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Photo Essay: The unmarked mass graves of 2 million

“The Holocaust happened because of unchecked hatred we all must call out and confront hatred wherever it may be the rise in anti-Semitism another hatred in the world reminds us of the lesson we have not learned father father’s mission is our mission and to give honor and meaning to their lives and their deaths and to ensure that the crimes of genocide will not happen again. His work is not easy, but it is critically important. This is such a special opportunity to hear about what is happening with his work to find those mass graves, and to help the victims of today’s genocide.”

– Hannah Rosenthal, CEO of Milwaukee Jewish Federation and daughter of a Holocaust survivor

After a decade of forensic excavations that documented gеnоcіdеs in Guatemala, Bosnia, and Rwanda, those tools were only recently applied by Father Patrick Desbois to locate the murdеred Jews in the Ukraine from World War II, and uncover the previously undocumented victims of the Holocaust. From his research of German war crimes, the French Catholic priest, Father Desbois, knew that the “cost-conscious” Nаzіs did not use more than one bullet to kіII one Jew. With this information he employed metal-detectors to search for empty cartridges. When his team began to dig, they uncovered one mass grave after another in villages throughout the Ukraine.

His book The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Μurdеr of 1.5 Million Jews is part personal memoir and part professional legal brief for a war crimes tribunal. Father Desbois had no connection by personal heritage or history to the tragedies, but he was so moved by the injustices he discovered that it became his mission.

As a world renowned expert on the history of gеnоcіdе, Father Desbois has spent the last two years interviewing survivors of the Yazidi Massacres in Northern Iraq at the hands of ISIS. The work has resulted in hundreds of hours of eye-witness accounts of this modern day gеnоcіdе, and reveals the tactics and strategies ISIS utilizes to turn young Yazidi boys into brainwashed soldiers and terrorists. Father Desbois describes the ultra-violent daily lives of these enslaved young boys extensively in his upcoming book, The Fabrication of Terrorists: Into the Secrets of ISIS.

These image are from the Holocaust by Bullets exhibit preview on April 19 at the Milwaukee Jewish Museum, and the public lecture by Father Patrick Desbois to more than 250 people for the opening program that detailed the process of uncovering mass graves and the gеnоcіdе against Jews during World War II.

“We went to the Utena market to sell our eggs with my father. Suddenly, my father stopped the cart. He started to shake. A group of Jews passed in front of us. They were the Jews of Utena. They were lined up at the edge of a large pit and shot. We stayed there until the bodies were buried.”

– Stanislava (born in 1929) Lithuania, an eyewitness account

“The Germans saw the shelter and they threw a grenade in it. Rouhlia (14 years old) came out, stunned. A German took her by the hair and shot her in the head. Then her sister Mehlia (16 years old) exited. The same fate for her. The Jewish man, Choulim (16 years old), who was hiding in the forest, came running. A German, remaining behind a tree, shot him in succession and his intestines came out. Then, the Germans threw another 2 grenades into the shelter and left for the edge of the forest to find other Jews.”

– Franczysek (born in 1928) Poland, an eyewitness account

“I followed him (her neighbor, who was a member of the local police) and, since he knew my mother very well, he didn’t do me any harm. On arriving near the pit, this neighbor had the Jews stand at its edge and shot at them with his submachine gun. If there were any children among them, he lifted them, held them by their feet and knocked their head against a tree. I remained only a few meters behind him all the while.”

– Maria (born 1933) Ukraine, an eyewitness account

Preserving the Evidence of the Holocaust:
  • Between 1941 and 1944, Nazi SS and German police forces, German military units, and locally recruited collaborators killed more than 2 million Jews residing in the Soviet Union (borders of 1941) in mass shooting operations.
  • The Germans deployed four Einsatzgruppen (battalion-sized mobile units of the Reich Security Main Office), dozens of police battalions, and units of the Military SS (Waffen SS) in the occupied Soviet Union. They conducted so-called pacification actions with a priority placed on annihilating Soviet Jews in shooting operations.
  • Of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, about 40 percent was killed in mass shootings.
  • Confiscation of property and looting were integral aspects of the mass shooting process. Following massacres, Jewish property not directly seized by the Germans was typically auctioned or distributed to their neighbors, or looted by their neighbors.
  • Shootings were local, public, and witnessed by neighbors. The Germans pressed many of these neighbors into service as clerks, grave diggers, wagon drivers, and cooks to provide support for the mass killing actions.
  • Today, remains of Nazi Germany’s victims lie in hundreds of mass graves particularly throughout Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania.

Read the article, listen to the audio, and view the photo essay that were produced as companion features for this news report.

About The Author

Lee Matz

Former Creative Director and Photojournalist for the Milwaukee Business Journal, Lee brings his years of international experience as a foreign correspondent in Asia and Europe, with a background in publishing, advertising, and design, to the Milwaukee Independent. His list of awards include three consecutive top honors from the Milwaukee Press Club. Lee proudly uses MCTS as his exclusive mode of transportation, other than walking, for all the news stories he reports about in Milwaukee.

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