We are approaching Thanksgiving, but Ukrainians are remembering Holodomor, the terrible famine of 1932-1933, when Stalin’s policies led to the starvation of millions of poor Ukrainians at the incredible rate of twenty-five thousand peasants per day. The European Parliament has proclaimed it a crime against humanity, and 14 countries have branded it a genocide.
As Robert Conquest, the great historian of the Soviet Terror, has noted, the deliberate and systematic decimation of the Ukrainians (and many other ‘nationalities’ in the Soviet Empire) had two terrible effects: over the next decade or so, more than ten million peasants died. At the same time, as Bukharin bitterly remarked, the Communists who oversaw the mass murder were transformed into brutal bureaucrats for whom terror was an acceptable, normal method of carrying out “the revolution.” Brutalization at the top, murder at the bottom.
And, in another leitmotif of the modern world, there was a strenuous effort to deny what was going on, just as with the Holocaust. The most celebrated case is the New York Times’ man in Moscow, the infamous Walter Duranty, who told his readers that there was no evidence for the genocidal famine, but informed the British Charge’ in Moscow that he believed ten million peasants had been killed. To this day, the Times refuses to give back the Pulitzer Prize Duranty was awarded for his pro-Stalin “reporting” during those dark years.
Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus believes that someday all will recognize that Nazis and Communists were equally guilty of crimes against humanity. Speaking at a commemoration of the terrible famine, Adamkus warned against blaming individual nations or peoples for these horrors. Rather, we must put the blame on totalitarianism. Communism and Nazism were two variations on a single genocidal theme, and it’s time to stop making artificial distinctions between them.
“It is the last indispensable precondition for Europe’s moral and spiritual unity on the road towards mutual openness and genuine solidarity among the nations”, Adamkus said.
Fine words indeed. But they would be even more convincing if Lithuania took stronger action against the worrisome revival of antisemitism directed against the country’s miniscule Jewish population (95% of the country’s Jews were wiped out in the Holocaust). Indeed, Adamkus is right to put the Nazis and Communists on the same moral plane, but many Lithuanians have been saying and writing that Jews were in cahoots with the Soviets during the war, and were themselves guilty of genocide. This is a fantastic libel (the Lithuanian Jews were prime victims of Stalin’s killing sprees), and its clear intent is to whitewash Lithuanian collaborators with the SS mobile killing centers.
Those of us who have spent the better part of our adult lives studying the evils of totalitarian regimes know that it’s very hard to find good guys in the fascist/communist era, and for the most part, those few were killed. But the very worst thing that journalists and scholars can do is to start blaming the victims for the crimes they endured.