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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 8.3 (2007) 683-694

Reviewed by
John-Paul Himka
Dept. of History and Classics
University of Alberta
Edmonton AB T6G 2H4
Johan Dietsch, Making Sense of Suffering: Holocaust and Holodomor in Ukrainian Historical Culture. Lund: Media Tryck, Lund University, 2006. vii + 280 pp. No ISBN number.
Stanyslav Vladyslavovych Kul´chyts´kyi, Holod 1932–1933 rr. v Ukraini iak henotsyd/Golod 1932–1933 gg. v Ukraine kak genotsid [The 1932–33 Famine in Ukraine as a Genocide]. 220 pp. Kyiv: Instytut istorii Ukrainy NANU, 2005. ISBN 9660238460.

These two books deal with genocide and historical culture in Ukraine. Johan Dietsch set out to examine how the Holocaust was being integrated into Ukrainian history textbooks. This was a typical enough project for a young Swedish scholar, given that Sweden has been so active in promoting a European understanding of the Holocaust in the formerly communist parts of Europe. In 1998, Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson founded the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research, which first undertook a liaison to the Czech Republic and now maintains formal and informal liaisons with other post-communist countries, including Ukraine. In his book, Dietsch himself mentions that the Forum for Living History in Sweden arranged the exhibition "Raoul Wallenberg—One Man Can Make a Difference" in L´viv and that the Swedish Embassy worked with Ivan Franko National University in the same city to conduct a seminar on Holocaust education (197 n. 504). Moreover, Dietsch is part of the team working with Klas-Göran Karlsson at Lund University on a large research project entitled "The Holocaust in European Historical Culture," a very fruitful, interesting enterprise.1 In working on the reception of the Holocaust in Ukrainian historical culture, Dietsch saw that he also needed to take into account the historical memory of the famine [End Page 683] that ravaged Soviet Ukraine in 1932–33. The latter is what is meant by the word "Holodomor" in the title. Dietsch tells us that the word literally means "plague of hunger" (205). It was coined by the Ukrainian writer Ivan Drach,2 but it first appeared in print in early 1988 in an article by another writer, Oleksa Musiienko (Kul´chyts´kyi, 142). The word soon passed into English, if not into dictionary English, then at least into the lexicon of the English-language publications of the Ukrainian diaspora.

Stanyslav Vladyslavovych Kul´chyts´kyi, Doctor of Historical Sciences and deputy director of the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, is a character in Dietsch's book, and one in his own. In the fall of 1986, he was appointed to a secret Soviet Ukrainian party commission to research the famine with the aim of refuting a report on the famine about to be released by a U.S. congressional commission headed by the late James Mace. Kul´chyts´kyi wrote up the results of his research in an article in Ukrains´kyi istorychnyi zhurnal in March 1988. It acknowledged that there were serious problems with food in 1932–33 but minimized the death toll and almost exonerated the party from blame. Later, as the party leadership and then the leadership of independent Ukraine accepted the basic facts about the famine, he wrote a number of studies documenting the catastrophe more thoroughly. He has also been entrusted with other sticky historical issues by the political leadership, notably with the appraisal of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during World War II. This, like the Holodomor, is a divisive, politically fraught issue in Ukraine today. Dietsch captures Kul´chyts´kyi's approach to history very well, quoting phrases from the very text by Kul´chyts´kyi that is under...