Philanthropist is a rare adjective, reserved only for those who truly leave a one-of-a-kind footprint on our society. Dedicating one’s life to the overall betterment of the human race can be an equally daunting and noble task. On the evening of November 15th at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, Fairfield welcomed a true philanthropist of our time, Father Patrick Desbois.
As a respected priest, author and public speaker, Father Desbois has dedicated his life to one pursuit: locating and marking the locations where Nazi soldiers mass executed Jews during the horrors of World War II.
Most of the modern world is aware of the German death camps that were responsible for taking the lives of so many Jewish people during the war. However it is little known that Jews, sometimes thousands at a time, were shot in the head by Nazi death squads and buried in unmarked mass graves. These mass shootings often occurred in small remote villages in Europe, demonstrating that no Jew or Gypsy was free from the tyranny of the German army.
Father Desbois’ fascination with the Holocaust began at an early age. As a child he listened to the stories of his grandfather, a French soldier who was deported to a Nazi prison camp in Rava-Ruska. He became fascinated with the Nazi death squads and set out on a mission to mark as many Jewish mass graves as he could.
In order to achieve this mission, Father Desbois has started his own organization called Yahad-In Unum, which translates to “together in one.” This organization employs 29 members who are conducting research on the mass graves of the Holocaust in countries spanning both Europe and the Middle East.
While Desbois’ line of work work lives in a very dark realm of human nature, students realized and appreciated the good his work brings. “Father Desbois’ work provides peace to those people who lost a loved one, provides them with a place to visit and a grave to pay respects to”, said Marie McGann ‘19.
Desbois described the horrifying process that went into the mass execution of Jews, eliciting gasps and cringes from the audience members. To his point, Father Desbois explained that events like these must be discussed even if it makes people uncomfortable, “People would prefer to just never hear about these things, they are too disturbing,” says Desbois.
Desbois is adamant to educate people all around the world on the Holocaust by bullets, even those who would rather remain ignorant. “People need to be woken up to realize what is happening in the world around them, even if it makes them uncomfortable,” said Christian Colon ‘19.
Desbois elaborated that the shootings were often a public event, with community members gathering near the grave to witness the death squads murder people who had been their neighbors for most of their lives. Desbois explained that even though this may be awful to imagine, these kinds of events appeal to some of our deepest human nature, not unlike driving slowly past an accident on the highway with hopes of catching a glimpse.
In an exclusive interview with The Mirror, Father Desbois touched upon the connection between effective leaders, and the ideals they impose upon their people. Providing insight on how leaders of the past, such as Adolf Hitler, were effective because they were able to enforce their twisted ideals on a population, who eventually aided them in carrying out their wishes. Father Desbois’ mission for Yahad-In Unum is simple, “To have a new generation that does not accept a society which commits these acts… to raise a new generation of leaders that will say no,” said Desbois.
Father Desbois has already authored one book, “The Holocaust by Bullets,” and there is another on the way come January, titled “In Broad Daylight”; this piece sets out to expose all of the behind-the-scenes acts that went on regarding the relationship between the German death squads and the Jews they were sent to execute.
Father Desbois plans to continue with his mission for as long as he can, however he worries that with the passing of those who were alive during World War II, the sites will become increasingly difficult to locate. However, Desbois’ organization continues to grow, with more people joining every year eager to pursue their own life of philanthropy.