Orwell and The Refugees: The Untold Story of Animal Farm

August 22, 2018

This book began as a speech I was asked to give at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on March 5th, 2012, which happened to be the anniversary of Stalin’s death. I collected more research than I could present in my 30-minute talk, and so I compiled this inspiring true story into Orwell and the Refugees, with original cover art by illustrator and activist Molly Crabapple.

After having spent years working on the manuscript, George Orwell struggled to find a publisher for Animal Farm. An anti-Soviet satire was not welcome at a time when the West needed Stalin to fight Hitler, and leading intellectuals still believed in the promise of the Russian Revolution. Orwell managed to publish his “fairy tale” in 1945 at a small press for £100. Six months later, a copy ended up in the hands of Ihor Ševčenko, a Ukrainian refugee who recognized its profound meaning.

Ševčenko wrote to Orwell in London, and, working with him by letter, published Animal Farm in Ukrainian. In March 1947, Ševčenko printed around 5,000 copies to distribute among the Ukrainian refugees in the displaced persons’ camps of postwar Germany and Austria. But only 2,000 books were given out; U.S. soldiers, suspecting the books of being anti-Stalin propaganda, confiscated the rest and handed them over to Soviet authorities to be destroyed.

Though my mother and father were born in Ukrainian displaced persons’ camps, after their parents had escaped the Soviet Union through the hell of the Eastern Front, it had never occurred to me that out of the 2,000 copies that survived among the 200,000 or so Ukrainian refugees, that my family might have one. As I discovered while researching my family’s history, my uncle had picked up a copy in the refugee camp when he was a teenager and brought Orwell’s masterpiece with him when he immigrated to the United States. I decided to explore the history behind this family heirloom and share it as a reminder of the humanitarian importance of speaking truth to power.

“Chalupa has produced a moving story about artistic and spiritual resistance.”
–Nelson George, author of Hip Hop America
writer & director of Brooklyn Boheme

“This is the kind of story that makes you appreciate the power of coincidence. It keeps you engaged the whole way through.”
–Ian Spector, New York Times bestselling author, The Truth About Chuck Norris

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