Over the years we have been overwhelmed with extraordinary movies and documentaries about the Holocaust and the various atrocities of Nazi Germany. These horrific crimes against humanity deserve to be examined over and over again so they are never repeated.
But we see so little about the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) which killed more people than Hitler did, rivaled the repressive state apparatus of Nazi Germany, and easily outlasted the so-called Thousand-Year Reich. There have been plenty of movies about what Communism did to human beings but there has never been a Schindler’s List (1993) — at least not in English — for the victims of Communism. Schindler’s List, for anyone who has never seen it, is a masterpiece. It is a powerful, deeply moving, widely embraced account of the suffering of Jews in the Krakow Ghetto and then in the death camps.
The many victims of Nazism have been depicted and honored — as they should be — over and over again.
But the tens of millions of people murdered by Communism have not. It is long past time for a true cinematic masterpiece to show the brutal ravages of Communism.
Perhaps the fact it hasn’t been done has something to do with the fact that during World War II the USSR was our ally so it was treated with kid gloves by American cinema. The Hollywood Left was not keen on portraying Communism honestly during the Cold War. If anything, movies like Reds (1981) romanticized Communism to an extent.
There have been movies that offer, to varying degrees, honest appraisals of life under Communism.
There was Child 44 (2015), a police procedural about a serial killer set in the Stalin-era Soviet Union. There was The Way Back in 2010 which showed the horrors of Communist repression from the point of view of gulag prisoners in Siberia who escape and walk thousands of miles to freedom.
There was The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1998) which shows what happened to Czechoslovakia when it was invaded in 1968 by the Soviet Union and three of its allies. There was The Inner Circle in 1991 which tells “[t]he true story of Ivan Sanchin, the KGB officer who was Stalin’s private film projectionist from 1939 until the dictator’s death.” There was The Killing Fields (1984), about a journalist trapped “in Cambodia during tyrant Pol Pot’s bloody ‘Year Zero’ cleansing campaign, which claimed the lives of two million ‘undesirable’ civilians.”
There was Doctor Zhivago (1965) which was set during the Bolshevik Revolution and shows some Communist repression. There was The Manchurian Candidate (1962) which tells the story of a former prisoner of war who “is brainwashed as an unwitting assassin for an international Communist conspiracy.”
But again, no true masterpieces dealing with Communism.
There is a new film called Bitter Harvest that looks like it might do some justice to the story of Communist persecution and the deliberate famine Stalin engineered in Ukraine, which was viewed as a hotbed of counter-revolutionary opposition by Stalin.
Here is a trailer for it:
According to the film’s page at IMDb, Bitter Harvest, is set in “1930s Ukraine, as Stalin advances the ambitions of communists in the Kremlin.” A young artist named “Yuri battles to save his lover Natalka from the Holodomor, the death-by-starvation program that ultimately killed millions of Ukrainians.”
The blurb for the movie on YouTube is more expansive.
Based on one of the most overlooked tragedies of the 20th Century, BITTER HARVEST is a powerful story of love, honor, rebellion and survival as seen through the eyes of two young lovers caught in the ravages of Joseph Stalin’s genocidal policies against Ukraine in the 1930s. As Stalin advances the ambitions of the burgeoning Soviet Union, a young artist named Yuri (Max Irons) battles to survive famine, imprisonment and torture to save his childhood sweetheart Natalka (Samantha Barks) from the “Holodomor,” the death-by-starvation program which ultimately killed millions of Ukrainians. Against this tragic backdrop, Yuri escapes from a Soviet prison and joins the anti-Bolshevik resistance movement as he battles to reunite with Natalka and continue the fight for a free Ukraine.
Nobody knows much, if anything, about the Holodomor.
As journalist Eric Margolis wrote last year, “Stalin was the biggest murderer of modern history – and maybe in of all mankind’s past. His number of victims was only rivaled by Genghis Khan and, in our era, Mao Zedong.”
From 1918 to the late 1950s (Stalin died in 1953), an estimated 20 million or more Soviet citizens were worked to death, shot or starved in the 500 camps that made up the Gulag. The most infamous and lethal were in the Arctic Circle and eastern Siberia.
The greatest number of deaths occurred in the 1930s when Stalin’s reign of terror was at its apogee. By the end of the 1930s, the Gulag held close to 2 million inmates, about half political prisoners convicted on false charges. Millions of other Soviet citizens were starved in local prisons, shot in execution grounds or forests, and worked to death building canals and rail lines or forced to mine with their bare hands.
During 1932-33, Stalin sent chief henchman Lazar Kaganovitch to break resistance by Ukrainian independent small farmers to collectivization by starving them to death. In only a few years, some 6-7 million Ukrainians perished in what they call the Holodomor. No one was ever punished for this historic crime. Stalin told Churchill, “Kaganovitch is my Himmler.”
Will Bitter Harvest, which is now in the theaters (I haven’t seen any ads on television about it) help to open the floodgates to a great, long overdue truth-telling about Communism? It’s hard to say. It looks promising but I haven’t seen it yet.