An oral history comprised of interviews with members of Ukrainian collective farms that were organized after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Belenky explores a little-known corner of history, traveling to Ukraine to record the memories of elderly men and women. They were the children of the kolkhoz movement—a push toward collective farms first fueled by revolutionary fervor and later “encouraged” by the Soviet state, until they were disbanded in the early 1990s. The interviewees tell stories of peaceful lives on farms, and friendships that cut across ethnic and religious boundaries, which were shattered in 1941 when the Nazis swept into Ukraine during World War II. These Ukrainian Jews are among the relative few who lived through the war; often, they returned to their old villages and farms to find that all their neighbors had been murdered. The author has a personal stake in this story, as his father worked with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a philanthropic organization that sent experts to Ukraine in the 1920s to educate people on farming techniques, animal husbandry and equipment maintenance. Belenky’s book is split into sections featuring his journal, in which he muses on his family history and his oral-history project, and the histories themselves, which are grouped by topic. The reader experiences life on the kolkhoz through the interviewees’ recollections from childhood to the horrors of war to piecing their lives together in the aftermath. Although more historical context, photographic documentation and maps of the interviewees’ journeys would have made the book even more compelling, Belenky has here delivered a truly engaging work.
A remarkable oral history of the kolkhoz people of wartime Ukraine.