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Destined to be a Ukrainian

James Mace in Ukraine’s sorrowing memory
27 сентября, 00:00

My heart is breaking as I read the book of reminiscences and tributes, Day and Eternity of James Mace, published under the editorship of Larysa Ivshyna. Just like the two languages of this publication, the American and Ukrainian halves of Jim’s heart have opened up to us thanks to The Day’s staff and editors, who funded the books as a tribute to their prolific colleague and collaborator. This book is the newest addition to The Day’s unique Library Series, which has captured the hearts of both our readers and all those who are interested in Ukraine’s history, culture, church affairs, problems of historical relations between Ukraine and Russia, Ukraine and Poland, and Ukraine and Europe. All these topics are covered in such books as Ukraina Incognita, Dvi Rusi, and Wars and Peace, or Ukrainians and Poles: Brothers/Enemies, Neighbors. Looking at us from the newsprint-design cover of the book, Day and Eternity of James Mace, is a somewhat sad face with deep-set, dark eyes — the face of our Jim whose untimely passing was a blow to many people throughout the world.

James Mace shared his heart, heating it up on the raging fire of the memory of the Holodomor. He burst into the frenzied atmosphere of Soviet authoritarianism and the post-genocidal rape of historical memory, and his heart could not withstand this superhuman exertion.

James Mace possessed a childlike sensitivity to injustice, and responded with his heart to the Ukrainian reality, as though this land and people had raised him to adulthood. He genetically inherited all our tragic grievances and pain. “Your dead have chosen me,” said James Mace, after listening to hundreds of sincere and desperate eyewitness accounts from Ukrainians who had survived the Holodomor of 1932-33 or suffered profound psychological traumas brought on by the tragic loss of their family and friends.

There is no need to recount how James Mace became committed to the Ukrainian cause. He wrote an autobiography of sorts, entitled “Facts and Values: a Personal Intellectual Exploration.” Serving as the introduction to the newly published book, it outlines Mace’s magnificent path of civic and creative achievements in the name of Ukraine. James recounts how and when this path began with an almost naive sincerity and without any allusions to his outstanding contribution to the restoration of historical truth. The same is true of his many other publications between 1994 and 2004, including his weekly columns in the English-language digest of The Day. Together with his curriculum vitae this book features 124 of his articles, only a small part of his extensive publications list. Likewise, the people who shared their memories in the book form only a small percentage of those who remember James Mace and would like to put their memories on paper.

I am one of those who did not submit their reminiscences of Jim on time for publication. I was lucky to meet him in 1989 at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. At the time James Mace was the staff director of the US Commission on the Ukraine Famine. I do not recall our conversation in much detail, but I remember one important thing. James was determined to visit Ukraine, so we discussed his possible trip. I helped put him in touch with some Holodomor researchers, who had enthusiastically started their own search for archival documents, recorded witness accounts, and unveiled memorials in villages once obliterated by the famine. James established especially close ties with the writer Volodymyr Maniak and his wife Lidia Kovalenko, who lived in the same apartment building on Chkalov Street (now Oles Honchar Street) as I did. Our neighbor was the writer Oleksa Musiyenko, who had compiled a Martyrs’ List of victims of communist tyranny, including Holodomor victims. At the time Maniak and Kovalenko were compiling a unique book entitled Famine 1933. The People’s Memorial Book, and their apartment was filled to overflowing with documents, eyewitness accounts, lists of villages wiped out by famine, etc. James Mace often visited their place. I have never forgotten the image of James enveloped in a cloud of cigarette smoke, his head bent over some archival document. Volodia Maniak, who was always utterly exhausted from overwork, has been gone a long time, killed in a car accident. His wife Lidia did not survive him for much longer; her heart was unable to bear the separation from her husband. A heart attack claimed Oleksa Musiyenko while he worked. Many others who revealed to the world and to Ukrainians the dark pages of communist atrocities committed against our people are also gone.

I recall the March 17, 1993, meeting of the committee to organize the events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Holodomor in Ukraine. On February 19, 1993, Ukraine’s first president Leonid Kravchuk issued an order “On Events to Commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Holodomor in Ukraine.” As the organizing committee’s chairman (I was deputy prime minister at the time), I recommended and secured the appointment of the then Illinois State University Professor James Mace as one of my deputy chairmen. During his trip to Kyiv in 1990, Ivan Drach and I met with James at the Ukraina Association in Zolotovoritska Street, where he shared his opinions concerning the preparations for the commemoration of the victims of the 1932-1933 Holodomor. He spoke quickly, in English in those days, and the translator could not keep up with him. Even then he considered the Holodomor a premeditated act of genocide aimed at the spiritual, moral, linguistic, and cultural extermination of the Ukrainian nation. He was arguably the first to stress the need to recognize this manmade famine as an act of ethnocide.

At that time no Ukrainian historian, not to mention the government, dared to speak in such an honest manner about the Holodomor of 1933. That is why James Mace was attracted to the People’s Movement of Ukraine (Rukh), represented by Ivan Drach, Vyacheslav Chornovil, Mykhailo Horyn, Yevhen Sverstiuk, Yevhen Proniuk, and others.

During his first visit to Ukraine in 1990 James suggested creating an institution in Kyiv that would be similar to Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem - a museum of memory and mourning with an affiliated research institution. At the time Mace was a member of the board of the International Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, and his opinions and proposals were very important to us. We had a detailed discussion of issues concerning the preparation of the first international conference dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the Holodomor. He provided the names of foreign scholars who could substantiate the fact that an act of genocide had taken place. He also invited distinguished international experts, in particular the author of the fundamental study Accounting for Genocide, Helen Fein, as well as Leon Cooper and Robert Conquest. I think it was in those days that James Mace began thinking about settling down in Ukraine. The main reason behind his decision was the fact that the archives had started to open up, although this was a slow process and the archives were not open to everybody, just trusted, official researchers. James was counting on this, for it was his dream to continue and expand his search for the causes and consequences of this national catastrophe. First off, he wanted to organize the Ukrainian translation and publication (in Ukraine) of the three-volume compilation of Holodomor eyewitness accounts that had been published by the US Congress. As staff director of the US Commission on the Ukraine Famine, James Mace brought the first copies of these eyewitness accounts to Ukraine. Everyone who spoke with James was simply shell-shocked by these accounts.

At the time James Mace knew more about the Holodomor than anyone else and could discuss this horrible tragedy within the context of numerous phenomena and processes in the USSR. Apart from the three volumes of famine survivors’ accounts, he also brought the first volume of studies containing archival materials discovered in the West, where they were smuggled out of Ukraine during World War II. James Mace lacked documentary evidence from Soviet archives, because access was next to impossible for him. However, he knew where to look, as he had accumulated a tremendous amount of experience while working with the English historian Robert Conquest on a project to study the Ukrainian Holodomor at the Harvard Ukrainian Studies Institute. We all know the role James played in the publication of Conquest’s book on the Ukrainian famine, Harvest of Sorrow.

James Mace was an extraordinarily humble individual, not inclined to publicly acknowledge his great service to Ukraine. James Mace participated in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Holodomor as the premier authority on the causes and consequences of the famine-genocide and political reprisals in general. I must admit that we tried to capitalize on this fact, always pointing to his decisive role in compelling the US Congressional and Presidential Commission to provide a well-grounded answer to the key questions of whether there indeed was a famine in Ukraine in 1932-33 and what it was like. James was a godsend to us at a time when the Communist Party of Ukraine was starting to inch toward official recognition of this famine, but only as the result of a mistaken policy adopted by Stalin and his associates. The local authorities sensed this “thaw” in the party’s policy, which was evidenced by two events that took place with the participation of James Mace.

The first was an attempt to unveil a monument to Holodomor victims on the initiative of the Ukrainian association Memorial, which was then headed by Volodymyr Maniak, in a village outside Uman that had been wiped out during the famine. Local party activists refused to issue permission for the unveiling ceremony, which is why we decided to intimidate them by involving an American scholar. Yet even the presence of a foreigner did nothing to break the authorities’ resistance to our attempts to pay tribute to the Holodomor victims. So we held a solemn meeting at a local site of mass burials.

The second event was the unveiling on September 11, 1993, of the Mound of Sorrow (Kurhan Skorboty) near Mharsk Monastery. A rainy squall and gusts of cold wind shook the church bells, sending shivers through the freezing soldiers standing there with evergreen and flower wreaths, forcing the choir singers to huddle closer together and the kobzars rushing to pack their banduras.

Borys Oliynyk delivered an emotional and exalted speech. He had made tremendous efforts to ensure that this Mound of Sorrow would rise above the land of Poltava and its sorrowful bells would awaken our memory. In a passionate and emotional speech Yuri Shymko, the Canadian president of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians, lashed out against the communist regime. James Mace spoke slowly and his brief speech resonated with a profound sense of this horrible tragedy. It seemed to me that when James spoke, the wind subsided and the people began listening more attentively. He stood there, chilled to the bone, in a white overcoat, like a lone dove that had miraculously descended on this sea of people black with sorrow. He stood there and cried. Or maybe it was rain streaming down his cheeks.

Who can tell now with any certainty when the process of becoming a Ukrainian was completed in the consciousness of this American? It was a process not only of accumulating knowledge about the Ukrainian Holodomor and Ukrainian history, but also becoming emotionally and psychologically attached to the millions of its innocent victims. James took up this tragedy as a challenge to destiny, and it immersed his sensitive, compassionate soul in the dark abyss of people’s memory, for so long chained and contained by official bans.

I read all of his articles and weekly reactions to various events, which were carried by The Day, and was always amazed by his sensitive, emotionally acute, and politically expert response to this unsettled world beset with problems. It is a sort of autobiography of his public commiseration with the fate of Ukraine and the world, which further emphasizes his true greatness and significance for Ukraine. It seems to me that he kept more in his heart than he put on paper. Still, I was impressed by how much he managed to write. After all, his tireless efforts were phenomenal, and I must bow my head in gratitude to his wife, the journalist and writer Natalia Dziubenko-Mace, who helped him to reveal himself to the people through his writing. Although we did not see it, she always watched with concern as he burned up on the inside, devoured by the fire of empathy and constant worries about the fate of Ukraine, which became his home.

Certainly, we must name a street in his honor or dedicate a monument to him, but will such immortalization be tribute enough to his selfless devotion and passionate love for his new homeland?

Ivan Drach and I drew up plans to create a monument to the victims of the Holodomor. By this time James Mace had already moved to Kyiv and was actively participating in the work of organizing committee. Time was running out, and by September 1993 we had already planned the Days of Sorrow and Memory for Holodomor Victims and the closing events that were to take place in Kyiv on September 12. Clearly, this commemoration would have been incomplete without a memorial. The artist and sculptor Vasyl Perevalsky submitted a design. We reviewed it and talked about how we could build this monument and where.

I look at the photo on the back jacket of the book, Day and Eternity of James Mace: an image of a mourning mother symbolizing Ukraine victimized by famine. On her chest is a symbolic cross: a child with his arms outstretched. James especially liked this monument. Only God knows how we managed to build it so quickly and erect it in a decent spot without any bureaucratic holdups. On September 12, 1993, this monument on St. Michael’s Square was consecrated by representatives of every confession in Ukraine, and delegations from all parts of the country brought handfuls of chornozem, Ukraine’s fertile topsoil. The unveiling ceremony was attended by President Leonid Kravchuk, Parliamentary Speaker Ivan Pliushch, and Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma. James Mace was among them, feeling very anxious and worried.

Many plans were afoot in those days. James Mace nurtured the idea of creating a genocide institute. He eventually headed such an institution, but, unfortunately, only on a voluntary basis. We tried to find a place for a memorial to commemorate the victims of the Holodomor and political reprisals. We contemplated restoring cemeteries in lost villages, marking burial sites, and compiling a register of all famine victims. We also thought of a way to commemorate all the churches that were destroyed throughout Ukraine, the peasant families that had been cut down by the scythe of the Holodomor, and the lost folk traditions, and to rekindle the spiritual centers that had been extinguished by this national catastrophe. James Mace had many dreams. He was a unique American whose heart, sensitive to other people’s pain and suffering, became overwhelmed with concern for Ukraine’s destiny.

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