Study would break "wall of silence"

Rep. James J. Florio, sponsor of H.R. 4459.

Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to testify in support of my bill, H.R. 4459, which calls for a Congressional study of the Ukraine famine of 1932-33. I would like to commend this subcommittee for scheduling a hearing and affording this issue the opportunity to be discussed and debated.

Over 50 years ago, famine struck the Ukraine and resulted in the deaths of approximately 7 million people. Throughout history, natural disasters such as famines and droughts have plagued even the most fertile regions and caused tragedy and destruction. What is both cruel and unnatural about the Ukraine famine of 1932-33 is the fact that this famine was induced by Soviet authorities. It was a deliberate effort to subjugate an entire race and eradicate dissenters.

In the 1930s, Stalin initiated a systematized grain collectivization program. The bulk of the 1932 and 1933 grain crop from the Ukraine - the breadbasket of the Soviet Union - was exported. In 1918, the Soviets had brutally suppressed the Ukrainians and incorporated their nation into the Soviet Union, denying them the right to self-determination. Though they were under Soviet domination, the Ukrainians never lost the desire for freedom and independence. To ensure that the Ukrainians would never again have the courage to fight their conquerors, and, at the same time, to provide food for the rest of the Soviet Union, the Soviet government exported the Ukraine grain crop.

Grain was seized from Ukrainian homes and granaries; importation of food into the region was banned. The death penalty was imposed on anyone discovered hoarding food. The area was quarantined to prevent peasants from leaving in search of food and reporting the horrors they had witnessed to the world. In 12 months, 7 million people starved to death.

Mr. Chairman, the Soviets would have to shoot down 71 airliners a day for a year to match the devastation of this famine.

Their tragedy ranks among the great genocides of the 20th century and parallels the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust. But because Soviet authorities suppressed information and restricted press reports to the West, very little is known about the famine today. History has given it the name of the "Forgotten Holocaust."

When Allied troops occupied Nazi Germany and entered the death camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz, the Nazis' unspeakable crime against humanity was uncovered for the world to see. Testimonies of survivors were recorded, photographs taken, memorials planned. This documentation would forever fix the horror in the minds of men, remind them of the evil and, hopefully, prevent a repeat.

In contrast, the Ukrainian tragedy is not given more than a sentence in most history books. Soviet history books refer to it as the agricultural difficulties of the 1930s. Ironically, our nation formally recognized the Soviet Union in 1933, as millions were dying of starvation.

Mr. Chairman, it is our moral responsibility not to let this tragedy go down in the history books as the "Forgotten Holocaust." As Elie Wiesel once said, "Memory is our shield" against future inhumanity.

For this reason, I introduced H.R. 4459, a year ago, to create a Congressional commission to study the causes and effects of this tragedy. In this one year, 120 of our colleagues and a majority of this committee have supported this effort by becoming co-sponsors. The other body has already passed an amended companion bill by voice vote.

My bill would create a bipartisan and judicious Congressional commission that would study this tragedy with objectivity. This study will break the wall of silence and provide a lesson for the future. Even now, famine continues to be used as a weapon in Ethiopia and Afghanistan. Within three years, the study's results would be made available to Congress, the State Department, educational institutions, libraries and the general public.

It has been said that the commission's mandate is too narrow to warrant a federal commission. To this I say: The famine of the Ukraine affected not only Ukrainians but other nationalities as well. The commission would be charged with studying all the effects of this famine on the Ukrainian nation and on other nationalities as well.

It has been said that the commission would be bureaucratically top-heavy setting up 21 highly paid members. To this I say: only the 12 public members would be paid on a part-time basis. The other body has appropriated $400,000 over a two-year period for this study. We spend millions on sophisticated weapons systems competing with the Soviets, our rivals. Can we not redirect some of that money towards studying and understanding the Soviet system? We must not forget that several of those involved in the grain collectivization program are leaders in the Soviet government today. Only by understanding their system can we begin to solve tensions that have plagued the two superpowers throughout the 20th century.

It has been said that the research called for in this study has been adequately performed by the private sector. If so, why then are so few people aware of this tragedy? Scholars agree that the private sector cannot begin to undertake a study with the scope and credibility of a Congressional commission. A Congressional commission is a way of reaffirming our government's concern about this famine and similar famines in regions where food is used as a weapon.

Finally, it has been said that this would set a bad precedent for other ethnic groups who would want a similar commission set up to study the tragedies in their history. This is not a Ukrainian or an ethnic issue. It is a human-right issue. To judge this request on the basis of possible future requests is unfair. Let us judge the merit of those request when and if they are made.

I would like to underscore for you our obligation to the victims and to the survivors in ensuring that never again will a tragedy like the Ukraine famine be repeated. Only when we begin to study, to analyze, to question and to remember, can we honestly say, "never again." I thank you for your consideration.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, October 14, 1984, No. 42, Vol. LII

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