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The Holodomor and Jewish Self-pity, by Raymond Zwarich

In 1934, it was a bumper crop year on the fertile steppes of Ukraine. The spring and summer rains had been generous, and had come at just the right times. The dark chernozem soil was always moist, but never too wet. Deeper down, where the roots could drink their fill in the hot blessed sun, the water was always plentiful. The wheat berries were fat as the grain tuned golden in the fall.

But as the yeoman peasant farmers swung their sickles and scythes, and the sheaves were stacked, where the women and children then loaded them into the wagons, none had any idea, as they sang the happy songs of a bountiful harvest, that in Moscow, 500 hundred miles to the north from their sun-kissed fields, a deadly nefarious plot was brewing in the mind of a ruthless man.

Stalin needed to keep the workers happy, but he also needed to figure out a way for the communist state to compete in a depressed world economy. The success of the entire communist ‘experiment’ was at stake. He had to increase production. He needed to equip Soviet factories with more modern machinery.

But he had no money for that, and the terrible plot was hatched as his eyes fell on that bumper crop of grain.

He took it. All of it. He sold it on the world market at a good price, and used the money to buy the factory machinery. He stationed the Red Army on every road and pathway, to trap the Ukrainian peasants in their deadly fate.

He had a secondary motive as well, as he wanted to get these peasants off their land anyway. It was already much more efficient to work large tracts of land with large machinery, than to have these primitive peasants work their small plots and cut the grain with their scythes and sickles. (The ironically ‘infamous’ hammer and sickle emblem of the communist state notwithstanding).

What better way than to starve them? So it was a two birds one stone proposition.

The peasants died that winter in uncountable numbers. When I heard this story at the knees of my own family’s elders, they claimed twenty million died over that one horrible winter. That is almost surely a great exaggeration. Historians think it was somewhere between 3 and 10 million, with 6 to 7 million the most likely number.

With all the Ukrainians trapped in this deadly fate, no word even reached the people in Moscow that winter. They had no idea of the terrible horror that was taking place those hundreds of miles to the south. But it is said that by the time spring brought the Muskovites out of their winter hibernations, the stench of death was so strong on the southern breezes that the truth rode on the rumors the south wind carried with it. 

How many of us have “forgotten” this? Very few, I think.

Is this historical crime, this genocide, still poignant then, in our minds? No, it is not. Few Americans, and indeed few of the world’s citizens, have forgotten this, because few living persons have ever even KNOWN it.

If only Ukrainians were more self-centered in promoting their own legacy, (as certain other ethnic groups have so successfully been), I guess we’d have museums and monuments to this great “Famine of ’34”.

When I was a young apprentice carpenter, the first time I smashed by thumb with my hammer, and felt the nasty blood blister well instantly and throb its first stabs of immense pain beneath the nail, I looked to the master carpenter next to me, eyes wide with pain, and looking for sympathy.

He laughed. And drove his next nail.

That young man learned an important lesson that day.

Yet the Jewish people still act as if theirs was History’s only and unique tragedy.

The horrific tragedy that befell Jewish people in Europe during the 1940s was indeed one of History’s GREATEST crimes against humanity. During those same years, as the six million Jewish people died, an estimated 15-25 million Russians died, in that great battle to free Europe from that madman.

Do Jewish people remember that?