The Mystery of Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones (1905–1935) wanted to write about the most difficult international topics of his time – soviet policy, the crimes of Stalinism—including the Great Famine known as the Holodomor in Ukraine—, the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany, and Japan’s preparations to invade USSR from occupied North China. But outside forces kept interfering in his plans, and at times he could do little more than write about traditions and customs in his native Wales. But he never gave up on his profession.
Denying the man-made soviet famine, an exclusive interview with Stalin and a Pulitzer Prize made Jones’s contemporary Walter Duranty famous, while German reporter Herbert Müller, Gareth’s colleague and a soviet secret agent, was “absolved” and released two days after the pair had been captured in Inner Mongolia. Gareth Jones was expelled from the Soviet Union for his articles on the terror-famine, no one ever gave him any prizes during his lifetime, and he never returned from captivity. Jones was the first to write the truth about the Holodomor, noting especially its violent, forced nature. Back then, there was no such term as genocide in international law.
Ukrainian Week met with the niece of Gareth Jones, Dr. Margaret Siriol Colley, an 86-year old physician and student of history, to talk about her uncle.
Within Cambridge walls
UW: Dr. Colley, what makes the memory of Gareth Jones so personal for you?
– I have worked very hard to tell people as much as possible about my uncle. I have written about him a lot. Recently, I published an article in the Canadian American Slavic Studies journal. For me and for all our family, my uncle Gareth Jones is a sacred legend.
UW.: In November-December 2009, Cambridge University exhibited Mr. Jones’s diaries. How much interest did the British and the press show in this event?
– Truly, a large number of people came to see the exhibition. It was popular. Prof. Rory Finnin, the Director of Ukrainian Studies at Cambridge, who had himself spent two years in Ukraine, helped us organize it at the Trinity College library. The British media covered the event quite actively and I was interviewed by Ukrainian journalists working in the UK. Actually, during the opening and throughout the exhibition, I spoke a lot about why this event was important for the general public and not just for my family. The Welsh press was particularly interested. At the same time, Cambridge showed a documentary by Ukrainian director Serhiy Bukovskiy called The Living. This also helped give a broader context to what was being revealed in the exhibition. When Gareth was alive, Britain’s politicians deliberately hid the truth about the famine from the public. They were afraid that Hitler had come to power. For them, it was important to get in good with the Soviet Union and build some kind of defense against the Nazi regime. British leaders couldn’t care less about the tragedy unfolding inside Ukraine.
UW: How might the archives be brought to Ukraine on a temporary basis?
– The original diaries and other materials by Gareth Jones are now at the National Library of Wales in Aberyswyth and Cardiff. There should be no red tape or delays in bringing the copies of Gareth’s articles and photos about Soviet Union to Ukraine. But you would have to negotiate with the library about the originals, as it is very serious about preserving Gareth’s diaries. They must reach future generations of Britons.
A Manchukuo mystery
UW: You’ve published two books about Gareth Jones based on archives. Yet the answer to the most painful and fundamental question, who caused his death, has not been found.
– My son Nigel Colley is currently working on a book about Gareth Jones in which he attempts to find out the circumstances of Gareth’s death. Even I was surprised when he took on this project. I though writing was not his thing. Later, I learned that Nigel had already published a series of articles in newspapers and had done his own investigation. In his book he expresses a strong suspicion that the NKVD was responsible for Gareth’s murder, on orders from Stalin. Possibly as revenge for his position as a journalist. As it turned out many years later, Gareth was travelling in Mongolia in a car provided by Wostwag, a German company that later turned out to have been cooperating with the soviet secret police. He was kidnapped together with his companion, a German journalist called Herbert Müller, who was released after two days. My uncle was held for 16 days, then executed. Today there is enough documentary evidence to prove that Müller was a Comintern agent in China.
Honestly, I don’t think this is the only possible scenario. Horrible as it sounds, this would have been “too much honor” for a journalist who had left the USSR and was no longer writing about it. When I started working on Gareth Jones. A Manchukuo Incident I was convinced that the Chinese were the ones behind his murder. But later, after I had studied all the available archives, I came to the conclusion that the Japanese might equally well have been a part of it. They were then occupying Manchukuo province in Inner Mongolia, which was Chinese territory. Gareth knew a lot about what the Japanese had done in the occupied territory and the danger that they would moved beyond Mongolia and into Siberia, which was soviet territory. This made him inconvenient both for Stalin and Japan.
But until documents are found that can cast some light on Gareth’s strange death, it makes no sense to confirm or deny any possibility. And such documents may well have been destroyed a long time ago. Still, even those preserved at secret police archives must contain some information on Gareth. As I said, the Soviet Union had accused him of spying and deported him. After that he stopped writing about the USSR and the famine for some time. He also no longer wrote about Germany, where big changes were taking place, even though he was very interested in the country. Instead, he suddenly started writing about Welsh culture for some reason. I suspect his silence and sudden interest in innocuous topics were likely the result of pressure from both the Brits and the soviets.
Only what matters
UW.: President Yanukovych said this year that the Holodomor was the common tragedy of all soviet republics, that it could not have been no genocide, that it was not specifically tied to Ukraine. In short, Ukraine’s leaders want us to accept the Russian interpretation of history.
– The Holodomor as a Ukrainian illusion… That’s strange indeed. If other republics and other peoples went through a similar hell, they, too, should revive their memory of the tragedy and figure out what it has meant, socially and nationally. But this doesn’t mean that the forced famine had no unique aspects in Ukraine or that its organizers did not have any political agenda.
Walter Duranty, a British-American journalist, wrote at the very peak of the famine that nobody was starving in Ukraine and everything was fine. Yet, at the very same time, he was writing to the British Ambassador in Moscow—and there are documents to prove this fact—about a man-made famine that had already taken the lives of 10 million, including 2 million in Russia, 3 million in other soviet republics, and 5 million in Ukraine. It was then that Mykola Skrypnyk, the National Commissary of Education, revealed the purge of thousands of Ukrainian intellectuals and winding down of the process of Ukrainization in Ukraine. If you read Gareth’s diaries, you can see a clear picture of reality that cannot be denied.
UW: You’ve managed to preserve the memory of Gareth in your family. Preserving historical memory of the famine is much more difficult, especially once it becomes a bargaining chip in international affairs.
– What you need is to give journalists access to archives and research about the famine and to organize many events to draw media attention to this issue. Today, as long as journalists continue to write meaningfully and with feeling about it, the memory will be preserved and handed down to the next generation. Someone should definitely arrange an exhibition of Gareth Jones’s archives in Ukraine.
UW: How did you get to know Ukraine?
– My first encounter with Ukraine was in Donetsk. I went there at the time of Orange Revolution. My grandmother, Gareth’s mother, spent 1889–1892 there as tutor to the children of Arthur Hughes, the son of John Hughes, the Welshman who founded the town of Yuzivka. Today it’s called Donetsk. I was invited to a conference at which there were many students. I sensed quite a different attitude towards the Orange Revolution there, compared to Kyiv. Later I went to Yalta and Odesa. Now I’m in Kyiv. By the way, I think it’s very important to promote the historical connection between Donetsk and Wales and to organize related exhibitions.
Gareth Richard Vaughan Jones
Born on August 13, 1905, in Barry, East Wales, Gareth Jones graduated from college in Aberswyth and then from Trinity College, Cambridge. He spoke fluent French, German and Russian. As a journalist, he reported on the US, Germany, Austria, the USSR, China, and Japan. Jones was considered an expert on the Soviet Union, especially Russia. At 25, Gareth served as Foreign Affairs Advisor to former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Jones visited Ukraine three times, including once in the middle of the Great Famine or Holodomor. He was shot a day before his 30th birthday in the Inner Mongolia, the Japanese-occupied part of China. Jones’s niece Margaret Siriol Colley has published two books about her uncle: Gareth Jones – A Manchukuo Incident in 1999 and More Than a Grain of Truth in 2005.