A Priest Bears Witness: Father Patrick Desbois is on a mission to Uncover the Mass Graves of Nearly Two Million Jews. 60 Years After the Holocaust, Time is Running Out
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.”
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more