by Education Coordinator - Donna Walter
As the IHE announces the winners of the Tribute to the Rescuers essay contest on moral courage, we would like to call your attention to Fr. Patrick Desbois who recently received the 2013 Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award in Houston, Texas.
Desbois, a Catholic priest, is president of Yahad-In Unum. This organization is devoted to searching out undiscovered mass graves of Jewish and Roma victims of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. Desbois’ grandfather was a French soldier during Word War II and was imprisoned in the Ukrainian Rawa Ruska prison camp. His grandfather’s only mention of that time was to say “others had it worse.” A photograph of men and women in Bergen Belsen taught Desbois who the “others” were and what “worse” meant…
In a 2002 visit to Ukraine, Desbois was shocked to learn that there were no memorials or other indicators of the atrocities that had taken place there. With the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Germans in June 1941, the Einsatzgruppen (Nazi mobile killing units) began their massacre of 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe. These units slaughtered entire villages in a matter of hours.
Few survivors were left to tell stories. Desbois’ organization has helped identify more than 800 hidden mass grave sites containing more than 2,000 mass graves. Desbois uses archival information from Germany, the former Soviet Union, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to aid his investigations.
Yahad-In Unum has recovered artifacts from sites and more importantly has recorded video testimony from eyewitnesses. Father Desbois has devoted his life to researching the Holocaust, fighting anti-Semitism, and furthering relations between Catholic and Jews.
Fr. Patrick Desbois certainly is exhibiting moral courage in his quest to uncover the truth of those dark days in Eastern Europe and in his message to those who commit genocide, “…sooner or later, wherever the mass murder of humans has taken place, someone will return.”