The email from my Florida tennis captain was political rather than recreational. Forwarded on behalf of a fellow player, a longtime Jewish organization official from New York, it said:
Recently, the UK removed the Holocaust from its school curriculum because it "offend" the Moslem population which claims it never occurred. This is a frightening portent of the fear that is gripping the world and how easily each country is giving in to it. It is now more than 60 years after the Second World War in Europe ended. This e-mail is being sent as a memorial chain, in memory of the six million Jews, 20 million Russians … murdered, massacred, raped, burned, starved and humiliated with the German and Russian peoples looking the other way!
"This e-mail is intended to reach 40 million people worldwide! Please send it to at least 10 people you know and ask them to continue the memorial chain.
The email troubled me. Should tennis be politicized? Should I ignore the errors in the mailing? Risk alienating Jewish mates by countering? Remain silent? This was my response:
Regretfully, I won't be forwarding. The note contains errors and omissions which I would be endorsing were I to send it on. Fyi, some 10 million, of the 20 million dead attributed to "Russians" were Ukrainian. Most battles of the War's Eastern front were fought in Ukraine. It suffered the greatest War losses of any nationality.
For some reason these facts are too often missing in statements dealing with WWII and the Soviet period as are other truths: that Hitler learned genocide from Soviet Communists; that Joseph Stalin and his deputy Lazar Kaganovych were the chief architects of the Great Famine 1932-33 which starved some 10 million Ukrainians a decade before Hitler's atrocities. The Soviet collaborators devised starvation as an instrument to eradicate the "minorities problem" -- the elimination of nations resisting conversion to Communism's universal "Soviet man". Today such evil is called ethnic cleansing.
While there is condemnation of the heinous Nazis crime attempts to erase the Ukrainian genocide by silence is instructive. Had there been a global outrage against Soviet atrocities, Hitler might not have dared to follow suit. Instead, there were prizes: The New York Times reporter Walter Duranty received the Pulitzer for falsely denying the Famine; Stalin became Time's Man of the Year. Clearly powerful left-wing lobbyists were at work in New York and Washington for this to happen.
The denial of the Famine continues. Petitions to rescind Duranty's award, led by the remarkable American academic Dr. James Mace, were dismissed. It continues to puzzle that Hollywood, with its keen eye for human tragedy, has remained silent on as big a story as the Famine despite links, and therefore knowledge, of many of its greats, including Stephen Spielberg, to Ukraine.
It makes one wonder whether such silence by humanity's collective conscience is systemic.
Recently, Ukraine's Head of the State Archives Committee, a former Communist, stated that she would not be making available documents from the Communist era. Media reported that Olga Ginsberg brazenly undermined the creation of the Memorial Museum dealing with the Famine and other Communist atrocities by asking "Who needs it? My generation does not need it. What generation needs to be told about the Soviet occupation?" Her boss, Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk, did not ask her to resign.
If you agree to follow up your earlier comments with mine, I will gladly assist you in reaching your 40 million distribution target.
I wondered how my note would be received. Would there be comments about politicizing the tennis group? Support? Accusations of me too-ism, a popular dismissive technique used to silence attempts to highlight the Ukrainian genocide when pointing out that the Jewish genocide is not unique? Would I be accused of anti-Semitism by fingering Lazar Kaganovych?
Her reply came a few days later:
Maybe I have misunderstood the points you were making but during the period Ukraine has a lot of blood on its hands as well as the Nazis and the Soviets. One of the worst events took place outside of Kiev in Babyn Yar and is one that Jews will not forget. It took the Ukraine's government until the 1990's to put up a memorial for the lost Jewish Ukrainian lives i.e. an attempt to forget the unforgivable.
She follows with a lengthy piece from the Jewish Virtual library on the event where I saw no mention that of the 100,000 people massacred in Babyn Yar, more than two thirds were Ukrainians; one third Jews. She made no mention to the Great Famine or Lazar Kaganovych.
I consider whether to continue the exchange or keep my peace. Nino Ricci, Canada's preeminent award-winning author of The Testament provided the answer. Ricci has Christ asking: what do I stand for if I only stand for peace?
I was in Babyn Yar honouring all its dead, for all human beings are equal in their right to life, freedom and more -- as the UN Charter of Rights elaborates. All are entitled to have the evils against them exposed and not suppressed by silence.
Having traveled to Ukraine you may know that Victor Pinchuk, Kyiv's leading billionaire -- one of Fortune's 100 richest men in the world list -- is funding a Jewish Holocaust museum there. Also, he collaborated with Hollywood's Stephen Spielberg in a recent movie about the plight of Jews in Ukraine under Nazi occupation. While Spielberg has made several movies, including the Academy Award winner, The Pianist, about the Jewish Holocaust, as have others, none has been made about Ukraine's loss of life in the Famine Holocaust nor about its giant War effort against the Nazis. Typically, Ukrainians are mentioned only in a negative light; their contributions lumped into the "Soviet" or "Russian" effort.
It would be a worthy history lesson and do wonders for good inter group relations, if both our sides come together to honour the incredible devastation of each of our peoples.
Will it happen? Will influential people like Pinchuk and Spielberg correct the conspiracy of silence that surrounds the Famine? Will officials like Ginsberg be made to resign for inappropriate statements? Will politicians like Tabachnyk be forced to leave politics for failing to hold her accountable? Such actions would happen in Europe, the United States, or Canada. To be well regarded Ukraine too needs to move to this level of democratic responsibility; its Orange forces must seek such resignations; and its large diaspora and all freedom-loving people of the world must encourage such action. There must be zero tolerance for Soviet atrocities. Moreover, condoning evil by silence is a crime against humanity.
If we cannot agree on this point, we have learned nothing and genocides will continue to rage.
Oksana Bashuk Hepburn is writing a book about three generations of women in Canada and Ukraine between the War and the Orange Revolution era.
[W.Z. Re: "20 million Russians". In the early 1990s, Mikhail Gorbachev stated that the number of Soviet deaths during WWII numbered 27 million. This figure was later repeated by President George Bush Sr. It is estimated that about one-third of these victims were of Ukrainian origin.]