There are times when living among long-suffering Ukrainians gets my goat. For instance, relatives of mine have a family plot in a large cemetery. One grandmother, a grandfather, an aunt, and an uncle are buried there. These plots were among the first in a new burial ground set up in the early 1960s. For some reason, these original gravesites were arranged perpendicular to a large central oval featuring a huge monument. In back of these two rows was a set of hedges.
Over the years, the cemetery filled up. But the newer grave sites were arranged in rows parallel to the oval, not perpendicular. The entire burial ground was crossed by three access roads, leading to a ring road around the periphery of the cemetery.
Eventually, the hedges were taken down, leaving only the original double row of perpendicular graves with a small gravel footpath running down the middle.
For some reason, after the hedges came down, this footpath began to be used as a passageway for vehicles. Rather than going down the proper access roads to the periphery, trucks began to drive down the pathway. Of course, the pathway was for pedestrians and was less than a meter wide. And the grave sites started at its edges. In short, the trucks began driving over all the graves in this row.
Over time, the lower halves of these graves have begun to sink.
When my relatives told me about this, I asked, “How long has this been going on?”
“Oh, for years.”
“For years?” I was incredulous. “Hasn’t anyone said anything about it?”
“Well, you know Halychany. They don’t like to make a fuss. They’re shy.”
“Shy? You have trucks regularly driving over the graves of your nearest and dearest! What’s to be shy about?”
“Well, we’re thinking of doing something now. It snowed a lot this winter, and the ground got so soggy, that they really tore up the graves this time.”
I have a hard time understanding why anyone would bear this kind of sacrilege in silence. But that seems to be the Ukrainian way. The squeaky wheel gets Siberia.
I’ve been trying to understand where this attitude of long-sufferance comes from. The last national group that consistently responded to the blows of circumstance passively were the Jews. And the Holocaust was their wake-up call. They understood that if they didn’t do something this time, there might not be a next time.
So there are Holocaust museums all over the world. Millions of people a year visit them. For decades, Nazis have been hunted down in the far corners of the planet. Many of them, despite extreme age and poor health, were successfully brought to trial. Even though other people and groups were also persecuted by the Nazis, the Jews have owned this terrible historical event as their own. And even though some Jews also collaborated with the Nazis, the Holocaust is rightly recognized by all as genocidal.
Ukrainians should have had their wake-up call under Stalin, particularly the Holodomor of 1931-3. This forced famine was their Holocaust. But more than 70 years on, there are no Holodomor museums in Ukraine. The Ukrainian government does not officially commemorate the event. No Communists have ever been brought to trial for it. The long-suffering mentality remains.
Why? Because too many non-Ukrainians continue to question whether the Holodomor was truly genocidal. Using the Holocaust as a litmus test, one American lawyer writes:
“…As a matter of fact, there is no evidence that the Nazis had planned or intended at all times to kill the Jews of Europe. There was a time when they were looking into the possibility of mass resettlement to, for instance, Madagascar. There’s also no evidence that Hitler himself ever explicitly directed his people to exterminate the Jews, much less that he ever visited, knew or spoke about the camps. Someone could, hypothetically, argue that since there is no direct evidence in terms of an order or even a suggestion by Hitler regarding what should be done with or to the Jews, and that he didn’t really intend that all the Jews of Europe be killed and that, perhaps, the camps were a huge and tragic misunderstanding by his underlings, caused by the exigencies of war.
“On the odd chance that any of this were true, would it make any difference at all as regards our understanding of what the Nazis did to the Jews? Would we think that Nazis actions against Jews were not genocidal? Of course not.
“Why not? Because the convergence of millions of victims with the context in which those who killed them did so provides overwhelming circumstantial evidence of genocidal action—as it does with the Holodomor, even if there was no known direct order from Stalin, and even if there really were unplanned grain shortages.
“Genocidal actions cannot be considered like political assassinations or mob hits. Genocidal actions do not involve people sitting around a table discussing in advance the political and tactical pros and cons, designing a plan and then carrying it out. Genocidal actions occur when opportunity meets predisposition and attitudes.
“Did the Nazis plan WWII in order to have a cover to eliminate Jews? Did the Soviets plan a grain shortage in order to strike at Ukrainians? Does it matter? No. Each seized the opportunities presented by war or grain shortages to further their political/ideological agendas and to act on certain deep-seated animosities and fears. Where knowledge and intent are at issue in criminal matters, they are determined, in the overwhelming majority of cases, on the basis of circumstantial, not direct, evidence.”
Oh, I almost forgot to say. The cemetery in question is not in L’viv or Ternopil. It’s just outside New York City. •
(Originally published in Eastern Economist April 12, 2003)