grateful for america's charity and compassion. thank you. [applause]
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so i am happy to take any questions that people may have. in the back? >> how did you come to get started on this rticular issue? douglas: how did i come up with this idea for the book? i have a folder at home in my study titled "book ideas." [laughter] most of them are pretty bad. i wrote an earlier book called "former people," the story of what happened to the russian
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nobility after 1917. and i focused on a few families. and in reading their letters and other personal papers from the early 1920's, i was reading about some of these young women from these once prominent aristocratic families who had lost everything who had heard that the americans had come to town and were hiring people who could work as interpreters and translators for them. and then i started to read about these women getting jobs with the ara, having great experiences working for them and all that kind of thing. and i thought this is a great story -- i know nothing about this. i have spent my whole life studying russia, i do not know why i do not know about this. so i filed that away for a future book project, and, in fact, when i came back to it, i was toying with the idea of trying to do it as fiction. and i had this elaborate plot i had put together and interesting characters -- at least i thought interesting characters -- and then i got cold feet. i was not sure i had the writing
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skills to pull off fiction. but even more importantly, by now, realizing the facts of the famine, i knew that if i had put all of this stuff into a novel, people would not believe it or they would be thinking i am exaggerating for dramatic effect. i said is has to be written as a work of nonfiction. >> speaking from personal ignorance, my impression of herbert hoover, as the president, is not the same herbert hoover who did this act of charity. is that a false impression? douglas: yeah, hoover's reputation and who he was as a man -- >> i know he worked for the commerce [indiscernible] for socialism. douglas: yeah. i mean, before the depression, which would destroy his reputation, he was known as the world's greatest humanitarian. through his works in belgium, for example, then his work
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throughout europe after world war i, and then his work with the ara in russia. his reputation is destroyed as a result of his presidency. and then, also, throughout the period of the cold war, we americans did not want to be reminded about times when we worked alongside the soviets so much. i think there was an element of that. that being said, hoover did some things that were not so good. and i write about those in my book. one of the things that helped launch him into the presidency was a horrible flood in the lower reaches of the mississippi in the late 1920's, and hoover was put in charge of those relief operations, and he basically saw that all the aid went to poor white folk and very little or none went to poor black folk. not only that, poor black folk were put in camps and forced to do rebuilding under armed guards for nothing. and he was ok with that. later, during the depression, if he did not order it, he okayed
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his administration's kicking something like 750,000 people of mexican descent out of the country, forcing them to go south of the border to mexico, a great many of them american citizens of mexican descent, the idea being "we need jobs for 'real americans.'" i do not want to make him a saint, he wasn't, but he did do some truly remarkable things. >> this is fascinating. how did the soviets handle this history? was there any attempt -- i certainly have never heard of it either. was there any attempt to talk about it? was it erased from the history books? douglas: i talk a lot about that in my book about what happens the minute the americans leave.
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there is a huge banquet that the soviet government throws for the americans in moscow in july, right before they take off. memorial plaques about eternal gratitude and that kind of thing. as soon as the americans are over the border, the russians do everything they can to remove any trace that the americans had ever been there. they had been a herbert hoover memorial highway. that was quickly renamed. there had been a memorial hospitals named after americans. those were renamed. many of the people in russia who had worked for the americans were arrested as spies. in fact, some were still being arrested after world war ii for having worked for the americans. the whole operation, when it was discussed, was discussed as it was a plot by hoover to overthrow the soviet government, but the vigilance of the cheka had saved the soviet government from the nefarious deeds of herbert hoover. and then it was basically forgotten. i was in moscow in september, and i was walking along, and i remembered that the ara's main offices were on that street. i knew what the building looked like. sure enough, there was the building. i had this idea of getting a
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poster made that said, in russian, "you know who lived and worked here?" my russian friend said that probably was not a great idea. i am hoping the book will come out in russia. all of my books have been published there. i am talking with my publisher. i have yet to hear if it will or not. i hope so. >> you alluded to this a little bit, but can you talk more about how or why this story was not known here in the u.s.? in russia, maybe, it is more understandable, but it sounds like people did not really know about it here either. douglas: i think, again, as i kind of mentioned before, it is so much a story about herbert hoover, and with the depression, his inability to get the country out of the depression, he leaves office, in the early 1930's, his reputation is basically destroyed. maybe he was not always the best publicist for himself, in making sure that people remembered the
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things that he had done before he was president. and i think, again -- i grew up a child of the cold war. i do not think, in school, we really wanted to focus on moments where america and the soviet union had worked together. so i think, for these sorts of reasons, it was kind of forgotten. yes? >> i seem to remember my mother working for russian war relief after the second world war, collecting money and clothing and so on. am i remembering incorrectly? was not also -- i think it was part of the effort at that time. douglas: there might have been. i do not know. obviously, we did a lot for the soviet union during world war ii, lend lease shipped huge amounts of food and clothing to
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the soviet union to keep them going in the fight against nazi germany. i am not an expert on that. there may have been some things. people bring up i heard about the famine in ukraine in the 1930's, why have i not heard about this? obviously, that famine under stalin, no international help was forthcoming because no one is going to get into the country because they did not want it coming in. but i have a friend who still has a lend lease blanket from his grandfather and they keep as a relic of good times when relations maybe were better. i don't know. yes, over here? >> just before the 1920's, there was mass insurgents of the russian army. did that have anything to do as a catalyst to get this to start? douglas: to get the relief started or the famine? >> the breakdown. douglas: it is hard for us to
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imagine. what russia went through from the beginning of world war i to the middle of 1920 was the apocalypse, basically. the country is utterly destroyed due to revolution and war. and there is mass desertion often among some of these red army soldiers. a lot of them were going to these peasant armies, who were then taking their guns and fighting against the red soldiers, who were terrorizing the russian countryside. it is not like there is a front line. in our civil war, there is the north and there is the south and there is a front line. in the russian civil war, it is chaos going all over the place. yeah, exactly. >> is there any relation to the collectivization in agriculture that followed shortly? or it just happened? douglas: in some ways, there may be a slight connection, only in the fact that early after the
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bolsheviks seized power, the reds begin to requisition grain from the peasants. they basically go out and take the grain. this practice is stopped in 1921, when they have a retreat from these extreme measures, and you get the beginning of what's called "n.e.p.," economic policy, and they can keep their grain and pay tax on it. stalin, in a way, you could say, starts the revolution all over again, both in the cities and in the countryside, and that peasants are now forced into collective farms and are put under much tighter control. that was obviously a factor in the famine that breaks out in the early 1930's. there is also a national component to that. the reason we know so much about the famine in the 1930's is because much of it was centered
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in ukraine, and the ukrainian community outside of russia has done a very good job about writing about this famine, documenting what happened. so that famine is much better known, even though no americans or foreigners really were there to witness much of it. i am getting a signal -- one more question. who has not asked a question? yes? >> how are people recruited to go to russia? where did these americans come from? douglas: they came from all over the country. most of them were men in their 20's. a good many of them had served in world war i. some of them were rhodes scholars over in england at the time. so the ara really gets going before the russian famine, when it started to do work in europe after world war i.
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i think word spread about these american relief efforts. and for young men, so much of the reason men went over was they wanted an adventure. you know, they had had these experiences, many of them, in world war i. for some of them, it was this amazing thing -- which is hard to imagine. and they went back home to -- i do not know, i am from minnesota. and they thought, god, this is boring and they wanted excitement. this is something fascinating, because the russians couldn't even begin to wrap their minds around that fact. that these were people who live in a country that was so boring that they wanted to go off to these war-ravaged places. the americans would say, "i come for adventure," and they would
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be like, "please, can we have a little less adventure?" they had enough adventure for several centuries in those periods from 1914 to 1923. anyway, i want to end it there, but thank you all very much. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] is american history tv on c-span three were each weekend we feature 48 hours of programs exploring our is -- nations past. tvthis is american history every weekend on c-span3. our weekly series "the civil war" to mark the 198th s. grantsry of ulysses birthday.
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at ada 4:00 p.m. used in from it is a lectures in history. teaches ane president class on constitutional issues during richard nixon and gerald ford. at 10:00 p.m. eastern, on reel america, up with the coronavirus pandemic severely limiting travel for most americans, we feature the 1967 united airlines discover america." the aerial trip across the united states highlights natural and man-made attractions from coast to coast. that is what is coming up here on american history tv. goodgen. petraeus: evening. on behalf of the grant monument association, welcome to this special online program to mark ulysses s. grant's 198th birthday. i way of introduction,


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