The Holocaust by bullets - Shoah Memorial

Father Patrick Desbois and Yahad-In Unum

Father Patrick Desbois

Father Patrick Desbois, whose grandfather was deported to stalag 325 in Rava-Ruska, has undertaken the long and exacting task of methodically recording the extermination of Ukraine’s one and a half million Jews. By identifying and assessing every site in eastern and western Ukraine in which they were exterminated by mobile Nazi units during World War II, his ultimate aim is to make sure the Jews shot dead there receive a decent burial.

The work has been undertaken with an association, Yahad-In-Unum, which was created in January, 2004, on the initiative of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger and Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, and of Rabbi Israël Singer. Father Patrick Desbois, Director of Episcopal Services for Relations with Judaism, is the President of the association, which benefits from the support of the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah, and Pope Benedict XVI, in a letter dated 12th of November, 2005, addressed to Cardinal Lustiger.

The research, which has so far covered about a third of the territory concerned, has finally brought to light the precise conditions in which this mass assassination took place.

Yahad – In Unum Research in Ukraine

The Yahad–In Unum research in Ukraine is carried out in three phases: information in German and Soviet archives gathering, field research (recording witness accounts, localizing sites, ballistic inquiries), and collection of the material proof of the genocide (identifying mass Jewish graves and collecting cartridge cases and other ballistic proof).

Archival Research:

The archive reserves of German tribunals and Soviet commissions have revealed initial information regarding the massacres committed by the Nazis in the Soviet Union, and notably in Ukraine between 1941 and 1944. Yahad’s team has been able to discover the exact missions given to German troops concerning the treatment of Jews, and the localization of certain massacre sites. It has provided them with a base on which to start work at ground level.

Visiting the sites and recording witness accounts:

Father Desbois and a team of experts regularly travel across the regions of Ukraine, intent on identifying witnesses of the genocide still alive today. At the time of events, these witnesses were curious children or adolescents who either followed the columns of Jews heading towards execution sites or observed the executions while hidden. Others were amongst those requisitioned by the Germans, in complicity with local authorities, to take part in digging or recovering the pits, and transporting victims or materials. They all testify, often for the first time, after sixty years of silence.

Three concordant testimonies recorded independently have led Yahad – In Unum to discover the localization of execution sites not known of until today.

Identifying mass Jewish graves and collecting ballistic proof:

On indications given by witnesses, the site of the grave is located, and its GPS position noted. The German cartridge cases are dated, and all other ballistic proof is gathered before the grave is camouflaged, to prevent tomb raiders profaning the site.

The presence of these German cartridge cases around the communal graves is determining evidence that executions were perpetrated by mobile Nazi units. Along with such evidence, the team picks up several personal objects belonging to the victims: glasses, children’s games, or jewelry which escaped the killers’ avarice. Five hundred execution sites have already been identified.

The exhibition at the Shoah Memorial presents the first results of this research: one part of the ballistic evidence found in the sites, and a selection of witness accounts collected over the last six years by the Yahad – In Unum team.

In August, 2006, Father Patrick Desbois’ team, as requested by the Shoah Memorial, provided the results of an archeological expertise of a communal grave in the village of Busk. It confirms, as if it was still necessary to do so, the terrible reality of the Nazi troop genocide in Ukraine and across all of the Soviet territory between 1941 and 1944.

An interview being recorded as the congregation leaves Mass. © Guillaume Ribot

An interview being recorded as the congregation leaves Mass.
© Guillaume Ribot

Two witnesses pointing to the site of a mass grave.

Two witnesses pointing to the site of a mass grave.
© Guillaume Ribot

Bullet casing

Bullet casing.
© Guillaume Ribot

View of the site at Busk in the Lvov region where 15 mass graves were located in a former Jewish cemetery

View of the site at Busk in the Lvov region where 15 mass graves were located in a former Jewish cemetery.
© Guillaume Ribot