Priest uncovers ‘Holocaust by Bullets’
Book includes details of previously unknown mass exterminations
KIEV, Ukraine - The Holocaust has a landscape engraved in the mind's eye: barbed-wire fences, gas chambers, furnaces. Less known is the "Holocaust by Bullets," in which over 2 million Jews were gunned down in towns and villages across Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Their part in the Nazis' Final Solution has been under researched, their bodies left unidentified in unmarked mass graves.
"Shoah," French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann's documentary, stands as the 20th century's epic visual record of the Holocaust. Now another Frenchman, a Catholic priest named Patrick Desbois, is filling in a different part of the picture. Desbois devotes his 233-page book, published by Palgrave Macmillan in August, to his work in Ukraine, where he says he has uncovered over 800 mass extermination sites, more than two-thirds of them previously unknown.
Desbois says he has interviewed more than 800 eyewitnesses and pinpointed hundreds of mass graves strewn around dusty fields in the former Soviet Union. Brought to Ukraine by a twist of fate, Desbois has spent seven years trying to document the truth, honor the dead, relieve witnesses of their pain and guilt and prevent future acts of genocide.
Some 1.4 million of Soviet Ukraine's 2.4 million Jews were executed, starved to death or died of disease during the war. Another 550,000 to 650,000 Soviet Jews were killed in Belarus and up to 140,000 in Russia, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Most of the victims were women, children and the elderly.
Desbois' interviews and grave-hunting tie in to millions of pages of Soviet archives, heightening their credibility, says Paul Shapiro of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, who wrote the foreword to Desbois' book.
Father Desbois' work is also having an impact on efforts to preserve Holocaust sites. In December, the 26-nation International Task Force on the Holocaust called on European governments to ensure the protection of locations such as the mass graves Desbois is uncovering, according to Shapiro, who helped draft the resolution.