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American Experience: The Great Famine


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Editorial Reviews

When a devastating famine descended on Soviet Russia in 1921 the United States responded with a massive two-year relief campaign that battled starvation and disease and saved millions of lives. By summer 1922 American kitchens were feeding nearly eleven million Soviet citizens a day. At the time the American rescue operation was hailed as "the beau geste of the twentieth century." The American expedition took place as the embers of the 1917 Russian Revolution still smoldered. The nearly 300 American relief workers most of them veterans of World War I were the first group of outsiders to break through Russia's isolation and to witness and record the impact of the revolution. This American Experience sets a riveting story of American engagement with a distant and desperate people-an engagement hailed for its efficiency grit and generosity-within the larger story of the Russian Revolution and the roots of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry that would dominate the second half of the twentieth century. Produced by Austin Hoyt.

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Dolby, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: PBS
  • DVD Release Date: April 12, 2011
  • Run Time: 60 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B004FM2EPS
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #156,992 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Bob Justman on February 18, 2013
This fascinating doc details then-Secretary of the Interior Herbert Hoover's ARA program designed to help ease massive famine in Russia. America had emerged from WWI as a world power, but Russia was reeling from the after-effects of the Bolshevik Revolution. Hoover responded to Russia's cry for help, and on September 1, 1921, the first ship carrying American relief supplies docked at Petrograd (formerly St. Petersberg.) It is interesting to note that although Hoover's altruistic plan helped restore Russia's agriculture economy, Jonathon Alter's book The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope postulates that Hoover's relief effort contributed to inflated wheat prices in the 1920s, but when relief efforts slowed, wheat prices and profits dropped and farmers fell on hard economic times, contributing to the closing of many rural farm banks. Interesting theory.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Pv on August 20, 2012
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This is a wonderful story of our history -- during the 1920's we came together to help the Russian people who were experiencing a terrible famine.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Adams Family on April 10, 2012
This was well made. If you are a teacher know that it has LOTS of pictures of naked starving children alive and dead. It really gets across how desperate the people were. It focused on Hoover and how he really disliked Communism but wanted to help the people. It shows how he sold this aid program in Congress in America as something that might show Russian people American efficiency and other virtues through running the program (which they hoped would make them to want a new government.)
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on October 21, 2012
'The Great Famine' is a documentary about the worst natural disaster in Europe since the Black Plague in the Middle Ages. Five million Soviets died of starvation, and the total would have been much greater if Americans had not responded with a massive two-year relief campaign - championed by Herbert Hoover in his role as director of the American Relief Administration.

Hoover's efforts were initiated by a plea for aid by Russian novelist Maxim Gorky. The first American relief ships arrived in Petrograd in September 1921, while that nation was still smoldering from the 1917 Russian revolution. Problems encountered included ice jams, a rail system in disarray, and a suspicious Russian government worried that aid workers were also trying to undermine their new government. No such evidence was found; one American, however, died of typhus and the expedition leader also nearly died from the lice-borne malady.

Hoover's initial plan was to feed one million children by delivering supplies to the hardest hit regions. However, it soon became clear that much more was needed - at least 16 million needed help. About 19,000 kitchens were set up to help distribute the food and alleviate both starvation and cannibalism. Hoover also saw to it that seed grain was provided in addition to food, allowing Russian farmers to bring in a crop the following year.

Lenin's government never recognized America's humanitarian motives. The film, however, showed Russian Muslim leaders doing so, as well as testimony from one of the Russian historians providing background. Americans can truly be proud of this great logistical and beneficial act.

My one criticism of this DVD is that it failed to provide background on the famine's causes. Obviously drought was a proximate cause. Another was that peasants had tired of 6.5 years of conflict in which various fighting groups provisioned themselves by simply seizing food from those who grew it - thus, they reduced production.
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9 of 25 people found the following review helpful By I. matwyshyn on September 4, 2011
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Title misrepresents content.
This famine was triggered by Lenin's NEP (New Economic Program).
This famine was caused by Soviet indifference to human life.

The "Great Famine" was the one in 1932-33 where many times the 1921 number were intentionally starved to death
That famine was used as an instrument to eliminate a class of people the Soviets found troublesome, to steal their lands and property,
and to repopulate those lands with more compliant settlers from Russia and Bilorus.
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