The Nazis killed nearly 1.5 million Jews in Ukraine after their invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. But with few exceptions, most notably the 1941 slaughter of nearly 34,000 Jews in the Babi Yar ravine in Kiev, much of that history has gone untold.[snip]
Knocking on doors, unannounced, Father Desbois, 52, seeks to unlock the memories of Ukrainian villagers the way he might take confessions one by one in church.
"At first, sometimes, people don't believe I'm a priest," said Father Desbois in an interview this week. "I have to use simple words and listen to these horrors — without any judgment. I cannot react to the horrors that pour out. If I react, the stories will stop."
It was on a tour with a group in 2002 that, visiting Rava-Ruska, he asked the mayor where the Jews were buried. The mayor said he did not know.God bless his work!
"I knew that 10,000 Jews had been killed there, so it was impossible that he didn't know," Father Desbois recalled.
The following year, a new mayor took the priest to a forest where about 100 villagers had gathered in a semicircle, waiting to tell their stories and to help uncover the graves buried beneath their feet.
He met other mayors and parish priests who helped find more witnesses. In 2004, Father Desbois created Yahad-In Unum, an organization devoted to Christian-Jewish understanding run from a tiny office in a working-class neighborhood in northeastern Paris, backed and largely financed by a Holocaust foundation in France and the Catholic Church.