The Alexander Palace fed starving children in 1922

PHOTO: view of the Western Wing of the Alexander Palace (1922), which had been converted into an ARA kitchen, feeding more than 2000 local children a day

During the Russian Civil War (1917-1922), a terrible famine began in Bolshevik Russia. In an effort to stop it spreading throughout the former Russian Empire, the new Soviet government, led by Vladimir Lenin, invited the American Relief Administration (ARA), the brainchild of Herbert Hoover, to save communist Russia from ruin.

In 1921, to ease famine in Russia, the director of the American Relief Administration (ARA) in Europe, Walter Lyman Brown, began negotiating with the Soviet People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Maxim Litvinov, in Riga, Latvia. An agreement was reached on 21st August 1921, and an additional implementation agreement was signed by Brown and People’s Commisar for Foreign Trade Leonid Krasin on 30th December 1921. The U.S. Congress appropriated $20,000,000 for relief under the Russian Famine Relief Act of late 1921.

It was the largest humanitarian operation in history, preventing countless deaths, riots and, quite possibly, the collapse of the communist state. Indeed, while the ARA’s efforts were admirable, it is one of those historical ironies that the United States not only helped fund the new Bolshevik order, but also helped save it from collapsing.

The Western Wing of the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, the former residence of Emperor Nicholas II and his family, was turned into an ARA kitchen, which fed more than two thousand local children a day. The kitchen was run by one of the former tsarist chefs, who cooked boiled rice, beans and cocoa, assisted by several servants of the last Tsar.

American Relief Administration operations in Russia in 1922

At its peak, the ARA employed 300 Americans, more than 120,000 Russians and fed 10.5 million people daily. Its Russian operations were headed by Col. William N. Haskell. The Medical Division of the ARA functioned from November 1921 to June 1923 and helped overcome the typhus epidemic then ravaging Russia. The ARA’s famine relief operations ran in parallel with much smaller Mennonite, Jewish and Quaker famine relief operations in Russia. The ARA’s operations in Russia were shut down on 15th June 1923, after it was discovered that Russia renewed the export of grain

A hundred years later, few people remember these events. The Soviet government quickly erased the memory of American aid.

© Paul Gilbert. 1 November 2021