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How Father Desbois Became a Holocaust Memory Keeper

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question everything Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 06:00 PM
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How Father Desbois Became a Holocaust Memory Keeper
JANUARY 23, 2009

How Father Desbois Became a Holocaust Memory Keeper
By JORDANA HORN
WSJ

Father Patrick Desbois is a French Catholic priest who, virtually single-handedly, has undertaken the task of excavating the history of previously undocumented Jewish victims of the Holocaust in the former Soviet Union, including an estimated 1.5 million people who were murdered in Ukraine. Father Desbois was born 10 years after the end of World War II -- and yet, through his tireless actions, he exemplifies the "righteous gentile." The term is generally used to recognize non-Jews who, during the Holocaust, risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis. Father Desbois is a generation too late to save lives. Instead, he has saved memory and history. How much he has accomplished since 2002 can be seen in "The Shooting of Jews in Ukraine: Holocaust By Bullets," which runs until March 15 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. The exhibit was created by the Memorial de la Shoah Paris in cooperation with Father Desbois's organization, Yahad in Unum (the words for "together" in Hebrew and Latin).

Using forensic evidence, eyewitness accounts and archival research, Father Desbois has taken it upon himself to document the murders of Jews after the Nazis invaded the former Soviet Union. In Ukraine, where he has begun his work, these Jews were not killed in the relatively well-documented machinery of the death camps. They were the victims of mobile killing units that shot their captives and deliberately left few records of their crimes. At each location, according to Father Desbois, local Ukrainians, including hundreds of children, were requisitioned at gunpoint to assist with the logistics of murder. In August 1941, for instance, these death squads were killing an estimated 82 Jews every hour.

The exhibit is excruciating, and encompasses videos of eyewitness testimony as well as step-by-step descriptions of the executions. From the forced preparation of the grave sites through the painstaking pre-execution activities (like the forcible removal of the Jews' jewelry and gold teeth), the firing squads and the aftermath (including the Nazi banquets celebrating a job well done), the exhibit documents the Holocaust in a part of the world where the specifics of murder, and the location of specific sites, were previously omitted from the historical record. At one point, it describes the technique pioneered by Nazi Einsatzgruppen Leader Friedrich Jeckeln in 1941 of positioning the victims-to-be face down on top of those who had just been executed. Jeckeln called this method Sardinenpackung, or sardine-packing, and noted its purpose: "to avoid having to rearrange the bodies and to gain space."

(snip)

Father Desbois's French grandfather was imprisoned in a forced-labor camp in Rawa Ruska in the Ukraine during the war with 25,000 other French soldiers captured by the Germans. This initially motivated the priest to travel to the region and learn more about all of the Nazis' victims. In 2004, Father Desbois founded Yahad in Unum, along with French Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger and Rabbi Israel Singer. It was created with two goals: to support dialogue between Jewish and Catholic authorities, and, in the words of a founding statement, to reply "to issues of the world with common projects founded on the ethic inspired by the gift of the law on Mount Sinai."

(snip)

Time is working against the priest, who accompanies researchers on most of their trips into the former Soviet Union and has, to this point, personally interviewed 823 witnesses. Each interview takes up to two hours, and his team takes 10 to 15 trips a year to the region, each lasting no more than 17 days because, he explains, "We can't bear more, psychologically." But the surviving witnesses, most of whom were children at the time of the massacres, are already in their late 70s and early 80s, and Father Desbois worries that they won't be able to tell their stories for much longer.

(snip)

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123267413760408649.html (subscription, I think)
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cali Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 06:08 PM
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1. I'm not quite sure I understand why he's doing this
what I mean is, that this is pretty well known- not the specifics of each mass murder, but enough to know what happened.

Having said that, this article illustrates that why certain comparisons ring hollow- awful as that which is being compared to the holocaust may be,, it's a different kind of awful.
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question everything Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 06:30 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. I think that many did not know much about what happened in the former
Soviet Union until many of the archives were opened, and surviving witnesses felt secure in talking about it. Some was illustrated in the movie "Everything Is Illuminated" which, apparently, has a dedicated group of followers on DU.

Mostly, it shows, again, what humans are capable of doing.

And, yes, I agree with your last comment.
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