November 15, 2007 – The Targum Shlishi Foundation is leading an informational and fundraising effort to support the task of locating mass graves of Jews massacred by Nazis in the Ukraine, and to uncover the history of that time. This essential work is being led by Father Patrick Desbois, a Catholic priest based in Paris.
Targum Shlishi has been involved in this effort for the past year, and began seeking financial partners in August 2007; since then, $250,000 from several individuals and foundations, including Targum Shlishi, has been raised as part of an ongoing private funding effort.
Father Desbois’s objective is to locate the sites of mass graves of Jewish victims of the Nazi mobile killing units, the Einsatzgruppen, in the Ukraine. He and a team journey to the Ukraine approximately every other month, collect testimonies from witnesses, locate, verify, and document the sites of mass graves, and collect tangible proof of the genocide.
“We believe that Father Desbois’s work is critically important, and he’s been doing all of this on a shoestring budget,” explains Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi. “This is the first time we’ve approached friends and partners to raise significant dollars. Targum Shlishi is doing this because I thought that we could play a role in helping to recover and preserve history by making people aware of Father Desbois’s work and helping to raise funds.”
Very little is known about the Holocaust in this region. In less than two years, from June 1941 until the spring of 1943, an estimated 1.25 million Jews were massacred in the Soviet Union by the Einsatzgruppen (Father Desbois’s research supports more recent estimates that 1.5 million Jews were murdered in the Ukraine, over a longer time period). The Jewish populations of whole villages were slaughtered in hours; entire regions were annihilated in an afternoon. Unlike in the concentration camps, there were few survivors to tell the world what had happened.
In the past four years, since beginning this work, Father Desbois has documented approximately 600 sites; prior to that 200 were known. He estimates that 1,800 are yet to be found. He conducts his work by going into small villages and interviewing the residents there who witnessed the killings. He says that many of those he interviews have never before spoken of the massacres, but they respond to his status as a Catholic priest. He is motivated by a compulsion to locate the sites before all the witnesses have died, to “bring proof of these assassinations to the world” and to ensure that history does not die with the witnesses.
“People talk as if these things happened yesterday, as if sixty years didn’t exist,” Father Desbois told the New York Times in a recent article. “Some ask, ‘Why are you coming so late? We have been waiting for you.’ “
“This is urgent work; the witnesses are old and they are dying. They are the only ones who can tell of the horrific events that occurred in these villages. We are running out of time,” says Mr. Rubin. “Father Desbois’s work is going to change the calculus of the Holocaust. By the time his work is finished, the data in terms of the number of victims will be clearer. We will not only know how many were killed, we will know how, when, and where the Jews of the Ukraine were massacred.”
Targum Shlishi’s fundraising was conducted by identifying potential donors, contacting them to explain Father Desbois’s work, and sending out information packets that include a nine-minute informational film that Targum Shlishi produced. Targum Shlishi has made arrangements with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to collect and administer all donations in support of Father Desbois’s work. To view the film and read the information, including a selection of articles on Father Desbois’s work, see the Initiatives section of Targum Shlishi’s website, www.targumshlishi.org.
Currently, an exhibition based on Father Desbois’s work, titled The Holocaust of Bullets is on view through November 30 at the Memorial of the Shoah in Paris, and next year will travel to New York’s Jewish Heritage Museum. An accompanying book, Porteur de Memoires: Un pretre revele la Shoah par balles, has just been published in France, Belgium, and Switzerland; an English version called The Holocaust of Bullets will be published in the U.S. in summer 2008 by Palgrave-Macmillan. There are also plans for a documentary. In addition, Father Desbois’s work helped inspire the idea for a conference on the Holocaust in the Ukraine held in October 2007 in Paris that brought together scholars from around the world.
About Father Desbois and Yahad-In Unum
Father Patrick Desbois is a consultant to the Vatican on relations with Judaism, head of the Commission for Relations with Jews of the French Bishops Conference, an advisor to the Cardinal of Lyon, and he was personal aide to the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger. In 2004 Father Desbois founded Yahad-In Unum (yahad means together in Hebrew; in unum means together in Latin), whose mission is to further understanding and cooperation between Catholics and Jews. The work of identifying the sites of Jewish mass executions is the major focus of Yahad-In Unum. For more information about Yahad-In Unum, visit its website at www.yahadinunum.org.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation, is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website.
For Media and Other Inquiries
Contact Targum Shlishi at 305.692.9991 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Images available upon request.