The Corner

Hitler, Stalin, and Mr. Jones

The short, tragic and wonderful life of Gareth Jones (1905-35) is a glimpse both into the worst of the 20th century and the best that a man can be. I haven’t seen it yet (so I could be wrong about this, although I suspect not), but the UK’s BBC 4 is showing a documentary (“Hitler, Stalin and Mr. Jones”) about this extraordinary individual on Thursday night that will likely be well worth watching. British readers pay attention . . .

Here’s the BBC’s blurb:

Storyville: an investigation into who killed Welsh journalist Gareth Jones. Jones’s greatest scoop was to reveal the starvation to death of millions in 1930s Ukraine, caused by Stalin’s policies. A portrait emerges of a fiercely bright young man who preferred a journalist’s life of courage and danger which took him from smalltown Wales to even hitching a lift in Hitler’s private jet plane. However, in a 1930s world of competing ideologies, there existed a fine line between journalism and spying. This film explores to what extent this dual role, and taking on Stalin, may have contributed to his early death on the plains of Mongolia.

I was introduced to the story of Gareth Jones (and to members of his family) by Ukrainian-American friends nearly ten years ago, and wrote about it for NRODT back in 2004. Here’s an extract:

By the autumn of 1932, Jones was sounding the alarm (“Will There Be Soup?” and “Russia Famished Under the Five-Year Plan”) about the catastrophe to come: “The food is not there.” Early the next year, he returned to Moscow to check the situation for himself, took a train to the Ukraine, and then walked out into the wrecked, desperate countryside. Once back in the West, he wasted no time, not even waiting to get back home before telling an American journalist in Berlin what he had seen: Millions were dying.

Soviet denials were to be expected. That they were supported by the New York Times was not. The newspaper’s Moscow correspondent, Walter Duranty, reassured his readers that Jones had been exaggerating. The Welshman was, he condescended, “a man of a keen and active mind . . . but [his] judgment was somewhat hasty . . . It appeared that he had made a forty-mile walk through villages in the neighborhood of Kharkhov and found conditions sad.” Sad—not much of an adjective, really, to describe genocide…

Here’s hoping that the BBC shows this film over here too


The BBC has corrected the error in its blurb. “Jet” has been replaced with “plane”. Someone at the Beeb may be having a rough day today. In the meantime it’s worth mentioning that, as so often with Jones’s writing, the penciled jottings in his notebook recording what he saw, heard and was told on and about the time of that plane trip make chilling reading. He was an extraordinarily prescient man, with an equally extraordinary ability to get people to open up to him. There is something eerie about reading the note of a conversation he had with a Nazi high-up (Goebbels, if I recall correctly, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen the notebooks) who appears to have discussed eventually carving up Poland with the Soviets. This was in 1933, some six years before Hitler and Stalin did just that.


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