Historical events often become a cause for conflict when they are used for political struggle. That is what happened in the Ukrainian case around the topics of the Holodomor and the Holocaust. Their comparison and opposition are already fixed at the public level. The conflict lies in the fact that discussions around the recognition of the Holodomor as genocide continue to this day, which is still not recognized as genocide by some countries (including Israel).
It is perceived as a differentiation of the victims (who suffered more/indeed suffered or who deserves recognition/commemoration/etc.). This differentiation of victims is based on the division into “ours” (ethnic Ukrainians) and “yours” (ethnic Jews).
I want to show the artificiality of this modern form of juxtaposition through the testimonies of those who survived both tragedies, the Holodomor and the Holocaust, on the territory of Ukraine. Both events took place on the territory of modern Ukraine, and the time interval between them was less than a decade.
The first case is the story of Tsilya Benyaminovna Shport, who was born on November 1, 1925, in the village of. Kirnasovka, Tulchinsky district, Vinnytsia region. She came from a poor family of factory workers. Her mother fell ill in 1932, so the family had to send the respondent’s one-year-old sister to an orphanage. She was taken back from the orphanage only after 1933 because the family had a hard time going through the events of the Holodomor. The little sister returned from the orphanage with illnesses caused by a lack of food. Tsilya was still a child, but she recalls how she had to cook “acacia pancakes” because there was very little food. This case is specific to the Ukrainian villages that suffered the most from the Holodomor of 1932-1933. It is only here that we can find survivors who went through both the Holodomor and the Holocaust.
During the Holocaust, Tsilya was in a concentration camp called “Dead Loop” in the village of Peshchery, Vinnytsia region. One of the most emotional themes in her story was the theme of food. Remembering the lack of food, she stutters a little in the story. Tsilya notes what a horror it is to watch people die of hunger. She compares this to 1933 when during the Holodomor in her village of Kirnasovka, she saw swollen corpses. The bodies of those who died in the camp, Tsilya calls “relics,” that is, dried up. Tsilya says that when you see such a figure, you understand that this person is doomed to a quick death.
You can also find many memories of the interaction of Jews with the local Ukrainian population.
Here is what S. Vayman came to in his memoirs of the ghetto in Popovtsy: ‘The Ukrainians were very supportive of us. Why Ukrainians supported us? Because they experienced the famine of 1933. And so, they supported the Jews as much as they could. As far as they could.’
Similar memories exist about the ghetto in Ostrog which V.Valdman survived: ‘But there were many such people from Ostrog, who came up to the ghetto, Ukrainians. They even tossed bread to us.’
Here is what a typical scene during the Holocaust on the territory of Ukraine looked like: ‘Those valuable things that were left, people exchanged for bread. And there were such Ukrainians who saw that these people were coming and chasing us, so they threw a piece of bread to everyone.’
Thus, we mainly see the cases of exchanging various things for food or simple help.
Gitterman from Yampol also emphasized the role of the local Ukrainian population: ‘If it were not for people of Ukrainian nationality, we would certainly not have survived.’ At the same time, she notes that they helped in secret because assistance to the Jewish population was prohibited, to the extent that harboring a Jew was punishable by death.
Repeatedly in the records of memoirs, one can find gratitude to the Ukrainian population. Of course, in this case, we should not forget about the “survival bias” – that is, the cognitive error of those who managed to survive. Above all, all these memories are united by the fact that these people survived in conditions of extreme violence. Unfortunately, it is impossible to learn about the life and death of other Jews who died during the Holocaust in Ukraine.
Summing up, can we say that these cases somehow deny the existence of anti-Semitism in Ukraine? No, and that is not the purpose of this text.
Moreover, anti-Semitism did not end with the Holocaust. If we look at the history of anti-Semitism in Soviet Ukraine, we will see that the situation only worsened. And now, we can see how this kind of xenophobia is taking on new forms.
The purpose of this message is to show more widely the history of Ukrainian Jewry and Ukrainian-Jewish relations. This stereotype occurs on both sides of the debate, partly based on the speculative use of historical material. It is being used as an excuse for modern Ukrainian anti-Semites, who often believe that they support the traditions of Ukrainianism.
Here I reveal only one facet of the role of Ukrainians in the Holocaust – the history of witnesses or those who committed righteous acts. There have been other opposite cases involving structural violence, which made possible the various types of individual violence by those who received a disproportionate amount of power (for example, the Ukrainian police). However, this is a topic for a separate study.
As we have seen, survivors of both the Holodomor and the Holocaust tend to compare the events. But, since these comparisons are significantly different from those that now dominate the public field, I decided to share them. Nowadays, these comparisons are used as a politicized tool for building a Ukrainian national myth, which only exacerbates relations in such a multicultural and multicultural country as Ukraine. This myth creates an irrational situation where the history of Eastern European Jews who lived for generations on the territory of Ukraine is not considered part of Ukrainian history. Unfortunately, only one of many cases with an example of this tendency is described rather than a single exception.