October 31, 1984

We must acknowledge enormity of this atrocity


(The Ukrainian Weekly, October 14, 1984, No. 42, Vol. LII)

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee: the National Center for Urban/Ethnic Affairs (NCUEA) is delighted to respond to the request for testimony on H.R. 4459 by Honorable Daniel A. Mica, chairman of the Subcommittee on International Operations. In 1983, at the request of Dr. Myron Kuropas, the board of directors of the NCUEA passed a resolution to support and to urge inter-ethnic solidarity in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Great Famine in Ukraine. The NCUEA urged all to rally support in the face of the unspeakable evil and terrible suffering caused by the Great Famine. The NCUEA resolved that:

“It is time to call attention to the heretofore neglected, ignored and brazenly denied fact that the Great Famine in Ukraine was caused by the conscious and willful Soviet public policy.

“NCUEA exhorts all to remember the 50th anniversary of the ‘man-made’ famine of 1932-33. As we acknowledge the enormity of this demonic atrocity – 6 million dead – we are moved first to weep, then to pray, but finally to proclaim: never again shall a people be sacrificed on the chopping block of public policy; never again shall we shatter human solidarity which binds together all people as valued variants of a common humanity.”

Other national and regional ethnic organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee, Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation, Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, Festa Italiana, Illinois Commission on Human Relations, German National Congress, Japanese American Citizens League, Lithuanian Council Inc., Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Polish National Alliance of the U.S. of North America, United Hellenic American Congress, and Zionist Organization of Chicago shared their sorrow and concern for the Soviet-caused famine of 1932-33. Dr. Myron Kuropas, vice-chairman of the NCUEA’s board of directors, presented an argument to your colleagues in the Senate which bears repeating:

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Last year, the Ukrainian American community commemorated the 50th anniversary of a famine engineered by Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin in which some 7 million Ukrainian men, women and children perished.

Today, the Ukrainian American community is supporting the creation of a U.S. commission to investigate the Great Famine because they want their fellow Americans to know the full story of this horrible tragedy and to understand its terrible lesson. Ukraine was the first victim of Soviet Russian imperialism and the first nation to experience Moscow’s final solution for nationalist aspirations. Ukrainian Americans want the American people to be aware of the foundation upon which Soviet power has been built, and the brutal means the Soviet Union will utilize in order to achieve its goals. The greatest threat to American security today is not the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal. Rather, it is American public ignorance of the consequences of Soviet expansionism. Stalin’s heirs are still very much alive today and their handiwork can be observed in Cambodia, Afghanistan and Central America.

Few Americans have ever heard of the Great Famine in Ukraine. This lack of knowledge is due in part to one of the most successful news management operations in history. Stalin denied the famine ever took place, and such Moscow-based American correspondents as Walter Duranty of The New York Times and Louis Fischer of The Nation sent dispatches to America during the height of the famine which tended to confirm the denial. On December 30, 1933, the Literary Digest, then a prestigious American periodical, reported that the Soviet grain harvest that year was larger than expected and all but praised Stalin for refusing “to compromise with the so-called kulaks.” Given the kind of disinformation which emanated from Moscow at the time, it is not surprising that few people believed the Ukrainian American community when it protested Moscow’s genocidal policies. Thanks to some members of the free press and others interested in portraying the USSR as a humanitarian “workers’ paradise,” the Great Famine in Ukraine was ignored. Small wonder that it is often called the “forgotten holocaust.”

Today, we have an opportunity to place the events of 1932-33 in their proper historical perspective. Today we can document the relationship which exists between unbridled imperialism and national genocide. Today we can begin to sensitize the world to the importance of an unbiased and free press in preventing a recurrence of the horrors which befell the Ukrainian people under Stalin.

Neither our scholarly institutions nor the Ukrainian American community has the resources and prestige to conduct the kind of famine investigation which could produce a complete and dispassionate recapitulation of the events which precipitated the Great Famine and the human suffering which resulted. Some research has already been conducted, but, according to Prof. James Mace, a Soviet expert at Harvard University, there is much vital information that remains untapped. Hundreds of famine survivors and Soviet defectors now living in the United States, Canada and Israel still need to be interviewed. Hundreds of U.S. government documents still need to be examined.

There are, of course, some Americans who have urged our community to forget the past, to turn the page on events which transpired 50 years ago, and to concentrate on the future. To those well-meaning friends our answer is simple. We cannot, we must not forget. As citizens of the one nation in the world which always has been a beacon of truth and humanitarian endeavor, we Ukrainian Americans have a moral obligation to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak. We remember because our memory can immunize the world against a repetition of the terrors of the Great Famine. Only a full understanding of this great tragedy and its consequences can ease our pain and set our sorrow at an endurable distance. Until we have made every effort to discover what happened in Ukraine and why, we cannot properly mourn. Until we are satisfied that the world is aware of the Ukrainian tragedy and is determined to condemn such horrors whenever and wherever they occur, we cannot heal. In the words of Elie Wiesel, chairman of the president’s Holocaust Commission and a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald “Memory is our shield, our only shield. To forget is no solution.”

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As you well know, the Senate hearings on the Ukraine famine commission included a counter argument. I wish to take exception to the conclusion of testimony on S. 2456 presented by the State Department. The Department of State argued in part that:

“…the creation of one such commission would lead inevitably to suggestions that other commissions be created – at ever-growing expense to the taxpayer – to examine issues involving the Soviet Union not covered by the narrow mandate of the first commission. For example, the substantial Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian communities might seek the creation of a commission to study the sufferings of the Baltic peoples under Stalin. The American Jewish community might seek the formation of a commission to study the plight of Soviet Jews under Stalin and after. These subjects, and many others, are legitimate and necessary subjects for study if we are better to understand the Soviet Union. We believe, however, all of these studies are more appropriately funded and undertaken by the private sector.

“Therefore, while the department fully understands the considerations which have impelled the introduction of S. 2456, we would recommend against favorable consideration of the bill at this time.”

My conversations with American ethnics reveal the following:

  • A. They are tired of public officials that neglect their citizens’ insights and scorn a useful participatory commission process which builds an informed public and sustains knowledgeable support for public policies.

  • B. They believe that public support for public policy research and citizen participation in research are essential elements of a free government which cultivates an informed public.

  • C. They are dismayed by the argument that involvement of Americans in foreign policy is divisive and not in the public interest. Active citizenship is not an unnecessary frill; it is among the fullest and highest forms of human activity.

  • D. They are perturbed by the implied predisposition of the Department of State testimony because it appears to reflect attitudes and behavior which underpin the nativist and narrow elitist public policies that have supported the squandering of second-language capacities and the disregard of natural tendencies and curiosity of young American ethnics to learn about other cultures, to learn other languages and to develop an international perspective which should play a vital part in the life of this country and the entire free world.

  • E. They are disturbed by the lack of media attention to Eastern Europe and to the human-rights issues and violations in Eastern Europe.

  • F. They are appalled by the continuation of an imperial structure in an age which requires decolonization, which recognizes the regional and local as much as the national, which fosters the spirit of pluralism, tolerance and respect and which celebrates the force of human conscience.

In support of the creation of the study commission, let me suggest that its findings may produce salutary and transferrable lessons about rich agricultural nations whose bankrupt economic, social and cultural policies ruined the capacity of a people through failed public policy. Finally, that other American ethnics supported the efforts of Ukrainian Americans is not simply a matter of mutual self-interest. Nor is it the politics of group accommodation including the amiable nod and wink to ethnics at election lime. Support for Ukrainian Americans is rather a sign that the spirit of solidarity – i.e. an act of conscience which constitutes a communion of people who do not wish to participate in a lie – is emerging among persons in America. I hope that Congress and the executive branch create this commission as a public American articulation comparable to the Polish words on the Gdansk monument erected in 1981 by the Solidarity trade union:

“You, who have wronged a simple man / Bursting into laughter at the crime… / Do not feel safe. The poet remembers. / You can slay one, but another is born. / The words are written down, the deed, the date.”

Persons of conscience and good will must remember so that adequate stories can be told; this is the purpose of the proposed commission. It is a noble public act to create the Ukraine famine commission.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.