I just finished Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe’s exhaustive and slightly exhausting book 'Stepan Bandera: The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Nationalist'.
Mr. Rossoliński-Liebe says the numbers who died in the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine are between 2.5 and 3.9 million, not the 8, 10 or 15 million that I have seen mentioned.
He says that the use of the Ukrainian term “Holodomor” to denote the deaths dates from 1978. The term was coined by American-Ukrainians in response to the TV film 'Holocaust' which popularised that term for the murder of the Jews.
That millions died is not disputed, though how many millions did is. What is also disputed is whether the famine was intended by Stalin, was deliberate mass murder. Even nowadays Marxist Leninists (there are still plenty of them around) and fellow travellers get angry at this suggestion. Daniel Lazar, for example.
Simon Sebag Montefiore in his 'Stalin: Court of the Red Tsar' suggests the numbers are between 4 and 10 million and he produces plenty of evidence to show that many Bolsheviks knew exactly what was happening. Lenin had said that 'the peasant must do a bit of starving'. He also said Bolshevism was 'a social system based on blood letting'.
Bolsheviks travelled travelled through Ukraine in trains with the blinds down so as not to see the terrible suffering, according to Mr. Sebag Montefiore.
Stalin's daughter lifted the blind and was horrified by starving people with bloated stomachs. She told her mother who was equally horrified. Stalin told her the girl was hallucinating. This discovery presumably was part of the reason Stalin's wife committed suicide shortly afterwards.
Timothy Snyder in 'Bloodlands' is sure Stalin, at least after his wife's death, was deliberately trying to kill millions of peasants.
There are some people who seem to think that the deaths would be even worse if the Communists wanted to eliminate Ukrainians, rather than kulaks or peasants.
The assertion that the famine was a deliberate attempt to kill Ukrainians because they were Ukrainians seems unlikely prima facie, as large numbers died in famines at the same time in the Northern Caucasus and Upper Volga.
People who think the Ukrainian famine is genocide often do so because they think trying to eliminate millions because of their nationality or race is worse than deliberately causing their deaths because they were peasants and therefore counter revolutionary.
Dr. Snyder I think a good historian and 'Bloodlands' a very useful juxtaposition of the Ukrainian famine with the massacres in the war. But all American historians are ideological. Sometimes the ideology is Marxism but often, as in his case, the ideology is anti-racism.
It's cretinous, of course, to compare mass murders but it's intensely political.
So socialists and liberals squabble over rival genocides. Leftists compare slavery with the murder of the Jews. Snyder and others compare the Ukrainian famine, which is a much fitter comparison.
(By the way, Dr Snyder is at present comparing Donald Trump to Hitler in a more asinine way than any other historian I know, which is truly saying a huge amount. Dr. Snyder said recently that he imminently expects a coup by Mr. Trump. I kid you not.)
Figures for mass killings are often exaggerated, but unfortunately this is not always the case.
I hope we shall one day learn that the numbers killed in the war in Syria are exaggerated. They are said to be between 151,888 (very precise) and 470,000.
When I was in Hama in 2006 I was told by my guide that 60,000 died there in the uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982. I see the number usually reported is 30,000. Sharmine Narwani in the Guardian in 2013 estimated it at 2,000.
Bill Clinton in 1999 said that in fighting in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo around 250,000 had died. Now people say 130,000.