Carolyn’s Online Magazine
THE EASTERN EUROPEAN HOLOCAUST
The Execution of Jews and Gypsies
in the Ukraine, Moldovia, Lithuania
and other sites in Eastern Europe
A man was caring for his cows on a beautiful, sunny, day. In the not too far distance he could see a lineup of Jews facing a ditch. He watched as they were shot in the back and fell in the ditch.
Seventy years ago Nazi firing squads methodically executed 1.5 million Soviet Jews in the forests of Eastern Europe.
No Jew survived to tell this story. The executed became the forgotten victims of the Holocaust, their story remaining quietly hidden until recently.
In recent years The Rev. Patrick Desbois, a French priest, stepped forward and unburied the story of this slaughter of Jews and gypsies. While collecting the stories he became the voice of these victims.
Don’t forget the victims, absolutely don’t forget them. It’s my message.
Desbois tells his story of discovery in a book, The Holocaust by Bullets.
Desbois also presented his story at the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education’s conference held at Seton Hill College on October 25, 2015, and in a newspaper print/online article, Priest’s Holocaust investigations focus of Seton Hill conference.
DISCLAIMER: The following report comes from notes I took at Desbois’ presentation at Seton Hill College. Unfortunately, I missed much of the content because I had difficulty understanding Desbois’ French accent. Therefore, some of the following information may not be clear. For that, I apologize. The point is, however, that the gist of my report is accurate. To read more access Desbois book, Holocaust by Bullets.
Although this article is dated as being posted on Nov. 5, 2015, it was back dated from the day of its actual post, Nov. 13. As I was reading this for critique at the Foothills Writers group, reports were being broadcast about the Paris attacks. On Nov. 14, I posted Paris by Alan Gembola 11/13/2015 , written by a Buffalo, New York, songwriter.
What inspired The Rev. Patrick Desbois to devote his life to exposing the story of the Eastern European Holocaust victims?
As a child he learned his Grandfather was a World War II prisoner of war in Rava Ruska (in the Ukraine). Many times he asked his Grandfather what happened, but the only answer was that if he had it rough, others had it far worse. His Grandfather took details of his experience to the grave.
The small bit of information piqued Desbois’ curiosity, leading him to ask, even years later: What happened in Rava Ruska? The need to know started him on a journey of discovery, drawing him to Rava Ruska to unlock the mystery.
On his first visit to Rava Ruska he was stunned that he found no hint that thousands of Jews once lived there. The city’s mayor insisted the city officials knew nothing about them.
Desbois was so driven towards discovery that he traveled to Rava Ruska again, and again, and again. On his 4th visit a new mayor told him the Germans shot and buried all the Jews and gypsies in Rava Ruska. None survived, so none could support the mayor’s momentous revelation that removed the tightly woven web covering of the city’s secret.
However, through the years 4,076 witnesses, all non-Jew and non-gypsy villagers who were young teens or children 70 years ago, gave testimony supporting the truth in the mayor’s statement. The testimony of witnesses was the same in Molodova, where Desbois discovered 4 unmarked mass graves containing 1000 bodies, and thousands of eyewitnesses. It was the same when he found a mass grave beneath a mound in Lithuania
Did a common thread connect these stories?
Desbois answer is yes.
He learned the single goal of the Germans was to kill Jews and gypsies in a planned and methodical manner at public executions.The process leading to the executions was the same in each village. A German, after arriving in the village, would ask how many Jews were in residence. They would then evaluate how many people needed to be killed and decide when to hold the slaughter.
Days before the slaughtering event local residents, the Jews non-Jew neighbors, were hired to dig ditch-graves, usually near the train station.
Then the Germans would bring in key players on different days: a driver, a cook, 5 shooters.
In the quiet of night on the day of the spectacle the Germans drove into the village, arriving moments before the Jews awoke—encircling them so they couldn’t run. The Germans went into the main street and announced they were deporting the Jews to Palestine for work, and urged them to be ready at exactly noon.
Most of the time the Jews accepted what was said. Only occasionally would violence break out.
Twenty victims at a time were forced to undress and lined up at the edge of the ditch. The 5 shooters aimed at their backs, causing them to fall face first into the ditch. The shooters were allowed only one bullet per victim, which often it didn’t immediately kill the victim. No matter—the victim was buried alive. Most children were buried alive, or massacred in front of their mother’s eyes. For days after the event witnesses saw the ground move.
When done, the Germans put explosives in the ground and forced 30 Jews to fill the grave while German music played on a gramophone.
The killings were not done in private. They were spectacles, events. The response of village residents to the public executions was interesting, Desbois said.
When they knew they were not among the victims—they were not Jews, gypsies or communists—they found it interesting. They wanted to see.
Village residents wanted to attend the event, even if just out of curiosity. The entire village population would line up to watch the executions. Schools closed, allowing children to attend the killing of the enemy. Some would climb trees so they could see better.
Only one of the 4,076 witnesses who testified didn’t stay to watch.
WHAT HAS THE REV. PATRICK DESBOIS
LEARNED FROM HIS RESEARCH?
- Desbois’ experience in untangling the Eastern European Holocaust story taught him a lot. He learned that anyone can be a killer. And anyone can be a victim.
- Most of all, Desbois came to realize that genocide is a human disease that involves very smart, educated, people. Even so, the majority fall for it. A few say no.
In such situations, when a person—you—is certain you’re group isn’t endangered, you’re group is safe, that you will not be killed, you will like to watch. Desbois likened it to a car accident where people gawk to see what happened—it’s the same thing.
Human beings don’t change, humans are humans. They feel that as long as it’s their group, not my group, my family, my country, the killing is not a catastrophe.
- It’s the tragedy of humanity.
- It’s a sin against God and humanity.
- But the sin never dies.
You (we) have to name it and treat it, because we don’t recognize the fact that it’s the tragedy of humanity, a sin against God and humanity, when you are in a place it’s legal to kill people.
Desbois said genocide continues today, with exactly the same motive. Humans fight the same disease of genocide today. He used the Isis public killings as an example.
“People say It’s not me, it’s not our group. Then they sleep well.
“We cannot accept that. We need to say no more of that. We’re done. We’ve named the disease. We have to teach more than ever because the young are far away from World War II.”
The Rev. closed with his final lament:
Don’t forget the victims. Absolutely don’t forget them. It’s my message.
NOTE: The WordPress writing prompt for November 12, 2015, was Ripped from the Headlines: from your favorite online news source…pick an article with a headline that grabs you. Write a short story based on the article. I was writing the Desbois article using a newspaper article I copied from online. Ergo, coincidence puts my article with the prompt.