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Let Us Never Forget – World Holocaust Memorial Day

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.”

8 comments on “Let Us Never Forget – World Holocaust Memorial Day

  1. The IRA went to Germany to get help from the Nazis.


    • Cocubhar, I’m genuinely surprised that someone with your knowledge would make such a facile statement. Throughout the late 1920s and ’30s the IRA took a strongly anti-fascist stance, confronting home-grown fascistic elements in Ireland (the antecedents of Fine Gael) while publicly condemning Nazism as another form of “imperialism”. An Phoblacht, the newspaper of the Republican Movement, was the only consistently anti-Nazi newspaper in Ireland throughout this period, describing “Hitlersim” as a “disease” in 1933, and reporting in detail on the persecution of Jews and left-wing radicals in Germany on several occasions.

      Yes, in the late 1930s and early ’40s following the outbreak of WWII some in the leadership of the IRA sought German help to confront the British, but they were a minority. That policy split the IRA in many ways, as had the Spanish Civil War previously when many IRA men went to Spain to fight Franco and fascism (including left-wing socialist republican Frank Ryan who was wounded, captured and taken prisoner to Germany). The leadership of Seán Russell etc. led to many walking away from the movement. However we now know that there was much more going on behind the scenes and that Russell expressed anti-Nazi views while in Germany itself prior to his death. Furthermore it is now clear that Frank Ryan was being used by the Irish government to gather information on what was happening in Germany in the early 1940s. All that said, that section of the IRA that sought German aid in WWII were wrong to do so. They should have listened to those many contemporary Republicans who warned them of the moral bankruptcy of the Nazi system and that no safe deals could be made with the Devil.

      However, I don’t think this is the place for petty Irish political or historical disagreements. Apologies for any offence offered by my strong reaction above. Lets leave it at that, as I think the horror of what happened during the Holocaust is of greater import here.


      • Well said. Let no-one take away from the importance of what was wrought on these people by Nazism. To use the Holocaust for political point scoring is cheap, and out of place here.


    • A number of The English royal family and aristocracy did their best to help the Nazis in the 30s and 40s. What is your point?


  2. Roasted Snow

    I didn’t know much of this. Well done to Fr Patrik Debois. a great post with new info which I’ve shared!


    • I quiet agree. An inspirational figure, especially given the attitudes in much of Central and Eastern Europe where so many wish to simply forget the Holocaust and their own nations’ or communities’ roles in it, while remembering only their own experiences.

      All suffering, and all histories, need to be acknowledged.


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