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French priest speaks on search for graves of Nazi victims


Father Patrick Desbois, a French priest who has devoted his life to discovering secret mass graves of Nazi victims in Ukraine, speaks Sept. 25 at the Boston Public Library. Pilot photo/ Neil W. McCabe

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A French priest described his eight-year quest searching for the lost mass graves of Nazi victims in Ukraine through the testimony of the elderly peasants who witnessed the atrocities to a Boston Public Library audience Sept 25.

“As a boy, I asked my grandfather what it was like inside the camps. He told me in the camps it was awful, but, outside the camps it was worse,” said Father Patrick Desbois, the secretary to the French Conference of Bishops for relations with the Jewish community and an advisor to the Vatican on Judaism.

This short answer was all he ever learned about his grandfather’s deportation from France to the Rawa Ruska camp in Ukraine, but his curiosity has led him to discover 850 sites where Nazis buried the Jews they murdered between 1941 and 1944 in the countryside of Ukraine, he said. It is estimated the Germans killed 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews.

Because the Nazis allotted one bullet for each execution, the priest said he compared the number of cartridges with the bodies he finds. Due to the Germans’ strict one-to-one ratio, many of the victims were not dead when they were put into the earth. “The villagers tell me how the dirt moved because the people were still alive.”

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