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James Mace, a Native American with Ukrainian blood
In 1932–1933, Ukraine, then a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, suffered from a famine that killed millions of people. There is substantial evidence that this famine, Holodomor in Ukrainian, was not a result of adverse weather conditions or mismanagement, but rather was a genocidal action, premeditated and executed by the communist authorities.
For decades the information about Holodomor was a tightly guarded secret, but the truth began gradually to emerge, and after Ukraine’s independence, some documents that were unearthed from the KGB archives threw more light on the tragedy of 1932–1933 in Ukraine. One of the first to start the search for the truth about the famine was a US citizen, the late professor James Mace.
His wife, Nataliya Dzyubenko-Mace, was interviewed exclusively for WU Magazine by Mariya VLAD.
James Mace was born in Oklahoma, on February 18, 1952. He did his undergraduate studies at the University of Oklahoma, graduating with a B.A. in history in 1973. He pursued his graduate studies at the University of Michigan, where he studied with Roman Szporluk, receiving a Ph.D. degree in 1981 with a thesis on national communism in Soviet Ukraine in the 1920s. Starting in July 1981, Mace worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. Following the advice of Omelyan Pritsak, the director of the Institute, he started doing research for Robert Conquest’s book on the Great Famine in Ukraine, The Harvest of Sorrow. From 1986 to 1990, Mace served as the executive director of the US Commission on the Ukraine Famine, in Washington, D.C.
In 1993 he moved from the United States to Ukraine. Since 1995, he was a Professor of Political Science at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy. He also taught at the Christian University in Kyiv and worked as style editor for the newspaper Den’ (Day).
Mace died in Kyiv at the age of 52. He is survived by his wife, Natalya Dzyubenko-Mace.
The Order of Yaroslav the Wise, 2nd Class, was awarded posthumously to Mace by President Viktor Yushchenko, in 2005.
Knowing Professor Mace’s background could help us better understand what motivated him to start research on Holodomor in Ukraine.
There was Red Indian blood in him. Among his ancestors were warriors of the Cherokee (Cherokee — a Native American people formerly inhabiting the southern Appalachian Mountains with present-day populations in northeast Oklahoma and western North Carolina; the Cherokee were removed to Indian Territory in the 1830’s by brutal force — tr.). He came from a very poor family, and it was thanks to certain privileges given to Native Americans that he was admitted to the university. James was very inquisitive and eager for knowledge. He did research into his genealogical line and traced his ancestors down to the sixteenth century.
He began studying soviet communism as a student and Ukraine came into the focus of his interest in his postgraduate studies. At Harvard, he worked with Robert Conquest who was doing research for his book about the Great Famine in Ukraine. When asked why he, a native American, developed an interest in Ukraine and its tragedy, he said that Americans of Ukrainian descent urged him to do research into Holodomor, and “it happens to be my destiny to have been chosen by the Ukrainian dead to do this.” He used to say that when studying the Holocaust you could not help becoming half-Jewish, so similarly, studying Holodomor you couldn’t help becoming half-Ukrainian. He even converted to Orthodox Christianity.
He lived in Ukraine for more than ten years and his heart began to beat in unison with the Ukrainian heartbeat.
I know that Dr. Mace had a very large collection of books in the USA. What happened with all those books after his death?
I wanted to ship his books to Ukraine after my husband’s death, but it turned out it would be a very costly thing to do. Yet, I managed to move the books to Ukraine and I donated them to the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy where he had taught. He was telling his students and lecturers who attended his lectures, about the communist crimes against the Ukrainians and the whole mankind…
Yes, my late husband did have a lot of books, mostly on history. He looked so happy among his books, he loved books. I avoided going into his study — I said that it was a horror chamber filled with ghosts of such monsters as Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky, Kaganovich and others of the same ilk. He knew their writings, books, articles and memoirs about them very well…
Politicians and researchers from various countries of the world turned to him, a specialist in genocide against the Ukrainian people, for help and advice in their own research on related subjects. Dr. Vyacheslav Kulchytsky, an academician and historian, said that it was thanks to James Mace’s research that the awareness of the genocide against the Ukrainian people had been raised in the world community; this genocide was one of the major tragedies of the twentieth century on an even greater scope than the extermination of the Armenians in Turkey in the early twentieth century, or the extermination of the Jews by Nazi Germany. Academician Kulchytsky also said that there had been no researcher of Holodomor before James Mace who had been as erudite as he, as devoted as he, and as passionate in his search for truth. Mace’s contribution will surely be properly appreciated by historians…
Yevhen Sversyuk, a prominent public figure (he spent years in soviet concentration camps for championing the human rights and expressing dissident views — tr.) once said at a historians’ conference shortly before Ukraine’s independence that James Mace and Robert Conquest should be made “honorary citizens” of Ukraine when Ukraine gained her independence. Their books revealed horrible truths about the soviet regime, and gave the lie to the inventions of soviet propaganda. Their books dispelled some of the soviet myths that had become accepted by the world community.
I wonder what Dr. Mace felt when he was unearthing facts about all those horrors…
I know what he felt because I myself became literally sick when I worked as editor of the book 33: Holod. Narodna knyha pamyati (Famine of 1933. Book of People’s Reminiscences). Reading the recollections of people who had lived in those horrible years, came as a terrible shock…
For James it was no less a shock when he was just beginning to investigate Holodomor. The fate of his Cherokee ancestors was also very tragic — when in 1835, most of the Cherokee tribe were driven west in an over thousand-kilometer forced march, known as the Trail of Tears, thousands of them perished through hunger, disease, and exposure while on the journey. Some time after they had arrived at their destination, deposits of oil were discovered there and their misfortunes continued. There is a Cherokees museum in the USA where the lists of those who died are kept. Many of the Cherokee got integrated into the white society but the memory of injustice and violence done to them lives on. That is why James reacted so emotionally to the tragedy that had befallen the Ukrainians…
Back in 1982, at an international conference devoted to the Holocaust and genocide, James said that Stalin had decided to destroy the Ukrainian peasantry and the Ukrainian intellectuals because he had regarded them as the greatest obstacles to his unlimited power. An attempt was made to destroy the Ukrainian spirit and obliterate memory of the Ukrainian history, or better to destroy the whole nation — “no nation, no problems”…
James studied not only documents and books — he talked to people, to the living witnesses of the tragedy of Holodomor. He told me that it had been the most difficult part of his research — to see the eyes of those who had been telling him their horrendous stories…
James was indignant that a number of western historians and “sovietologists” refused to recognize Holodomor as a “planned” famine, as genocide in which millions perished (the exact number of people who perished then is very difficult to establish).
It was a bitter irony of history that it was in 1933, the year when the famine took its greatest tall, that the USA established diplomatic relations with the soviet murderous, despotic regime… James, at the time when he served as the executive director of the US Commission on the Ukraine Famine in Washington, was instrumental in alerting the American public and politicians to the horrific crimes against humanity which had been perpetrated by the soviet regime. These crimes had been thoroughly concealed from the world for many years. In the words of Academician Kulchytsky, James Mace and the commission he headed had helped rouse American society from “political lethargy” and awaken it to the soviet genocidal practices. “In November 1987, the then Ukrainian communist party boss Volodymyr Shcherbytsky, speaking on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, mentioned the famine but stopped short of recognizing it as a tragedy of massive proportions — and he did it following Mace’s publications of the results of his research into Holodomor, when the further silence about the facts of history was no longer possible,” said Academician Kulchytsky.
Was Dr. Mace’s decision to come to Ukraine motivated to a certain extent by a possible impasse in his work in the USA?
Yes, I think we could say that. The work of the commission he headed was largely ignored by American society. At that time, James ethnically was the only person of non-Slavic extraction who, as a member of an organization of Slavic studies, earned his doctorate by writing a thesis dealing with the Ukrainian history. Most of others researched certain aspects of the Russian history. James urged Harvard to devote more resources to the study of Holodomor while there were some witnesses of the famine still alive, but preference continued to be given to the study of some other aspects of the Ukrainian history and culture. James felt himself in isolation, he faced a problem of finding work, though there was no overt criticism of his views, no one came up with arguments to contest his findings. Only one little brochure published in Canada by Canadian communists of Ukrainian descent had some vituperative comments calling James “a false Ukraine-lover with a fascist psychology.”
Once a soviet Ukrainian delegation that was on a visit to the USA, offered James free access to the archives dealing with the times of Bohdan Khmelnytsky and War of Independence — in exchange for his dropping his research into Holodomor. He refused the offer…
By moving to Ukraine, James was sure his research would be more fruitful and more needed. In 1993 when he did come to Ukraine, this country had been independent for two years and he hoped it would be more receptive to his findings.
May I ask a personal question? How did you meet Dr. Mace?
I worked for a newspaper and I sought him out to take an interview. I discovered that he lived in rather reduced circumstances and rented a small room — it was all he could afford. He was totally devoted to his historical research and seemed to be oblivious of anything else. I was moved by his dedication and appalled by the conditions he lived in, and I offered him a much better accommodation at my apartment. I wanted to create better conditions for him so he could focus exclusively on the work he was doing. He accepted my proposal but warned me that if I entertained any hopes of marrying him, he would never marry me. In fact, I did not entertain any such hopes — I was divorced, my previous marriage proving to be a disaster, and had no intention of getting into a wedlock again. But as time passed, my lodger began showing signs of infatuation, and it was not long before he proposed. By that time I was not indifferent to him either — and presto! We were married. It proved to be a very happy marriage. Our friends said that it took just one glance at us to see how much we were in love with each other.
But financially, we lived through hard times. James could earn very little, so it was mostly my money we lived on. Then he landed an editorial job at the newspaper Den’, then he was invited to teach at the NUKMA (National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy), he did translations and editing, and our financial situation considerably improved. James published a number of his works on Holodomor — but they did not seem to have caused any reaction in society. Neither the historians nor the general public seemed to pay any attention. James was extremely upset, and depressed too, though he was by nature a man full of good humor. Once, he even broke down and cried, saying that his work was not needed either in the States or in Ukraine. I promised him I would do everything possible to get him heard; I would find a way of getting him invited to speak on the radio or television. I asked to be a little more patient and take care of his health…
But his patience began to wear thin. We lived in a rather run-down, low-class neighborhood, in which James, when he appeared in the street, immediately stood out as a foreigner. James was robbed, attacked and beaten several times. Once I had to interfere to save him from a police officer who grabbed him and threatened to kill him – it was a case of mistaken identity. After that, I did my best to accompany him whenever I could…
James conducted a lively correspondence. He received dozens of letters a day and he made it a point to answer all of these letters which came from the downtrodden people in many parts of the world who regarded James as a champion of human rights. They sought his advice and encouragement…
James had a serious health problem and once, in 2002, he was near death and it was only massive blood transfusion that saved his life. Later, he said that he was happy to have at last “true Ukrainian blood” in him — quite literally, too… I was very upset to learn that no one from the NUKMA came forward to donate blood though he was very devoted to that university. But the journalists from the newspaper Den’ did, and I was moved by it. James underwent four operations but these operations did not save him in the end…
It was his idea to honor the memory of the millions of those who perished in Holodomor by lighting candles on a certain date, at a certain time and putting the candles on the windowsills. His appeal was heard and untold number of Ukrainians joined in this symbolic gesture of honoring the dead…
I did my best to help James in whatever I could. I shared his devotion to making the truth revealed fully, in all of its horrible details, so that such tragedy would never happen again. James, after studying the history of Ukraine so deeply, could be very useful in providing suggestions as to certain aspects of the future development of Ukraine but his premature death put an end to his research.
I met Dr. James at an international historical conference in Illinois, USA, in 1992. I still remember well his truth-seeking enthusiasm, his intelligent eyes and his gentle smile.
He was much respected by those who saw in him a champion of the oppressed. James was a kind-hearted person, always courteous and well-mannered, you could not help loving him. And I still love him…
Recently, a four-volume book, of which he was editor, Velyky holod v Ukrayini (Great Famine in Ukraine) was published by the NUKMA, and the newspaper Den’ published a volume, Vashi mertvi vybraly mene (Your Dead Have Chosen me), which contains many of his articles and essays.
James Mace and his wife Nataliya at The Day
newspaper office. Kyiv, 2003.
With the Ph. D. diploma.
Michigan University, May 2 1981.
James Mace and Oleksiy Voskobiynyk, a
philantropist and a businessman.
Harvard, late 1980s.
Jim Mace in his mother Ola’s lap. 1953.
James Mace with his son William.
Oklahoma, mid 1990s.