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16.11.2007 | Halya Coynash

Before and after

   

I wonder if you remember when you first found out about the Holocaust.  I do.  No loud phrases about turning points – I was a child.  Yet there was most definitely before and after, and that was never to be erased from my memory.

With Holodomor there was only ever after. I can’t remember not knowing why my father simply couldn’t throw any food away.

Twenty years ago I tried to tell a friend’s father about Holodomor. His response left me speechless: “Yes, we in the West don’t know about that”.  No past tense, no before and after, He hadn’t known and didn’t.  Friends in Russia who read Conquest’s “Harvest of Sorrow” and the books about the Terror I smuggled into the country were however devastated.  In 1988 they were never going to be able to say we don’t know about that.

And yet twenty years later how many still apparently don’t know. 

My words here are not aimed at providing evidence that the grain was taken away, that people were shot or arrested for hiding food for their children.  That they established armed guards around villages.  That the famine knew borders and those borders enclosed Ukraine and an area mostly populated by Ukrainians (Kuban).  The recent UNESCO statement spoke of the terrible tragedy of Holodomor, but spoke also of famines throughout the Soviet Union.  Provide your evidence please that in any part of the Soviet Union not mainly occupied by Ukrainians people were prevented at gunpoint from trying to save themselves and their children from starvation. 

I can provide you with any proof you desire of the facts I mention above. They have been gathered by reputable historians, both Ukrainian and foreign, together with documents recently made public by the Ukrainian Security Service. 

I can present it all, but if there is no will to listen, then I am powerless.  Since Malcolm Muggeridge first had the courage to flee the USSR in order that the world learned about the crime being perpetrated, there have been many voices persistently telling the truth. This was while George Bernard Shaw dined with Stalin and “saw” nothing, and while Walter Duranty positively distorted the facts. Against the determined wish not to know, voices telling the truth can still fail to be heard.

What is most distressing and at the deepest level inexplicable is the role presently taken by Russia.  It is after all the “undesirable” reaction from Russia which is making so very many governments, including the British, loath to recognize what is, frankly, hard to ignore. Those Russian friends twenty years ago who were harrowed by the crimes concealed for so long did not react in some bizarrely defensive manner.  They had no need to deny the crime in order to feel better.  Why, indeed should they? 

We were then looking back at a time when in different ways our relatives had all been victims of a regime which treated human beings with contempt.  It is deeply disturbing that Russia over the last years has been marking out a new role for itself.  If the present regime wishes to stress its role as successor to the Soviet regime, it is free to do so, but not at the expense of the truth.

A wrong was done the Ukrainian nation 75 years ago.  Whether Stalin was driven by the desire to crush specifically Ukrainians, or a society which was stubbornly opposed to collectivization, may be arguable. Here too, incidentally, the Russian Security Service is not hurrying to declassify archival material about the 1930s, as Ukraine has already done. There are issues for historians to discuss.  

The closed borders, the deliberate removal of all food and the millions of victims are not disputable, they are to be recognized.

A wrong is done the world and each human being when we turn our gaze away. The reasons, political, geopolitical, economic or other may vary, the betrayal does not.

We welcome the call in the UNESCO Resolution calling for knowledge about Holodomor to be “disseminated to ensure that the lessons of this tragic page are inculcated in young generations”.  It is precisely the will to know that was lacking for so many years, fuelled by the Soviet regime which had obvious motives for hiding its crime. 

Neither Russia, nor the world, nor you and I have any excuse to not know.

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