Last updated: 2007-02-03 17:58 EET
Famine is a dreadful scourge mankind has faced throughout history. The medieval chronicles documented periods of food crises when famine along with wars and epidemics claimed thousands of lives. Also, starvation was a powerful weapon used throughout history, especially practised during conflicts as a means to weaken the enemy’s resistance and finally to annihilate it. Starting with the second half of the 18th century, humanity believed that industrialisation and technological progress would eliminate famine. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Totalitarian regimes, Nazism and communism have intensively made use of famine as an instrument of terror. If Nazism used starvation as a means to exterminate the peoples viewed as racially inferior, communism used it on a large scale to terrorise the entire population of a country, irrespective of social class. Some 60 years ago, a Romania occupied by Soviet troops was no exception to the rule of starvation. In fact, Romania’s entire communist history was placed under the sign of famine and starvation. With the exception of a decade between 1965-1975, the food supply was an extremely sensitive issue. The food crises under communism were, socially speaking, a totally new phenomenon in Romania, as never before in the history of the country had famine hit home to such a large extent. Famine in Romania started in 1946-47, the drought of that year being an aggravating, though not a determining, factor. Famine was particularly marked in the eastern Romanian province of Moldavia, where the front line had brought about destruction and havoc, but also in eastern Muntenia and northern Dobrogea, as well as in Transylvania. Only the western areas in Romania, that is Oltenia, western Wallachia, Banat and Crisana were not ravaged by this scourge. Unfortunately, the collective memory, under the influence of communist propaganda, has retained only drought as the main cause of the 1946-47 famine.Historian Dorin Dobrincu from the A.D. Xenopol History Institute in Iasi told us about the famine of 60 years ago. He first placed the famine in historical context: “In 1944, after 3 years of war, the Soviet troops entered Romania. Bessarabia, Bukovina and the part of Moldavia left to Romania were under a very harsh occupation: the requisition of all cereals from the peasants’ barns was ordered, and savagely implemented. Prior to that, in its withdrawal, the Romanian administration had also requisitioned part of the cereals. 1946-47 were years of particularly dry weather, especially in Moldavia, where 1946 saw severe drought. Back then the communists were fighting to legitimate themselves as Romania’s sole leaders. Against that background, they did not pay any attention to the administration of the country. Generally they were extremely bad administrators, caring little for the population’s welfare, and focusing their efforts on accession to power“ .Famine prompted chaotic population movements, as people desperately searched for the means for subsistence. These movements ran counter to the communist authorities’ interests and liking; having taken power by force on March the 6th 1946, following blatantly rigged elections, they began the reprisals. Historian Dorin Dobrincu again:“ Starting with January- February 1947, there are frequent mentions in the documents of communist organisations, numbering many people, for the purposes of intelligence and repression, especially from Moldavia. People were leaving such localities for less ravaged areas. There were terrifying scenes all over the country, with peasants that had sold their belongings to buy overpriced cereals for their families, and who were prevented from going back home. People were shot at, and clashes in various railway stations were recorded. The flash-points for these desperate peasants, prevented from leaving their villages, were in the Buzau area, where gendarmes were placed and spectacular scenes were witnessed.“The impact of famine was extremely harsh in the rural areas, where scenes took place that could have been taken from horror films. However, towns were not spared either. Listen again to Dorin Dobrincu :“Famine had equally hit the towns, where crisis structures called “economate”, were put in place. These were stores with rationed goods sold at fixed prices. There is a host of testimonies and memoirs describing the famine in Romanian towns. In the villages, however, famine hit home more violently and events documented were harsher and more gruesome. For instance, George Tomaziu, a nephew of composer George Enescu, mentioned in his memoirs that in a commune in his native Dorohoi county, a child had died. When the doctors came to identify the cause of death, feathers were found in his stomach. Out of hunger, the child had eaten the feathers from a pillow.“ Could the 46-47 famine have been avoided? Historian Dobrincu: “During the inter-war period and during the war, the Romanian state had always tried to prevent famine by setting up strategic state funds. A strategic fund existed after the war, only it was much diminished. According to the Truce Convention of September 12th 1944, Romania had to pay huge war reparations of 300 million US dollars. In fact, Romania paid much more, over 1 billion dollars. The goods taken by Romanians from the Soviet Union had to be given back. As the Romanian government could not control the eastern part of this country for one year, there was no interest in the good administration of that area. There was terrific disorder and confusion in the first years after the war. I belive that under normal conditions, with a responsible government, the 1947 famine could have been avoided”.The Romanian communist government of that time, led by Petru Groza, was obviously a criminal one; however, there were others who reacted sensitively to the drama of the Romanian people. Dorin Dobrincu at the microphone: “The government did almost nothing to help the famine victims, but others did much more, for instance foreign charity organisations. The Americans sent aid through the port of Constanta, and in most cases, the communists distributed this aid in an arbitrary manner. The Swedish Red Cross as well as the Swiss Red Cross and Jewish, Protestant and Catholic organisations also sent aid. Vladimir Ghyka and Richard Wurmbrand became directly involved in helping the victims. And among them were many others. The communists also got involved, but only for propaganda reasons, just to be able to claim that they’d done something.”The 1946-47 famine, under the Soviet occupation, produced more trauma and broke more people than the communists’ political propaganda. The number of victims remained unknown due to the authorities’ lack of interest. Oral history sources talk about thousands and thousands of victims, most of them children. After the starvation period, victims continued to exist, because the health of the people had been jeopardised - they were much more vulnerable to disease. Applied on a large scale in the USSR before the war, the starvation of Romanians and of the other nations in the countries occupied by the soviets in Central and Eastern Europe spoke volumes to the world about the true face of the so called humanism of the Marxist- Leninist doctrine, the ideology that gave birth to communism.
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