February 13, 1983

Remembering the famine


On January 26, due largely to the efforts of Metropolitan Mstyslav of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, 60 representatives of 45 Ukrainian organizations met in South Bound Brook, N.J., to form a national committee for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Great Famine in Ukraine. The formation of the committee – tentatively named the National Public Committee to Commemorate the Memory of the Victims of the Great Famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine – came in the nick of time. Inexplicably, until that meeting, and with the anniversary year already upon us, the Ukrainian community did not have a national body dealing with what was unquestionably one of the greatest holocausts of this century. And, it should be noted, one of the least publicized.

This latter point, of course, makes the need for a national committee all the more obvious. The Great Famine, which resulted in the death by starvation of some 7 million Ukrainians, is, because of its tragic scope, more than a Ukrainian tragedy. It ranks among the most grisly examples of cold and calculated genocide in modern times, events such as the slaughter of 6 million Jews by the Nazis, the massacre of some 4 million Armenians by the Turks and the annihilation of some 4-6 million Kampucheans by Pol Pot. The difference is that, unlike these other events, few people know it happened.

Stalin’s unthinkable crime against the Ukrainian people is a blot on the conscience of humanity. It must be understood, discussed and etched permanently into souls of mankind. Ukrainians ought not – must not – be burdened alone with the painful knowledge of a tragedy of such unbelievable magnitude.

For this reason, local or municipal anniversary observances, concerts, panels or symposia must be conjoined with a national strategy to bring the horrible truth of this holocaust to the attention of the United States and, indeed, the world. This is clearly not the time for the Ukrainian community, as it too often does, to take an insular stance, to suffer its terrible grief and outrage in private. In so doing, we would only be compounding our own frustration, knowing that the lives of nearly 7 million Ukrainian martyrs and their awful sacrifice, may mean virtually nothing to mankind, and may be lost to its history. And, in the final analysis, we would have only ourselves to blame.

Hence, we should all see to it that this national committee is more than another vehicle for mourning our dead. Ukrainians everywhere must get involved in a coordinated attempt to galvanize mass community support with the aim of informing the world about the Great Famine. The national press should be deluged with letters or op-ed pieces about our holocaust, demonstrations should be organized, articles written to various journals and magazines. But, perhaps more importantly, one huge, national rally should be organized, either in New York or Washington, that would bring tens of thousands of Ukrainians together in a rare show of solidarity around this issue which transcends our community’s petty in-house politics.

It would not, we suggest, be melodramatic to say that a failure to successfully bring the famine to the attention of the world, or to commemorate it in unity, would mark a low point in Ukrainian community life. It is difficult to imagine how a community could go on living with itself knowing that 7 million of its brothers and sisters were killed by a planned genocidal policy, and it kept the news to itself. If this should happen, the guilt, frustration and sense of impotency chronically plaguing our community would only get worse.

This is by no means a hysterical position. The responsibility is truly monumental when we realize that the memory of 7 million lost lives are at stake. But we must have confidence in our own abilities and we must strive together. A national committee is unquestionably a step in the right direction. Now it is time to get down to work.