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Subterfuge in Ukraine

In response to:

The Victory of Ukraine from the April 7, 2016 issue

To the Editors:

I would just like to offer a small corrective to Anne Applebaum’s excellent article “Victory in Ukraine” [NYR, April 7]. In reviewing Gareth Jones: Eyewitness to the Holodomor, she omits to mention that Jones had superb German connections and that his visit to Moscow in March 1933 came hot on the heels of a very productive trip to Berlin, where Adolf Hitler had become Reich chancellor a few weeks earlier. By doing so, she misses a very intriguing twist to the story of how Jones pulled off his extraordinary feat of getting firsthand evidence of the famine in Ukraine.

As the producer of the BBC film Hitler, Stalin and Mr. Jones, I accessed previously unseen documents from the Russian Foreign Ministry archives relating to Gareth Jones’s visit to Russia in 1933. They make fascinating reading and have not been cited in either of the two books about Gareth Jones under review. The visa that Jones acquired as Lloyd George’s secretary did give him a huge advantage (it was stamped “БЕСПЛАТНО,” meaning “gratis”), but it was also the fact that he had an invitation to visit the German consul general in Kharkov (as it was then known, the capital of Soviet Ukraine) that gave him the perfect excuse to visit the region. He didn’t “get permission” to visit a tractor factory, but merely did so as part of his general plan to mislead the authorities.

On the eve of his journey south, he had a meeting with comrade Umansky, the press attaché of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. Jones’s diary has the appointment in it and on the next day’s entry is the name “Brodowski,” and beside it the words “arr. Kharkoff 9:30” have been crossed out. It transpires from the Russian archive documents that Brodovsky was the Soviet Foreign Ministry’s main man in Kharkov, whose name Gareth Jones had been given by Umansky at the meeting before he left Moscow.

Once in Kharkov, Jones sent a cheery postcard home, obviously taking delight in his cunning deception:

Just a short word to say I am having a splendid time in Kharkoff with the German consul, who is an uncle of Eric Schuler and who is remarkably kind to me. Tomorrow night we are all going to the Opera to see “Eugene Onegin” (Pushkin) and on Thursday, I shall travel with the German consul-general on the wonderful train, the “Arrow,” with sleeping-car to Moscow, arriving there on Friday morning.

The Russian documents reveal that he did check in at the local office of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs in Kharkov, but Brodovsky was conveniently not at his desk. Jones left his visiting card and did not call back.

When Jones’s press conference about the famine was reported in the United States and Britain, the Soviet authorities went into overdrive to find out how Jones had been allowed to get away with it. The Russian documents, which I translated and published in full in my article “Reporting Stalin’s Famine” (Kritika, Fall 2013), shed light not only on Jones’s singular achievement, but also on the none-too-efficient workings of the Soviet NKVD at the time. A careful reading of those might also “make readers and writers of history think twice about what they think they already know.”

Teresa Cherfas
London, England