PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Before Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka and the other Nazi death camps killed millions by Zyklon-B gas, there was another Holocaust perpetrated by the Germans in World War II.
This Holocaust by Bullets, the shooting of at least 1.5 million men, women, and children — mostly Jews, occurred in the occupied countries of the former Soviet Union.
It was largely hidden until communism ended, and a French Catholic priest made it his mission to find the killing fields.
In a brief but riveting talk to Holocaust survivors at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Fr. Patrick Desbois described his work in eastern Europe to uncover killing sites.
“We work in 10 countries to localize all the mass graves where the Jews, gypsies, and disabled people have been shot by the German units,” Fr. Desbois told KDKA’s Jon Delano. “We have found, for the moment, 1,900 extermination sites.”
That’s 1,900 extermination sites with more likely to be uncovered.
Featured in CBS’s 60 Minutes, Fr. Desbois and his team of 27 are still at work.
“We knew the Germans came in the morning to the village and left and everyone was dead,” said Fr. Desbois. “But we didn’t know what happened between the morning and the night. And it was our task to rebuild the crime, to make a criminal investigation in every village.”
Part of that requires interviews with non-Jewish witnesses still alive, like a woman who as a school child was told to go watch the killing of their enemies.
As recounted by Fr. Desbois, she told the priest, “’We arrived too early. There were no Jews and no Germans, so we sat under a tree. It was summer sunny day, and suddenly Germans arrived with the Jews.’ She said, ‘We cried a lot, but we stayed until the end.’”
Fr. Desbois showed an exhibit that goes from city to city. It’s in Pittsburgh at the Holocaust Center through September.
On the outside panels are photographs of actual witnesses to the holocaust by bullets that Fr. Desbois interviewed.
On the inside panels some photographs of what those witnesses actually saw back in the 1940s.
The photos are disturbing: Jews gathered for extermination and then being shot by Germans.
Fr. Desbois says this Holocaust by shooting is relevant because the killing continues today.
“These connections between Holocaust and modern genocide — Hitler unfortunately is known all over the planet,” he said.
Fr. Desbois points to ISIS today, but says that group is hardly alone in seeking to ethnically cleanse or kill large groups of people.
At Tuesday’s gathering, Holocaust survivors asked Fr. Desbois about specific locations where they believe their loved ones were murdered. He knew many of them.
Once discovered, it allows final prayers
Hosted by the Holocaust Center, Fr. Desbois will speak at Carnegie Mellon Wednesday night. For more details, visit: http://holocaustcenterpgh.org/father-patrick-desbois/