The Story of the Holodomor in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
In 2008, Canada’s parliament designated the fourth Saturday of every November as ‘Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (“Holodomor”) Memorial Day’. This day recognizes the 1932-33 famine in Soviet-controlled Ukraine that was deliberately caused by Josef Stalin’s regime in an attempt to destroy Ukrainian nationalist ambitions. As a result, millions of Ukrainians died of starvation in this genocide that is remembered today as the Holodomor, which means ‘murder by hunger.’ This year, Holodomor Memorial Day falls on November 22. To mark this, I would like to share some of the exhibits in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights that tell the story of the Holodomor.
The first exhibit I’d like to mention is in our Examining the Holocaust gallery and focuses on Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish scholar who coined the term “genocide” in 1943. In this interactive exhibit, visitors can compare common methods that perpetrators have used in several atrocities that Lemkin considered to be genocides. This includes an element on the Holodomor, which Lemkin described as a genocide in 1953.
In our Breaking the Silence gallery, several exhibits include content on the Holodomor. One object of note is a reproduction of a poster from a Ukrainian play about the famine that was performed in Winnipeg in late 1933, shortly after the Holodomor’s devastating climax.
The most extensive exhibit in Breaking the Silence is an interactive table that includes material on a large cross-section of gross human rights violations, including the Holodomor.
In this exhibit, visitors can explore each atrocity through 4 different entry points: 1) the build up to each violation - such as the growth of Ukrainian nationalism that Stalin wished to quell; 2) details about each violation itself - such as how Soviet police arrested or killed people found to be hiding food during the Holodomor; 3) efforts taken to deny or distort the violation - like a letter from a Soviet organization claiming that reports about the intentional nature of the famine were just anti-Soviet propaganda; and 4) efforts to break the silence about the violations -like efforts in Winnipeg to raise awareness about the Holodomor in the early 1980s, in conjunction with the genocide’s 50th anniversary.
A complementary exhibit is comprised of video stations that feature first-hand testimonies related to human rights violations. In the element on the Holodomor, one of the testimonies is by survivor Maria Firman, who describes her mother being beaten to death by a Soviet officer for collecting stalks to make a soup.
In a theatre connected to the Breaking the Silence gallery, visitors can view a short documentary that examines media coverage of the Holodomor while it was being perpetrated. This film looks at how the media has both the ability to break silence, but can also contribute to making silence by distorting or covering up violations.
Finally, Breaking the Silence features a statue called ‘Bitter Memories of Childhood’ by designer Anatoli Haidamaka and sculptor Petro Drozdovsky. This piece – which was inspired by the Holodomor -encourages us to remember why it is important to break silence about human rights violations – to create a world where all children have the opportunity to grow up healthy, free, and with dignity.
These examples just give a brief overview of some of the human rights stories that visitors will be able to experience in the Museum. We invite people from across Canada and the world to come experience all of our human rights content and programming first-hand, and join in this very important conversation.