Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s request that Israel recognize the Holodomor – the man-made famine in the Soviet Ukraine in 1932-1933 – was “unbelievable,” and an effort to promote a “double genocide theory,” Efraim Zuroff said on Tuesday.
Poroshenko made his request during a meeting with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Monday. He also referenced the famine that killed millions of Ukrainians during comments he made at Yad Vashem.
“Ukraine, as a state that suffered from the Holodomor of 1932-1933, when millions of Ukrainians were tortured by the communist Stalinist regime that committed genocide against the Ukrainian people, reverently keeps the memory of the Holocaust victims [alive] as well,” he said.
The Holodomor “is definitely not a genocide,” said Zuroff, the head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “Stalin decided he wanted to eliminate the kulaks – the private farmers – and get them all into collective farms, and totally change the nature of agriculture in Ukraine.”
Zuroff said Stalin’s forced collectivization applied to everyone, and was not solely directed at Ukrainians.
“Ukrainians were the largest number of victims, but it wasn’t directed against them, it wasn’t a plan to eliminate the Ukrainian people,” he said. “There were Jews who died from the hunger, as did Belarusians and Russians – Stalin used force to get people into his system, but was not trying to exterminate the Ukrainians. That is absurd. The largest number of victims were Ukrainians, but it was not genocide.”
There is, however, scholarly debate about the matter, with some arguing that Stalin’s policies were aimed at snuffing out Ukrainian national aspirations.
Ukraine and some 15 other countries – including Australia, Canada, Mexico and Colombia – recognize the Holodomor as genocide carried out against the Ukrainian people by the Soviet government. Five other countries have recognized it as a criminal act of the Stalinist regime.
Zuroff called on Israel not to recognize Holodomor as genocide, because if everything is genocide, nothing is. “If everyone is guilty, no one is guilty,” he said.
“One of the biggest problems we are facing now is something called the ‘double genocide theory,’ something prevalent throughout eastern Europe, where governments are trying to say that Communist crimes amounted to genocide,” he said. “They were not. If they were, then that means that Jews committed genocide. There were Jews – not out of any loyalty to the Jewish people, and usually Jews who left the Jewish community – who worked in the KGB, in the Communist security apparatus, and did horrible things. It’s true.”
The pernicious subtext of this argument, he said, is that if Jews committed genocide, what right do they then have to complain against the genocide committed in eastern Europe during the Holocaust by people who collaborated with the Nazis.
Zuroff said that Communist crimes should not be characterized as genocide because the Communists did not want to wipe a people off the face of the earth.
“It was not ethnically oriented, it was economically and politically oriented – these were crimes against a particular class of people, like the kulaks – or against political opponents,” Zuroff asserted. This was not, he said, an effort “to destroy a people.”
Israel, Zuroff said, has not stood up strongly enough in the face of this type of Holocaust distortion in eastern Europe. According to Zuroff, Israel’s leaders should be telling guests from eastern Europe, “We appreciate our new friendship with you, we are not blaming you for any crimes, it is your grandparents who committed the crimes, but this is simply unacceptable.”
Zuroff also took Israel’s leadership to task for not publicly calling out the Ukrainian president for his country’s turning people who killed Jews into national heroes. In fact, on the day Poroshenko was in Israel, a plaque was dedicated to Symon Petliura on a street in Kiev bearing his name.
Pelitura was the commander of the Ukrainian Army and president during Ukraine’s short-lived sovereignty from 1918-1921 when some 35,000 to 50,000 Jews were killed in pogroms. Of more than 1,200 pogroms during this period, nearly 500 were carried out by soldiers under Petliura’s command.
He also said that Ukraine has made heroes out of Ukrainian nationalists such as Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych who collaborated with the Nazis in the mass murder of Jews during the initial months of the Nazi invasion.
Zuroff lamented that “we didn’t say a word to Poroshenko about antisemitism on the day they put a plaque up for Petliura.”
Instead, he said, President Reuven Rivlin praised Poroshenko for “strong words and actions against antisemitism in Ukraine.”
“There has not been a single conviction in Ukraine against a person who committee antisemitism,” Zuroff said. “This is ridiculous – talk about fake news.”
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