A debate over how the Canadian Museum for Human Rights balances the Holocaust and other genocides has a new flashpoint: a poll that purports to oppose giving the Holocaust primacy of place, though even the pollster himself says the poll has been misinterpreted.The one community that has been especially angered by this decision is the Ukrainian one. The argue that their Holodomor, the Stalinist persecution in which millions of them died, is as significant as the Holocaust and that if the Jews get their own wing then so do they.
The federally-funded museum, originally the dream of the late Israel Asper and set to open in about two years in Winnipeg, will have an area dedicated to the murder of six million Jews during the Second World War.
Other mass atrocities — including the Rwandan massacres, the Cambodian Killing Fields and the planned starvation and execution of at least 3.2 million Ukrainians in the 1930s under Stalin — will be housed together in an adjacent area.
It is a point that has angered many ethnic groups in Canada, particularly those from Eastern Europe, who feel their misfortunes will be placed on a lower rung on a hierarchy of suffering.
One could easily argue successfully with them on this point. First one should note that as far as mass atrocities go the Holocaust is unique. Name any other major massacre in 20th century history and you will see the obvious differences. The Rwandan and Cambodian slaughters were the result of a government turning on its own citizens in order to secure political control. The Ukrainians were similarly killed by Stalin, y"sh, to prove a point: don't mess with Moscow or else.
The Holocaust was unique in that one national group, the Germans, made it their overriding policy to wipe out another national group, that would be us Jews, no matter where we were. It wasn't about ridding Germany of its Jews. It was about ridding the world. The Holocaust was also unique in that the persecuted group was not a threat to the attackers. Unlike the other massacres mentioned where civil war, tribal loyalites or the need to show political power were concerns the Holocaust was about killing Jews simply because they were Jews. Finally, the Holocaust was unique in how not just the Germans but many other nations, including many allied with or occupied by the Nazis, y"sh, along with many actively fighting them otherwise cooperated to ensure that only a bare minimum of Jews could escape the horror being perpetrated against them.
Although in the decades since the war most of the countries directly involved in the Holocaust have expressed at least some statements of regret (even as many of them ironically make strong efforts to repeat the Holocaust in Israel through their open support of our enemies) one such nation that seems not to care about what happened on its soil is the Ukraine:
It seems parts of Europe are less tolerant now than they were in the 16th century. Last week, I watched as bulldozers began to demolish the adjacent remnants of what was once one of Europe's most beautiful synagogue complexes, the 16th-century Golden Rose in Lviv. Most of the rest of the synagogue was burned down, with Jews inside, by the Nazis in 1941.
During the war, 42 other synagogues were destroyed in Lviv, which from the middle ages to the 20th century was known by its Austrian (and Yiddish) name, Lemberg, and then called Lvov after the Soviets annexed it in 1945. The remnants of the Golden Rose are one of the few remaining vestiges of Jewish existence in Lviv, the majority of whose residents, in 1940, were Jewish.
It is not only morally wrong for bulldozers to drill through the last traces of this vibrant past without first giving the handful of remaining Jews here a chance to restore this site, or turn it into a place of memorial. It is legally wrong too. Ukraine's own laws are designed to preserve such historic sites.
The Ukrainian authorities are not the only ones at fault. Where is the UN cultural organization UNESCO? The synagogue ruins were designated part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.
And where is European soccer body UEFA? The Ukrainians are planning to build a hotel on the site to host fans and players at next year's European soccer championships, the world's third most-watched sporting event, which they are co-hosting with Poland. So much for UEFA's much-hyped campaign to "Kick racism out of football." (In addition to there being residual anti-Semitism in Ukraine, the authorities seem to be motivated by cultural and historical crassness and illiteracy, and denial of the past, as well as real-estate greed.)
During the Holocaust, 420,000 Jews, including over 100,000 children, were murdered in Lviv and its environs, more than in almost any other city in Europe. The killing was so efficient that the Nazis organized transports of Romanian and Hungarian Jews to be brought here to be killed once they were done killing the Polish and Ukrainian Jews. There were almost no survivors.
Yet you will hardly find any reference to this in the official guide books or in the museums of Lviv. There is no monument to the murdered Jews in Lviv's old town.
A few elderly people still remember. One Ukrainian woman who approached me last week as I stood at what used to be the ghetto entrance told me she remembered, as a child, seeing Jews whipped as they were forced to walk on their knees back and forth for hours until they collapsed, and were then shot while Nazis laughed.
In the end, this is why the Holodomor might deserve its own wing in the museum. Like the Holocaust it too has a unique feature: its victims, when given the chance, did to the Jews what the Soviets, y"sh, did to them. The idea that a people could suffer in such a way and then learn absolutely nothing moral about it, could remain as cruel as their oppressors, is certainly unique.It should be remembered that the Ukraine has an extensive history of Jew hatred including the worst massacres of Jews between the destruction of the Second Temple (may it speedily be rebuilt) and the Holocaust, the Cheilmnitsky pogroms. It should come as no surprise that Ukraine today has no interest in remember its enthusiastic participation in the Holocaust. They can't come right out and wear it as a badge of pride but perhaps intentional neglect of history is a suitable substitute for them.