Éire Ghaelach – Éire Shaor
Today is World Holocaust Memorial Day, and it would be wrong to let it pass without comment. Though human history has witnessed many atrocious events in its time few equal the industrialised mass murder of millions of men, women and children that took place in the centre and eastern fringes of Europe in the mid-20th century. Here is a link to an article from the Moment webzine on the work of the Roman Catholic priest Patrick Desbois who has spent the last decade criss-crossing Eastern Europe searching out the mass graves of nearly two million people, mainly Jews, murdered during the so-called Holocaust of Bullets.
“Father Patrick Desbois seldom smiles. Sitting across from me in the deserted dining room of a Foggy Bottom hotel in Washington, DC, the austere French Catholic priest unflinchingly chronicles the mass execution of Jews during World War II. “The shootings took place in public, it was like a show,” says Desbois. Our waiter looks uncomfortable as he places a Sprite on the table—most likely he is unaccustomed to hearing his customers discuss genocide over drinks.
The diminutive 56-year-old has spent the last eight years on what some have called a “holy mission,” traveling across Eastern Europe—mostly in Ukraine—to identify the unmarked and sometimes previously unknown graves of the more than 1.5 million Jews murdered there during World War II. In village after village, Desbois, using his clerical collar as his means of entrée, convinces local witnesses—children or teenagers during the war—to tell him stories that have been left untold for more than 60 years. “It is like opening a box,” Desbois says in his thick French accent. “They have been waiting to speak.”
His work is bringing to light an often-neglected chapter of Holocaust history—that of entire Jewish communities massacred where they lived. “This project has focused attention on the need for greater understanding of the Holocaust in the East,” says Paul Shapiro, Director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). It balances our perception of the Holocaust, he adds, which has been of “trains taking people to death camps” with events that “in large part took place before the trains even started.” Over a third of the murdered six million were killed by bullets in Eastern Europe: Desbois’ work—recording testimony, documenting mass graves and even collecting the actual bullets—not only provides irrefutable evidence of this but is changing the way we understand the Holocaust itself.”