(JTA) — A Texas congressman compared the Holocaust to a man-made famine that decimated the Soviet Ukraine in the early 1930s.
Speaking this week at a conference organized by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican and the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, said that “Stalin killed more people in Ukraine than Hitler killed Jews in World War II. They basically worked them to death for the bread and the food that they made in Ukraine.”
Known as the Holodomor, the massive famine in 1932-33 was brought on by Stalinist collectivization policies. During the famine, Moscow insisted on increasing production quotas and confiscating seed grain while peasants starved.
While it affected citizens across the the Soviet Union, Ukraine was hit especially hard. While millions starved to death, the exact tally of victims has been a matter of dispute. Some scholars, such as Ukrainian-Canadian historian John-Paul Himka, have placed the number at around 4 million, while Ukrainian nationalists claim more than twice as many.
This nationalist historiography began to take off in Ukraine during the early 2000s when then-President Viktor Yushchenko began a campaign of public commemoration, claiming that the famine had been a “genocide that had wiped out more than 10 million victims.”
Jewish groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center have said that attempts to compare the Holodomor and the Holocaust have the intent or effect of minimizing the Holocaust.
In a statement to JTA, a McCaul aide said that “Under no circumstance was the Chairman trying to ‘minimize the Holocaust’ and any assertion otherwise is a gross exaggeration of his words.
“The Chairman was simply trying to highlight the atrocities of Stalin during the same time period, which to many, may be less known,” the aide added.
Speaking at a memorial ceremony last year, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claimed that 7 million to 10 million Ukrainians had died and said that “not recognizing the Holodomor is as immoral as denying the Holocaust.”
Nationalist discourse related to the Holodomor is often combined with anti-Semitic sentiments in what some critics have described as a competition for victimhood. In 2009, Ukraine’s security service released a document naming those who it alleged to have been responsible for the Holodomor. Most of the names on the list were Jewish.