This blog by Ontario educator, Michael Anthony, explores his journey learning and teaching about The Holodomor as part of the Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity course and provides helpful resources to integrate into your classroom.
To learn more about how to structure your approach to teaching difficult histories using Facing History and Ourselves’ approach to teaching, including how to create intentional and courageous learning environments for difficult content, please visit Our Approach . To experience this approach, register for one of the self paced or facilitated online courses today.
Please note that this blog post is focused on the immediate history of the Holodomor but as with all difficult histories it is important to take a trauma-informed approach to ensure that students are first taught identity affirming and diverse voices.
Full disclosure: I am not Ukrainian. Until I started teaching the Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity course, I had never heard the word “Holodomor”. I had fought (and fought hard!) to have the course offered at my school to have students learn more about genocide than the two or three hours of class time they typically spend learning about the Holocaust. I wanted them to learn about the Rwandan Genocide and the Genocide that was underway in the Darfur region of Sudan. When I reviewed the curriculum document, there were names of different genocides in the past of which I had never heard. The Holodomor was one of these genocides.
My plan to learn more about and prepare to teach about each of these genocides was not to go right to research papers and websites that provide information about genocide. I knew that I needed to privilege the stories of the survivors, their children, and their grandchildren to ensure that I did not end up with incorrect or overly simplified facts and details about the different genocides. Through connecting with these community members, I also received their recommended resources as well as information regarding appropriate pedagogical strategies to teach about each genocide. Getting involved in memorial day ceremonies, non-profit banquets, and academic conferences has provided me with additional avenues to meet more amazing people whose friendship and support has enhanced my understanding and teaching of genocide.
Fast forward seven years of teaching the course, I have been guided by some amazing people in the Ukrainian Canadian Community. They have been generous with their time and with their resources. Through connecting with them, I have learned the lessons of The Holodomor and have worked with them to develop a culturally appropriate pedagogy to deliver my unit.
A young child during the Holodomor, Kharkiv, Ukraine, photo by Alexander Wienerberger, 1933. (Diocesan Archive of Vienna (Diözesanarchiv Wien)/BA Innitzer)
Framing An Approach to Teaching The Holodomor
Through teaching this history, my hope is for students to:
- Learn that any government can subject parts of its population to gross mistreatment,
- Understand the significance of keeping one's eye on the government and holding the government to account to ensure that this does not happen,
- Know that a genocide does not need to involve the killing of people with weapons; withholding necessities of life (i.e. food, water) is often used as a weapon in a genocide,
- Begin or continue to recognize their choices matter and to develop an “upstander identity” vs. bystander identity when confronted with an injustice, and
- Fight against the persistent denial and system of cover ups that have taken place for over five decades.
My recommended resources to teach about The Holodomor
Explore this Padlet or view below for recommended resources:
I am still not 100% comfortable and confident about teaching about different genocides - I find myself concerned that I am inadequately explaining some aspect of a genocide as a victim, survivor, or survivor’s family would want that aspect described; I experience discomfort in always wanting to use primary and secondary sources that are approved by members of the communities whose experiences are described in those sources; I also want to ensure - always, and as best as I can - that my pedagogy is respectful of those who have a direct attachment, connection, and ownership over the source(s).
I have come to accept that it is normal to not be fully comfortable and confident teaching about the systematic efforts that have been made in the past to wipe out entire cultures, races, religions and civilizations. I truly believe that leaning into this discomfort makes me a more aware and empathetic teacher for my students. There is nothing wrong with these feelings--I just have to push through my discomfort, run my program, and know, in the bottom of my heart, that my students are getting the best possible education experience that I can provide.
If you have similar feelings, I hope you can use my journey as an example that you will be able to push through your feelings of uncertainty, as well. Know that your students are blessed to have you in front of them and that they are going to have a positive learning experience because of the effort and care that you are putting into these crucial lessons that enhance their understanding of humanity and human rights. I am here to engage about any topics related to Genocide Education. Feel free to email me whenever you want at email@example.com.