Published in Church and Life (1840)5.9.2012 – 26.9.2012 No 14

Bishop d’Herbigny (1880 – 1957) was a French Jesuit. He was a scholar and a Roman Catholic bishop. He was the president of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome during the period of the Holodomor.

He was a colourful personality but he tried very hard to bring the Holodomor to the attention of the world, and then to send relief to those who were dying.

No aid was sent to those suffering because the Soviets, as we know, denied that there was a famine in the first place, and they would not accept gifts of food from the Vatican as it would be too embarrassing to them.

Bishop Michel is featured on the cover of a recently published book “The Holy See and the Holodomor” written by Fr. McVay and Lubomyr Luciuk. They had an opportunity to go through the Vatican archives to see what the Vatican knew about the Holodomor. As it turns out they knew a lot, mainly through various ambassadors who had a presence in the Soviet Union.

Pope Pius XI knew a lot as well and was very disturbed by what he had learned. He did all he could to help. He appointed Bishop d’Herbigny to work on the case.

Many reports were coming from various sources to the Vatican about the famine in Ukraine. Bishop Michel regarded them as the truth. The Pope believed him and subsequently told diplomats that his were “absolutely credible sources”.

Diplomats from various countries tried to speak with Soviet ambassadors to accept food aid.

On May 1, 1933, d’Herbigny prepared a note in which he described the famine in some detail and stressed the Pope’s personal reaction. I quote “Before such immense misery, the heart of the Holy Father is profoundly moved in the name of humanity and of civilization”. Nothing happened of the appeal because “the Stalinist regime was officially denying the existence of famine conditions”.

When this failed Bishop Michel kept on trying. He then wanted the Vatican to ask those countries which were buying Soviet wheat to avoid importing the grain. He insisted that it was morally wrong and indeed “an act of cruelty to export food from Russia when it was known that poverty and hunger prevails”.

The Soviets even refused to accept funds in return for holding back grain from export.

As our authors report, on August 22, 1933, Bishop d’Herbigny was told that the Pope did not think that any collection would help because there was no guarantee that such funds would reach those who needed help.

Records show that d’Herbigny confirmed that 10,000 lira was sent to the Papal Nuncio to help those he could.

Pope Pius XI did order that any information received about the famine should be published in church publications.

In 1934 t`he Vatican released a statement from the Soviets that “Ukraine’s capital could now be moved from Kharkiv to Kyiv because there was nothing left to fear from the Ukrainian Separatist Movement after the starvation of the country”. This is a quote from the decree of the Soviet Central Committee dated January 21, 1934. The document was supplied by the Polish Embassy on March 5, 1934.

Remember all those arguments we have heard so often that the Holodomor never happened? Well the documents proving otherwise are continuing to surface!