By Lubomyr Luciuk, Kingston Whig-Standard
Kingston, Ontario, Canada, February 26, 2004
Who killed Christ? The Hebrews? The Romans? All of us? Some, none, all of
I have no idea. Let Biblical scholars, theologians and philosophers muse
over such mysteries.
Did Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ, provoke pogroms? No.
Is Mel Gibson an anti-Semite? No. He knows Nazis murdered millions of Jews
Yet there's the rub. Mr Gibson hasn't forgotten the many millions of
non-Jewish Holocaust victims and those of other crimes against humanity. In
the March issue of Reader's Digest he says: "The Second World War killed
tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps.
Many people lost their lives. In Ukraine several million starved to death
between 1932 and 1933. During the last century 20 million people died in the
Dr Lubomyr Luciuk
(Click on images to enlarge them)
For such sentiments he is pilloried.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, while
claiming no desire to engage "in competitive martyrdom," wanting only
"historical truth" to be known, nevertheless rejected any comparison between
his people's suffering and others. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach went further,
denouncing any equation of the "horrible casualties of war with a government
program of genocide." Abraham Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League, was
blunter: "[I]t was ignorant...it's insensitive. And...he doesn't get that
either. He doesn't begin to understand the difference between dying in a
famine and people being cremated solely for what they are."
Verily, it is Mr Foxman and friends who are in need of sensitivity training
and history lessons. Lacking their chutzpah I will not venture an opinion as
to whether being starved to death is worse than being murdered by poison
gas. On matters of unnatural mortality, however, these gentlemen would do
well to learn that more Ukrainians were liquidated during the politically
engineered Great Famine in Soviet Ukraine than all the Jews killed in the
Second World War.
They were the chosen in a Stalinist terror campaign directed against the
Ukrainian peasantry. And it was the Ukrainian nation that suffered the
greatest loss of life during the Second World War, concluded the
distinguished British historian, Professor Norman Davies.
Today we do, and should, remember the Six Million. Yet we tend to forget the
Twenty Million, a conservative estimate of victims of Soviet tyranny, about
whom Martin Amis wrote in Koba the Dread. Some scourged him for that.
What is troubling about the anti-Passion polemicists is that, beneath the
cacophony, their agenda was not to stop Gibson's film from being shown (they
couldn't), nor even to cripple its box office success (the controversy they
stoked guarantees good fortune). The fount of this campaign is instead
rooted in trying to get the rest of us to agree that the Jewish people's
suffering was "unique" and that Christians, in particular, must feel guilt
and atone for what "we" did to "them" over many centuries past.
While I disagree with any concept of blood libel, I do insist these men
remain free to believe whatever they want and even to preach it, as long as
the line between legitimate criticism and hate mongering is not violated.
Close to that edge some have already crept. Still I champion freedom of
speech over censoring that right - theirs, Mel's, and mine.
I also want them to understand something. As a Catholic, and a Canadian-born
son of Ukrainian political refugees, I was raised believing all victims of
evil must be hallowed. Those who persecute the innocent must be exposed and
punished. How a people were slaughtered, or what the intent was of any regim
e, Left or Right, that orchestrated genocide, matters less.
Neither my parents, priests, nor teachers ever said that a particular group
of martyrs were somehow more deserving of memory than others. No one
counseled us to elevate the millions of Ukrainians murdered by the Nazis and
the Soviets above others who endured similar horrors. I do concede that I do
not know as much as I should about the many tribes, peoples and nations who
suffered mass murder before, during and after the 20th century, in Europe,
Africa, Asia, and elsewhere, at least not in comparison to what I know about
what happened to my own. However the Christian spirit that should inform my
behaviour obliges me to pray for all victims, without preference.
Still I am only human, and, like most of us, flawed. Whether that is a
metaphysical consequence of Original Sin or just a reflection of a basic
orneriness that is all too human I have no clue. So it is hard to resist
that most satanic of sentiments, the desire to take an eye for an eye. In
retort to those who want to impel me to accept that the shed blood of their
innocents is somehow more important than the spilled blood of mine I lust to
roar: "No! More of mine died in a year than all of yours in six, and mine
mean more to me and mine than all of yours!" But those are un-Christian
When provoked into harbouring them I know of only one refuge, prayerful
reflection on words spoken by another Rabbi during His Passion, just before
His death. Jesus, the Christ, said: "Father, forgive them; they know not
what they do." I can try.
Professor Lubomyr Luciuk was once an altar boy at St. Michael's Ukrainian
Catholic Parish, in Kingston, Ontario