Rev. Patrick Desbois

Braman endowed Professor of the practice of the forensic study of the holocaust

desboisFather Patrick Desbois, president of Yahad-In Unum, has devoted his life to confronting anti-Semitism and furthering Catholic-Jewish understanding.  Since 2001, he has led a truly historic undertaking of identifying and locating undiscovered mass graves of Jews killed during the Holocaust in Eastern Europe.

In less than two years, from June 1941, when Germany invaded the former Soviet Union, until the spring of 1944, Nazi mobile killing units, or Einsatzgruppen, massacred well over 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe. 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. 

So that history may not be forgotten, Father Desbois, a Catholic Priest, conducts his work by first having Yahad-In Unum researchers carefully review the war archives in the former Soviet Union, Germany and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. With this information, Father Desbois and his team visit small villages across the Ukraine and Eastern Europe and interview the residents there who witnessed the killings.  Many of those he interviews have never before spoken of the massacres. One site at a time, Father Desbois, is unmasking what was a continent of extermination. To further refute the claims of Holocaust deniers, at each site artifacts are collected and most significantly, video testimonies are recorded from eyewitnesses.  These invaluable testimonies, which serve as important evidence of this genocide, are archived in Yahad-In Unum’s Paris headquarters and are shared with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s permanent collection.

To date, Yahad-In Unum has identified over 600 mass killing sites of an estimated 2000 locations and approximately 1700 witnesses have been interviewed. 

Father Desbois is a grandson of a French deportee to the Rawa Ruska Camp in the Ukraine and 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 assure that history does not die with the witnesses. To fulfill this mission, Father Desbois founded Yahad-In Unum in 2004.  Until recently, identifying the sites of Jewish mass executions in the Ukraine has been the organization’s major focus, but with recent grants work has been expanded to include Belarus, Russia and Poland. 

Father Desbois is the director of the Episcopal Committee for Relations with Judaism which is connected to the French Conference of Bishops.  He serves as a consultant to the Vatican on relations with Judaism and was a personal aide to the late Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.  His book, The Holocaust by Bullets, published by Palgrave-Macmillan, documents his findings and is the winner of the 2008 National Jewish Book Award.  Fluent in Hebrew and English, Father Desbois was awarded the Medal of Valor by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Humanitarian Award of the U.S. Holocaust Museum and Honorary Doctorates from Hebrew University, Bar Ilan University in Israel, and in May 2011, Yeshiva University, amongst other honors.

In 2016, Father Desbois joined the Center for Jewish Civilization as a full-time professor with his appointment as the Braman Endowed Professor of the Practice of the Forensic Study of the Holocaust.

Learn more about Fr. Desbois' work with Yahad-In Unum.


INAF 276 Holocaust by Bullets

While many students are familiar with the main lines of the Nazi extermination of Jews in Western Europe during World War II, few know that a parallel effort was waged in the East. There, Nazis killed Jews methodically, but not in mass camps built for extermination. Instead, the Nazis conceived of mobile killing units which wiped out the Jewish population of small villages, resulting in more than a million and a half more Jewish deaths than is commonly realized. Fr. Patrick Desbois, a forensic anthropologist and author of “Holocaust by Bullets,” will team teach a course that examines the Holocaust in general and this little known chapter in particular. Mid-term and final exams. Class participation and preparation essential.

Team-taught between Fr. Desbois and Fr. McManus.

INAF 269 What Really Happened in the Camps?

This course will examine new forensic evidence about imprisonment in Nazi death camps and labor centers. Informed by the work of Fr. Patrick Desbois, the forensic anthropologist whose book, Holocaust by Bullets, has revised the historiography of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, this study will compare present narratives of the design and operations of the camps to newly discovered forensics which alter our understanding. Taught in tandem with a reading of autobiographical literature from camp inmates such as Elie Wiesel, Jean Bernard, Viktor Frankl, Anne Frank, Ettie Hillesum and others.

Team-taught between Fr. Desbois and Fr. McManus.