An Austrian engineer showed these Holodomor photos to Cardinal Innitzer in 1933, pleading for aid to the starving

There are very few photographs of the Holodomor, the genocidal famine that carried away the lives of roughly 4 million Ukrainians in the winter of 1932-1933. The reason for this is that in those years Soviet authorities created a virtual Soviet reality for the foreign world that included concealment and denial of the Holodomor.

They were careful to manage the image of the USSR abroad after the 1921-23 famine that was a PR catastrophe for the Bolshevik government. Then, the burgeoning Soviet state accepted the aid of foreign humanitarian agencies in return for their freedom to operate, as a result of which the world saw the full extent of the human misery on Soviet soil. Censorship and broad restrictions made documentation and reporting of facts challenging; nevertheless, some photos did leak out from behind the Soviet border.

The most famous ones were made by the Austrian engineer Alexander Wienerberger.

Here we present his Innitzer album, the popular name of an album of photographs that were taken by Wienerberger in 1933 while he was working as a managing consultant in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s capital at that time.

The photographs depict starving residents from the rural heartland of Ukraine flocking to Kharkiv on foot; the endless lines of city residents waiting to buy their meager ration of food; the homeless rural residents – young and old alike, struggling to survive and dying in the city’s streets, hastily dug mass graves just outside the city.

In September 1933, Cardinal Theodor Innitzer of Vienna, the presiding Roman Catholic archbishop in Austria at that time had established a widely publicized interfaith humanitarian relief committee to provide aid to the starving in Soviet Ukraine and the German colonies in Russia. The Soviet government in Moscow, however, emphatically denied the existence of famine, and the committee’s offers of assistance were refused.

When Wienerberger returned to Austria in 1934, he compiled a set of 25 photographs into an album he titled Die Hungertragödie in Südrussland 1933 [The Tragedy of Famine in South Russia, 1933]. He wrote a brief dedication statement with his signature on the back of the album cover and presented it as a gift of respect and gratitude to Cardinal Innitzer for his efforts. The album remains to this day in the Diocesan Archive in Vienna.

Alexander Wienerberger took his photos during the spring and summer of 1933, and many were specific to a district of the city known as “Kholodna Hora” (“Cold Mountain”), or as Wienerberger referred to it in his native German, “Kalten Berg,” where the factory that he managed was located.

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Album of 25 photographs Alexander Wienerberger presented by the photographer to Cardinal Theodor Innitzer, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vienna, Austria in 1934. Source.

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Innitzer album dedication page. This statement appears on the inside of the front cover to an album with the title: Die Hungertragödie in Südrussland 1933 [The Tragedy of Famine in South Russia 1933.] Also known as “The Innitzer album,” it is a pocket sized album of photographs that the Austrian engineer Alexander Wienerberger had taken while he was working as a consultant in Kharkiv in 1933. The dedication reads: “[dedicated to His eminence, Cardinal Archbishop Dr. Theodor Innitzer with grateful respect, from Engineer A. Wienerberger.” Source.

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Close-up of a young man, a famine victim on the streets of Kharkiv. Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Several families from the countryside on their way to Kharkiv by foot. Handwritten caption in album: “The starving farmers leave the village to find help in the city.” Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Large crowd of people waiting outside a Khatorh for black bread. Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Many people in a Kharkiv marketplace crowd in together around a closed store that sells rationed food. Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Starving horse is hitched to a hay wagon on the outskirts of Kharkiv. An emaciated horse stands hitched to a simple hay wagon on the outskirts of the city. A farmer, in tattered jacket, stands nearby. As the rural population starved, their farm animals – if they had any, starved as well. Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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A man lies dying on the pavement near a market in Kharkiv, as a woman and a young child walk by. The original caption reads, “In agony.” Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Three women resting on a grassy plot near some houses and a factory in Kharkiv. Handwritten caption in album: “Lice-ridden candidates for death.” Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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A thin young girl faces the camera as she stands near a factory in Kharkiv. Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Illicit trade in the marketplace, Kharkiv. Handwritten caption in album: “Black marketeering of food.” Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Several victims of starvation lay dead or dying on a busy sidewalk in residential Kharkiv, 1933. Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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A group of homeless children on a rock pile in Kharkiv, 1933. Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Small group of people gathers around a famine victim lying dead on a sidewalk in Kharkiv, 1933. Handwritten caption in album: “One of the first victims.” Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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A farm woman, victim of starvation, lies behind a cart near a marketplace in Kharkiv, 1933. Handwritten caption in album: “Body of a starvation victim at the marketplace–.” Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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A famine victim lies dead near a market in Kharkiv with some men pausing to look while others pass by. Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Two women standing near the body of a starvation victim in Kharkiv. Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Young well dressed boy stands near a famine victim lying at the edge of a sidewalk in Kharkiv. Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Young girl lies dead on a wooden stairway near one of Kharkiv’s riversю Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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A starving farmer sits by the side of a house in Kharkiv (Death by starvation series, no. 1). Handwritten caption in album: “The tragedy of a farmer in four pictures. I.” Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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A starving farmer tries to lean on an elbow as he lies near a house in Kharkiv (Death by starvation series, no. 2). Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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A farmer is dying of starvation near a house in Kharkiv. (Death by starvation series, no. 3). Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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A farmer lies dead of starvation among the shrubs of a house in Kharkiv (Death by starvation series, no. 4). Handwritten caption in album: “IV., At last, released (from torment.)” Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Mass grave burial site on the outskirts of Kharkiv with a gravedigger at work. Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Mass grave burial site near Kharkiv with many new burial mounds. Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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Empty house in a Ukrainian village. Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.

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A posted sign in a Kharkiv city park reads: “It is strictly forbidden to bury the dead here.” Photo by Alexander Wienerberger. Source.


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