Father Patrick Desbois
Father Patrick Desbois, president of Yahad-In Unum, has devoted his life to confronting anti-Semitism and furthering Catholic-Jewish understanding. Since 2001, he has led a truly historic undertaking of identifying and locating undiscovered mass graves of Jews and Roma killed during the Holocaust in Eastern Europe.
Father Desbois is a grandson of a French deportee to the Rawa Ruska labor camp in the Ukraine and is motivated by a compulsion to locate the killing sites before all the witnesses have died, to “bring proof of these assassinations to the world”, and to assure that history does not die with the witnesses. To fulfill this mission, Father Desbois founded Yahad-In Unum in 2004.
In less than three years, from June 1941, when Germany invaded the former Soviet Union, until spring 1944, Nazi mobile killing units, or Einsatzgruppen, massacred well over 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe. The Jewish populations of whole villages were slaughtered in hours; entire regions were annihilated in an afternoon. Unlike the concentration camps, there were few survivors to tell the world what had happened.
During the course of Yahad – In Unum’s research on mass shootings by the Nazis in the territories of former USSR, Yahad - In Unum teams discovered, so far, 65 extermination sites of Roma people, as well as eyewitnesses to their murders. Knowing that Roma communities suffered the same fate as the Jews, Father Desbois and Yahad - In Unum, have made it their mission to undertake similar work on behalf of the Roma community as well.
So that history may not be forgotten, Yahad-In Unum researchers carefully review war archives from the former Soviet Union, Germany and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. With this information, the teams visit small villages across Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia and Ukraine, and interview the residents there who witnessed the killings. Many of those he interviews have never before spoken of the massacres. One site at a time, Yahad - In Unum is unmasking what was a continent of extermination. To further refute the claims of Holocaust deniers, at each site artifacts are collected and most significantly, video testimonies are recorded from eyewitnesses. These invaluable testimonies, which serve as important evidence of this genocide, are archived in Yahad-In Unum’s Paris headquarters, are shared with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s permanent collection.
Father Desbois’ work with Yahad has been recognized through numerous awards in France and internationally. Most recently, Father Desbois was awarded on the occasion of the annual meeting between the Crif (The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France) and the President of France, for his work of Memory. In his address, the French President, Francois Hollande, saluted Father Desbois, in underlining the importance of his mission.