The debate over how a Canadian human rights museum should recognize the sufferings of Jews, Ukrainians and other groups in Canada and elsewhere has drawn the attention of prominent international scholars who, in an open letter this week to European newspapers, are accusing two Ukrainian Canadian organizations of "dishonesty" and "distortion."
The seven-paragraph letter – bearing more than 100 names, including those of at least nine Ukrainian Canadians – says the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress are "distorting historical accounts of the Holodomor [the death by famine of millions of Ukrainians in Soviet-occupied Ukraine in 1932-33]while ... refusing to acknowledge the role [of Ukrainian nationalist movements]in the Holocaust."
The two organizations have helped create "a competition of suffering," the letter concludes, adding that because of their failure to "confront the historical record openly and honestly," both should "stay out of" the debate about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
The text of the letter was prepared by "seven or eight scholars," all Canadian or with Canadian associations, according to one of its draftees, University of Alberta history and classics professor John Paul Himka. Seeking international support was necessary, Mr. Himka said, because "in Canada, everybody's a prisoner of their ethnic minority."
The UCCLA and the UCC have been vociferous and steadfast opponents of the plan for the museum, now under construction in Winnipeg, to have a "zone" dedicated to the Holocaust. They claim such a "zone" in a federally funded museum – it was established as a Crown corporation by the Harper government in 2008 – "elevates" the Holocaust over other genocides and mass atrocities. The UCC has been pressing for the creation of a Holodomor gallery that receives "no less coverage" than the Holocaust, while the UCCLA feels all genocides should be explored throughout the entire museum in what it calls a "comparative, thematic and inclusive manner."
The letter, which the UCC was quick to condemn on Friday on its website as "malicious" and rife with "prejudicial remarks," claims the congress "at times [has]inflated the number of [Holdomor]victims to seven or even 10 million" when "all demographic studies place the number of famine deaths ... in the range of 2.6 to 3.9 million." While a "grievous toll," the UCC total has an obvious implication, the letter states: "seven or 10 million is more than six million [the generally agreed death count of the Holocaust] [therefore]the Holodomor deserves more attention than the Holocaust."
The letter, whose signatories include British Hitler biographer Sir Ian Kershaw, Israeli Holocaust studies professor Yehuda Bauer and U.S. "Final Solution" expert Christopher Browning, goes on to say both groups haven't "fully acknowledged" the part the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the Galicia Division, the last formed by the Nazis in 1943, played in the Holocaust and other "anti-civilian operations." Indeed, some Ukrainian Canadians "revere" their members as "champions."
A representative of the UCCLA said on Friday that his organization would reply to these assertions next week. However, in a brief interview, the association's research director Lubomyr Luciuk said the letter incorrectly claims that his group and the UCC are "campaigning against ... a permanent Holocaust gallery." While the UCCLA and the UCC differ on how the Holocaust should be represented, neither says it shouldn't be "a major component. Of course, it must be."
In the meantime, the UCC online said its position on the Holodomor is that "many millions died ... The exact number is less important than the scale and nature of this genocide." At the same time, it notes that the government of Ukraine officially claims the famine "took from seven to 10 million innocent lives." As for the military units cited in the letter, the UCC says the 1985-86 Canadian Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals "formally cleared [them]of war crimes."