Hobart and William Smith Colleges present internationally renowned Holocaust researcher and human rights activist, Father Patrick Desbois, who will discuss his experiences in documenting long-hidden Nazi atrocities in his lecture, “Holocaust by Bullets,” on Thursday, Sept. 24, at 7:30 p.m. His talk will take place in the Geneva Room at the Warren Hunting Smith Library. The event is free and open to the public. Desbois will review the findings of his decade-long investigation of the war crimes committed by Nazi death squads in Eastern Europe. These investigations not only included hundreds of first person accounts but the discovery of several previously unknown mass graves.
An international leader in advancing Catholic-Jewish relations, fighting anti-Semitism and Holocaust research, Desbois will also participate as a distinguished guest lecturer in a Reader’s College course hosted by HWS and Nazareth College.
A Roman Catholic priest and consultant to the Vatican, Desbois is a founder and president of Yahad-In Unum (YIU), a global humanitarian organization based in France that is dedicated to identifying and commemorating the sites of Jewish and Roma mass executions in Eastern Europe during World War II. His work through YIU, which is committed to “learning from the past and educating in the present, [to] ensure that mass killing will never again be a silent crime,” has been recognized through numerous awards and publicly commended across France and throughout the world.
“We are so privileged and honored that Father Patrick Desbois will be speaking to the HWS community and interacting with and teaching our students,” says Professor of Religious Studies Michael Dobkowski. “His work is really an enterprise of discovery, of responsibility to the victims, of healing and reconciliation and of justice. As many parts of the world are experiencing violence and massive refugee dislocations, his words and actions are particularly timely.”
As an invited Farash Scholar, Desbois’ visit to the Colleges is sponsored by both the Max and Marian Farash Community Lecture series and the Colleges’ annual Human Rights and Genocide Symposium.
Desbois also serves as an adjunct professor with the Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University. Throughout his extensive career, Desbois has been recognized for his work, including as the recipient of the LBJ Moral Courage Award from the Holocaust Museum Houston. In 2008, he earned the National Jewish Book Award for his work, “The Holocaust by Bullets.” Other accolades include the Medal of Valor by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Humanitarian Award of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, and several honorary degrees.
“This is sacred work for Father Desbois, an obligation to right an injustice, to provide some dignity to the victims, to save memory and history,” Dobkowski says. “Unless we are open to confronting the crimes of the past we will not be able to deal with the crimes of the present or the future. That is the powerful message I believe he will bring to our community and our students, as well as the idea that we cannot remain passive and silent in the face of evil and that there are things we can and must do.”
Dobkowski says that through the use of innovative methodologies, in-depth interviews, ballistic evidence and historical documentation, Desbois’ team has determined the location of many mass graves. The team also has turned its attention to Guatemala to document similar atrocities.
“Most recently he has been asked to use his method to explore and document the genocide in Guatemala in the 1980s,” says Associate Professor of Religious Studies Richard Salter ’86, P’15. “Indeed, his work on witnessing, documentation and forensic justice is important wherever collective violence has occurred.”
The Reader’s College course that Desbois will join is co-taught by Dobkowski and Salter. HWS students participating in the course are: Soren Anders-MacLeod ’18, Susannah Berry ’16, Guadalupe Mendoza ’18, Anna Philibert ’16 and Angel Salas-Espana ’18.
On the first day of Desbois’ course, which will take place at Nazareth, students will focus on understanding the work of YIU, giving them the opportunity to explore his research, methodology and the way in which site visits are conducted. Two field researchers from his team will also join him during the visit. The second day of his course will cover the practical applications of the work, methods and goals. Students will train on the approaches of Desbois’ team to examine comparable groups in the United States who have suffered mass violence and dislocation.
Among his many roles, Desbois serves as director of the Episcopal Committee for Catholic-Judeo Relations, under the auspices of the French Conference of Bishops. He is the grandson of a World War II French prisoner held in the Rawa Ruska camp on the Poland-Ukraine border. In 2004, he began to research the story of the Jews, Roma and other victims murdered during World War II in Eastern Europe by the Nazi mobile killing units, the Einsatzgruppen.
The Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation is a nonprofit based in Rochester, N.Y., which values education and entrepreneurship, and has deep consideration for civic and religious communities. Through its efforts, grants are made available to nonprofits in Monroe and Ontario counties, half of which are for projects and programs with ties to Jewish life.
Now in its 16th year, the Human Rights and Genocide Symposium was initiated and has been sustained by generous grants from Dr. Edward Franks ’72. The Symposium seeks to improve understanding of all life-annihilation processes present in our world and to help participants learn more about the circumstances in which genocide is perpetrated.
About Yahad – In Unum: Yahad – In Unum combines the Hebrew word – Yahad meaning “together,” with the Latin phrase In Unum, meaning “in one.” Founded in 2004 by Father Patrick Desbois, the organization is dedicated to systematically identifying and documenting the sites of Jewish mass executions by Nazi mobile-killing units in Eastern Europe during World War II. The objective of this work is to substantiate the “Holocaust by Bullets,” provide evidence, give proper respect to the victims’ burial places and disseminate the universal lessons about genocide and mass killings. Yahad-In Unum is the sole Christian organization dedicated to finding the truth about these killings. For more information, please visit http://www.yahadinunum.org.