Dr Lubomyr Luciuk
The late, great Israel Asper knew nothing is free. Public funds have a price.
So he promised the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, underwritten with federal,
provincial and municipal contributions, would include exhibits on the
internment of Japanese and Ukrainian Canadians and the Chinese Head Tax. Good.
But Mr. Asper's catholic vision appalled many who wanted a focus on the
Holocaust, "unique" not simply as "one of a kind," which it was, but exalted
as the most important, perhaps even the only genocide in history.
Inherently discriminatory for casting out the memory of millions of
non-Jews enslaved or murdered, this bias renders the concept useless.
If only one group experienced "genocide" what cautionary value does
enshrining their nightmare have. Or, put differently, if what the
Nazis did can't occur again, should taxpayers finance another museum
(dozens already exist across North America) about what happened
elsewhere, over a half-century ago.
Writing on this subject, Professor Barney Sneiderman conceded the
Holocaust was not a greater evil than other mass murders. Yet because
the Nazis intended to destroy all Jews, and brought an assembly line
to the slaughter, he wants this tragedy accepted as somehow different.
Israel Asper believed it was too, segregating 20% of the museum's
permanent space for a Holocaust Gallery. Gail Asper and Moe Levy
intend to do likewise although, to be fair, she recently told a
Ukrainian audience in Winnipeg that this community would be "100%
satisfied" with what her associates create.
Indisputably, Hitler's minions killed Jews throughout Europe. If somehow
they had conquered the world they may have tried to expunge all Jews. We
shall never know for, thankfully, the Nazis were erased. Millions died,
but Jews survived. Out of revulsion over their massacre Israel was secured,
an ultimate refutation of Hitlerism.
Yet as Europe was liberated Stalin and the architects of the genocidal
Great Famine of 1932-1933 endured. Not only did Ukraine lose more people
than any country in Nazi-occupied Europe but a greater number perished in
the Holodomor than all the Jews murdered in the six years of the Second
World War. The Holodomor was as deliberate an act of a perverted State
as the Holocaust. What is different is that the latter was stopped when
the Nazis were. The man-made Famine started and ended on Stalin's say-so.
Who denies the Holocaust? Nuts and know-nothings. Victims have freedom to
recall it. In contrast Holodomor survivors often won't speak. After the
war millions of "Soviet Ukrainians" press-ganged into the Third Reich
were left in Western Europe. The Yalta Agreement decreed every "Soviet
citizen" must "go home." A host were repatriated forcibly.
Avoiding repatriation required lying. Righteous Western Ukrainians
surreptitiously coached Eastern Ukrainians about everyday life in interwar
Poland, to help fool screening. How many "Soviet citizens" were rescued?
No one knows. But I have met many so saved, some not long ago in Winnipeg.
Knowing that denaturalization and deportation are penalties for obtaining
Canadian citizenship falsely, they can't bear witness. Many were liars
Until 1991, when the Communist canker exfoliated, its barkers were all
famine deniers. A bevy brayed how Ukrainians who refused to return to
the "Soviet Motherland" were rogues, concoctors of a preposterous "myth"
about famine-genocide, aimed at diverting attention from their misdeeds as
"Nazi collaborators." To challenge their calumnies meant risking the brand
of Right wing émigré, or worse. Few dared.
Anxieties also persist over what might happen "back home" if one is too
vocal about the Soviet past. Yesteryear's apparatchiks remain influential,
undercutting calls for prosecution of Communist crimes against humanity.
While victims are officially remembered, the fourth Saturday every November,
the Holodomor is not yet a rallying point of national consciousness, akin
to the Holocaust. Israel never forgets the six million. Ukraine pretends
the remains of many millions more do not impregnate its chernozem, its black
The Holodomor harvested Ukrainian society, the only song left in many villages
the demented chortling of cannibals. Ukraine remains a post-genocidal society,
feculent for ignoring this past. Whereas the Holocaust's engineers were punished,
Ukraine's reapers were not. And History fails to condemn them for Moscow refuses
to release critical archives. The Russians even lobbied at the United Nations
to ensure the Holodomor was not declared genocide. Would German diplomats dare
to sidebar the Shoah? Inconceivable.
Similar signals of ignorance and intolerance can be detected in the vociferous
attacks aimed at Mel Gibson for his film The Passion. Ever quick to deploy
allegations of anti-Semitism, his critics portray Gibson as a Holocaust denier
because he has dared remember the non-Jews who perished and even victims of
the Great Famine. It was even said that millions of Ukrainians "dying in a
famine" (implying it was a natural phenomena) cannot be compared to millions
dying by gas. Quite right. But I don't have the chutzpah to offer an opinion
as to which was worse.
The Great Famine was the genocide few knew of. Many still try to ensure that
we never learn more. If the Canadian Museum of Human Rights is to become world
class this truth must be told there. And all the Holocaust's victims should
be hallowed together, as they died. No "Olympics of suffering," highlighting
one tribe, creed or nationality over others, is acceptable.
When the Ukrainian Canadian community endorsed this museum it forthrightly
stated that inclusiveness must prevail over partiality. I'd like to think
that's what Izzie wanted. Regrettably, his stewards continue to dodge making
their plans plain. So let me be. Ms. Asper's guarantee of "100% satisfaction"
will be met only if the many millions of Ukraine's victims are not marginalized,
somehow made less worthy of memory than the Holocaust's victims. The Holodomor
was arguably the greatest act of genocide in 20th century Europe. Recognizing
that would not only ensure that the proposed Canadian Museum of Human Rights
is a unique institution, it would make it a truly world class one as well.
Dr Lubomyr Luciuk is director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association