The problem with history, certainly when it comes to numbers, is often visualising the horrific loss of human life certain events cause – particularly those events that are “man-made”.
Most people can visualise a dead person, perhaps several. Some can, and have seen, dozens at a time, occasionally hundreds. Very few may have witnessed thousands of dead bodies in one place, but beyond that?
Be it any large war, the Holocaust, or the Holodomor, visualising millions and millions of dead is simply beyond comprehension. The monuments we erect to commemorate such hideous outcomes are often simple and understated, and deliberately so out of somberness, respect and humility – but are therefore mostly forgotten until specific State appointed days of remembrance fall upon the societal calendar.
For how can there be a a monument of suitable scale that is commensurate to the sacrifices, or sacrificed? How also to bring about remembrance in a more continuous subconsciousness within today’s society outside of the alloted day or hour?
There are museums of course, and libraries and the Internet – all accessible to many, but generally they too fail to adequately impress the sheer number of deaths involved in a manner that makes it digestible and comprehensible with any sense of lasting mental impression.
As these events travel further back in time with each and every passing hour, clearly justice becomes more and more symbolic – as perpetrators and survivors alike reach the natural ending of their days without their day in court. Justice it seems, is that those who died and/or survived be not forgotten – at least for one day in the year.
It is of course possible to begin belated investigations and perhaps even reach judicial outcomes to cover the events of the past to some degree, and thus to provide some sense of finding of guilt. If with regard to the Holodomor, Ukraine was to follow the lead of Germany in its ruling against Demjanjuk, a guard at Sobibor, who was found guilty not of any specific act himself, but being part of the “extermination machinery“, then it follows perhaps that there be room to find guilt of Joseph Stalin, the leadership of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of the time etc. The question that arises is how far throughout that murderous and repressive apparatus does one go, and/or what parts of the institutions are targeted (apart from the obvious like the political leadership and the NKVD)?
Thus far, with regard to the Holodomor about 800,000 victims have been positively identified amongst figures that range from 3 to 7 million. No doubt yet more will eventually be identified, and eventually there will be a far more accurate, although never precise, figure reached regarding the actual death toll.
If the names of these known Holodomor victims were individually placed on the average sized cobble stone that makes up Deribasovskaya, the main pedestrian street in central Odessa, it would more than re-cobble the entire street – which thus returns the reader back to the issue of visualising the horrendous and horrific loss of life.
Initially in Germany, and then latterly across Europe, there is something called the Stolpersteine. It is a project where commemorative stones are laid outside the last known addresses of Jewish victims prior to their deportation (and in most cases extermination). There are tens of thousands of such stones laid across Europe, outside tens of thousands of addresses throughout Europe. They are a daily reminder to those now living at the address and/or walking along that street of the dark past it once witnessed – rather than a statue in a pleasantly manicured public space seldom visited.
Imagine, however, all those Stolpersteine laid together along a single public street.
If it is not the graphic images of WWI and WWII in museums or on TV that seem to leave the greatest impact, but when visiting, it is the sight of miles upon miles of headstones in cemeteries across Flanders, Artois and beyond that do, what societal impact would a major Ukrainian street cobbled/paved with individual names of those victims of the Holodomor have on an every day, rather than annual, basis?
Perhaps one day Ukraine will embark upon its own Stolpersteine project and place individual stones outside the addresses of all those known victims of the Holodomor as a daily reminder for those that walk there – or perhaps it will make a bold statement of remembrance where the name of each victim literally stretches from one end of the street to the other. With 800,000 identified victims from millions, it will have to be a very long street, and rather than being a street with no name, it would be a street of a million names (and more). Perhaps the boldest act is more appropriate for the victims who will never see justice? A matter for the authorities (if they ever think of it).