Father Patrick Desbois, interviewed by the CBC's Linden MacIntyre:
Linden MacIntyre: Sometimes in the book, you're having trouble sleeping at night after these interviews, some of these graves. What are the images that keep you awake?
Father Patrick Desbois: I don't think there are really any main (images), to record the people who are speaking you know, also because we are looking for what happened, so it's like a police inquiry. When I was still teaching math, you didn't stay because you are looking for any questions.
MacIntyre: It becomes very personal. I mean suddenly the images are there, the mother with the baby.
Desbois: Of course it's very personal but at the bottom line we are first looking, searching for what happened. We phone to each other everyday, saying what do you think of this case and what do you think of this village and so on and so on. We're like a team.
MacIntyre: Do the victims sort of come back to you? Do the victims take on reality?
Desbois: We think first for the victims that's for sure and we do that for the victims not for the killer.
MacIntyre: And what is it that drives you on behalf of the victims after so many years?
Desbois: Because my great father saw them and they are still not buried they have been killed like animals and if we accept to build Europe on known mass graves, it's a complete denial of humanity. For me it's very simple.
Desbois: And also it's a sign against all the genocide because we are in full (?) Europe and we never buried them so if we accept that here that will happen in Rwanda in Cambodge (Cambodia), anywhere.
MacIntyre: Explain that to me, because you do write about the future of Europe..
MacIntyre: And how the future Europe cannot be built on...
Desbois: No, because if we accept it means we are like predator, we build buildings, banks, malls on mass graves and we say it's finished, now time is past. So it means that finally we accept what Hitler did. It means also that in any country like Cambodia and Rwanda they don't care, let time go away and that's it. And I think there are people who are doing the genocide they know that, they know that people try to forget.
MacIntyre: People want to forget?
Desbois: Yea, People want to forget. For sure, because they want to sleep well.
MacIntyre: But you--
Desbois: It's like a predator, lion (kills...? over any more...?) after, it sleeps well, you don't feel lions have nightmare.
MacIntyre: What got you first interested? I mean you were born ten years after the war.
Desbois: My great father education I think. He grew me in the sense I was a child he spoke to me about that, I was a child in the very middle of France, and very frequently he told me that outside these camps it was worse, it was awful and so I always was wondering who was outside the camp? I was a child I did not understand, and suddenly he told me. I understood when I was 35 years old that in fact outside the camp it was the Jews, he was deported in a Jewish country.
MacIntyre: He never spoke of them though.
Desbois: No nobody of the survivors speak of that. Not even one. I met many now. Nobody is speaking of that.
MacIntyre: Why? Why do they...your own grandfather. You are a little boy.
Desbois: At this period no one was speaking even the Jewish survivors, were not speaking. They began to speak in the years 70 (?), my grandfather died. So...and I think also, officially they were fighters, officially they were Soviet heroes even, they had medals and so on, and suddenly the reality is that in fact they saw a genocide. It's very difficult when you come back to say...it's easier to say, I am a fighter, I am a hero, and then to say, I saw killings every day and I couldn't do anything.
MacIntyre: So your curiosity about your grandfather, your curiosity about what he really saw, it became an obsession?
Desbois: not an obsession,
MacIntyre: It became like a vocation?
Desbois: It became like an evidence. I was 35, this was linked to my identity. So I wanted to know what happened to understand myself in the beginning and it happened like that, like a vocation.
MacIntyre: And a passion.
Desbois: Yeah, I don't know, what we call a passion.
MacIntyre: You discovered religious faith as this passion evolved.
Desbois: Yeah. Exactly.
MacIntyre: Now, a lot of other people would have gone the other way.
Desbois: Yeah, but in my family I've been grown to believe in God and be strong against evil in the daily life and in the case that he was going together, it's not that he, if you believe in God and you forget about other people, I don't know what his belief in this case. So my great mother and people like that trained me like that in this case. So I always saw my family fighting. It was good. You know, from my family no body is surprised. I never received a phone call from my cousin, from my aunt, raising this question. Because for them it's an evidence... inside my tribe it's an evidence.
MacIntyre: For a lot of people, though, especially in the modern times, the Holocaust the genocide, seems to persuade them that there cannot be a Christian God, it cannot exist because this is evidence...
Desbois: I know many people have this question. I never got this question myself. And I understand that other people have this question, but the same people that think and think and think are never on the ground. So for me it's enough to speak, I prefer to act. It's advertising in America for IBM, enough speech.
MacIntyre: But your faith, you have said your faith grows as you go deeper...
Desbois: Yeah, it's, uh, it grows, but not only that, faith without act is it faith? So I don't know. And for me, if it's only to think to read books, I've many books, to read books and some is very nice, but without acting...it's also written in the Bible.
MacIntyre: Now some people also argue that the roots of the genocide and roots of the Holocaust are in the gospels, a sort of distortion of the gospels.
Desbois: Yeah, anti-Semitism, part of anti-Semitism has a root in Christianity that's for sure. But for me, more deeply, anti-Semitism is a sin. Pope John Paul too said that very frequently that anti-Semitism is a sin, against God and against humanity. So you can find it in the Bible, you can find it in Soviet Union, you can find it in Liberal texts, you can find it anywhere in the world, in fact. It's a sin. A sin is a sin. You can build history of a sin, but in fact a sin is a sin against God.
MacIntyre: What is your basis of your certainty of that fact? Because it has been around for such a long time. It has been in the Church itself, it has been...
Desbois: Not everywhere. Me, I have been grown in a Catholic family. Part family has been absolutely against Nazis. And after I grew with Cardinals from Lyon, from Paris, who was absolutely against, I was near from John Paul too, was absolutely against, so me I'm not the sensation that Catholics is against the Jews, it happened before, I worked with the new Cardinal of Paris, same thing. So...
MacIntyre: There's no contradiction and there's no attempt—
Desbois: For me no, absolutely not. Absotlutely not. I think where people feel a distortion it's a distortion of Christianity in fact.
Desbois: Yeah. But don't forget that for the Nazi system for example, a Nazi couldn't go to mass. It was forbidden. In Auschwitz two Nazis went to confession and they have been sent to (?). It was forbidden. You could not grow in the Nazis without writing a paper that said you stop believing in Christianity, even if you were Evangelical or Catholic.
MacIntyre: You had to reject.
Desbois: Yeah, you had to reject. You, your wife and your children. You can find that in the dossiers. Very few people know that. I saw many dossiers of high level people in the Nazi hierarchy. Because the bottom line is they reject anything coming from Judaism. And in the Nazi system, Christianity was also coming from Judaism.
MacIntyre: Now your grandfather was in a place called Ravaruska?
MacIntyre: You eventually got there?
MacIntyre: How difficult was that, to...
Desbois: The first time I didn't realize, it was in a trip, I brought people to Ukraine and um, I asked, can we stop at Ravaruska. And we stopped for five minutes. Nobody was interested. Me I only wanted to see the memorial, it was awful, a small stone in an ugly place, and I decided after to come back alone, and here I saw that there was no memorial of the camp but also I met with the Soviet mayor who told me at this period I don't know where are the Jews. And I asked him, how is that you cannot know? You are a very small village, only 8,000 persons and they kill 15,000 Jews in your village and you don't remember? And he said, no it was secret. I think it was the main answer in this period. It was secret, nobody knew and it was finished. And I went back three times and every time he told me the same. And I was beginning to think it was secret. And then a new mayor was appointed, and he told me, I will bring you to a special place, and he brought me in his car in a very small village in Barovia and here were were waiting 100 farmers who as children saw the execution and in this very day I saw in fact that Jews were killed in public.
MacIntyre: So all of a sudden over night it changed from denial, to—
Desbois: Yeah, yeah. It was the end of Soviet mentality. If it was still Soviet Union we could not do it. Because officially in Soviet Union they were being killed as Soviet people, not as Jews.
MacIntyre: And what did these people, these were farmers, they were country people, they were witnesses?
MacIntyre: What did they describe to you?
Desbois: Uhh...Everybody had a different experience. The first one, he told me, I was keeping my cow with my mother, and suddenly I saw a lonely German arriving soldier with a motorcycle and a dog and he was turning and turning in the fields. And he went, and nobody understood what he was coming for. And after we understood, he was coming to look where to dig the mass grave. And two days after arrived three Germans with thirteen young Jews and then they began to dig the graves. And then when it was 8 meters deep, they said to the Jews to take rest and uhhhhh these Jews went outside the grave, and after they put down explosives and after they asked the Jews to go on digging, and all the Jews exploded. So I met another wife she was also in the group she told me, me I was a child, they came to my farm, they asked me to come with a spade, and I had to take all the piece of corpses and to put them down in the grave and to hide them with branches. And so on and so on. So for me with these it was helpful because I was not ever used to listen to her woods like that and I had no camera like today and no tv and I was alone. And at the end I was alone in the forest with the Mayor. And the mayor told me, Patrick what we do for one village I can do for 100 villages.
MacIntyre: A hundred?
Desbois: Yes. And I don't know why I said yes. I came back to France I spoke to the Cardinal of Paris Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, and I spoke also with Israel Singer with World Jewish Congress in New York, and he told me Yes, but I think that nobody was really thinking I would go up. You know, like a small priest with a little bit (?) can do something, so everybody told me 'You can go guy." But after when they began to see ti was going on they certainly realized it had to be in billets (?). That's why we build with this association Yarad Innanum, it's a common decision from Cardinal Lustiger and from Israel Singer to call it Yarad, together, in Hebrew, and Inannum, together, in Latin. And uh to support all this job.
MacIntyre: So you go from one small mass grave...?
Desbois: Yeah, to 100 first.
MacIntyre: And then to…
Desbois: In the beginning, the very beginning, I thought that it would be all Ukraine. I had the diary, I remember, and I wrote in my diary, I will surely come back to Ukraine two times to finish up this job. And after I discovered that 100 mass graves it was a very small district, because there were mass graves everywhere all around Ravarouska, even in the smallest, smallest village. And so I didn't know what to do. And so after really we built the real structure, the real method, the scientific method to establish the proof, and that's where I am now.
MacIntyre: And how many graves have you found so far?
Desbois: We have found 800 execution sites so far. I prefer to say execution sites because sometimes it's not one mass grave, it's ten mass graves in the same place.
MacIntyre: And how many execution sites do you expect to find before you finish?
Desbois: I don't know. I don't know when I will finish. Now I have entered into a new country, I am in Belarus. So now we have two teams, one in Belarus and one in Ukraine. And we are in the very beginning in Belarus, and it's the same thing. The same thing, mass graves everywhere.
MacIntyre: See, we are accustomed to the Auschwitz story. Majdanek, Bergen-Belsen. We are accustomed to the death camps in Poland and Germany. Why have we not learned before about this far more –
Desbois: I think first, it was the Berlin wall and the Cold War was hiding everything and I think also the German population they were hoping we would forget it. Because there are books already, there are black books from Vasily Grossman, there were, a very strong historian who wrote about that, but he didn't build anything in the memory. I think also German soldiers who saw that I think they were dreaming that we would forget it. Because it's Soviet Union so they were thinking, it's far away, it's like in Far East.
MacIntyre: The enemy?
MacIntyre: Why was it so different, though? Why do you think it was such a different system in the Soviet Union and Ukraine.
Desbois: First Germans didn't care about secrets. Because when they began a lot of pogroms in the period, people from the village killed themselves, the Jews. So Himmler came on the ground in Lvov and they explained him that it was not a problem to kill the Jews, that even the local population was doing it.
MacIntyre: this is ok...
Desbois: Yeah, so it's ok. So first no need to be secret. So why to be secret if people agree? And also, not enough train system. So finally it was a very modern way, they give autonomy to the killing units leaders. These people were very highly well educated so they could decide on the ground. Very frequently people think it's a centralized system. That Berlin phone to Kiev, and Kiev phone to Lvov, and Lvov says and say, you can kill those people. It was not at all like that. On the ground people have the ability to decide when—
MacIntyre: The military.
Desbois: Yeah. Not so, military. Officially Einsatzgruppen, with killing units who has been formed for that. But also Ornon Politzi (?) and Fell-Jean Armourie (?), and I would say anyone who has a gun.
MacIntyre: Whether Ukrainian or German...
Desbois: Mostly it was German. Of course, but also it's an emphasis to say, Oh, we're a strong corporation, Oh, it's the Ukrainian kills the Jews, I'm so sorry, but the units were coming from Umbul (?), Munich and so on, as they don't want to speak here, you would not do an interview tomorrow of all the witnesses in Germany because they won't speak. So it gives the image that it was the local population but that is not true.
MacIntyre: It was outsiders coming in?
Desbois: It was young guys, from Western Europe, coming to kill the Jews.
MacIntyre: Young, educated?
Desbois: And the gypsies. Young, educated. Men.
Desbois: Many of them had a PhD in Europe (? or Lvov). It was a condition, to drive it, you needed to have a PhD.
MacIntyre: How do you explain that?
Desbois: I don't explain.
MacIntyre: This was one of the highest levels of sophisticated, civilized-
MacIntyre: -society in human history.
Desbois: But for me there is only one human kind, anybody can be a victim, anybody can be a killer, you or me. Of course it's very difficult to accept.
MacIntyre: You and I have the capacity to become what...
Desbois: Either a victim either a killer. It depends where you are grown, how you are conditioned, (?), and so on. We see that all over the world. I don't think there are good buys and bad guys. I think that anybody can be both.
MacIntyre: Typically what would happen when one of these units arrive at a village.
Desbois: Typically first they don't arrive. They send one guy three, four days, alone. He comes in the village with one mission, to dig the grave. He goes to see the mayor, with mayor being appointed by the Germans. He asks to them, how many Jews? He says, for example, 1,800, I think of a special village, so this size, the volume of the grave specific to the corpse. And he asks the mayor to require farmers, young farmers, to dig the graves. I met one of these farmers, he told me, we dug the grade during three days, and the Jews from ghettos, children, they're coming and asking to us, is it for us the graves? And we were forbidden to say. And after three days the grave was finished. Every grave is special. The grave is a killing machine, in fact, it's not a place to put the corpse, it's a place to kill the people. So in this special place the killer wanted to have stairs on both sides, so that the Jews can go themselves quickly down to the ground. So after three days it was finished so he phoned back to the unit to saw the grave it was ready. So they answered him, ok, we can send 30 guys. It was not enough. So he phoned after to Jean D'ammerie he say, how you could find people for tomorrow? 20. He phoned to Orgignon Politzi. How many? He phoned to the mayor. How many Ukrainian policemen? All these people meet together. And at 5 am in the morning they surrender the Jewish area and they have a car with high voice, and they say, we will send you in Palestine, we have tours, to go outside to line, and to be with your luggages.
MacIntyre: So the vehicle with the loudspeaker would promise-
MacIntyre: liberation, we're going to Palestine?
MacIntyre: you're going to be safe...
Desbois: Not to be safe, it was deportation. People were used to deported by Stalin, so for them it was not a strong surprise that Germans were deporting people. It was not good news, but it was not the worst news. So they were lining in the very centre of the village with their luggage. And anybody who refused to go was shot already, so there were carts and carts of dead people behind. And uh suddenly the local chief of the Germans said, No you cannot go. They walked until a place before the mass grave. Suddenly they asked them to undress in a school. So they take outside all their clothes in a school, and after with a lot of violence they make them walk down the mass grave very quickly. And in this village they killed 1,800 in two hours. Because the shooter stays on the top, immediately when the Jews is lying they are shot. And the same evening the mayor of the village said, we have no time to fulfill the grave because we have Soviet parties one kilometer far and they could attack us. The main emergency is to bring back all the suits(?) to the village. So they asked the 30(?) farmers with carts and horses to take back all the suits and they brought them in the school, they sold them during three days-
MacIntyre: Sold the clothing.
Desbois: All the clothes, ya. To the local population. And after they did the same with the furniture. They brought all the furniture of the Jewish houses inside the school and they made a public sell, and a lot of people came. And it means that after three weeks there were no more Jews, no more suits, no more furniture, it means nothing. Jews simply disappeared.
MacIntyre: Just this grave?
Desbois: Yeah, just this grave was fulfilled very late in the evening. People were still alive, had been buried alive, like in every village.
MacIntyre: The witnesses say that the ground-
Desbois: Yeah, everywhere.
MacIntyre: Everywhere, they tell you. Tell me what they've been telling you.
Desbois: Everywhere they say that it took three days for the mass graves to die.
MacIntyre: It continued to move?
Desbois: Yeah it continued to move. Because they established a rule in July '41, to use no more than one bullet per Jew. It's very much was that because they were very upset that these units were using too much ammunition. So uh with this condition, a lot of people were only injured in fact. And there were people near the grave, German people, who were appointed only to push them alive. So it was shooters, after people pushed them alive, shooters, pushing and so on. And so people are thrown alive and buried alive the same evening. So for some of them...and the children were never shot. Always the children were thrown alive.
MacIntyre: And one of your witnesses has described how she as a young woman and other young woman were forced to go down-
MacIntyre: What is that?
Desbois: Yeah, I was in a village, and one of the women told me, Father, you know it's difficult you know to walk on corpses. And I immediately understood what she wanted to say. And I asked her, Do you mean you were required to walk on corpse after every shooting or only in evening? She told me, no, after every shooting. They shot Jews, we were 30 young Ukrainians to go down to walk on them and so on. And I did that from 10 AM to 4 PM. I tried to stay very simple, I said, And did they give you something to eat? And she said, no, we could no even eat. And I said, But did you know the people that were shot? And she said, Of course, and then arrived they all the Jews in my class.
MacIntyre: In school?
Desbois: They killed them, and I had to walk on them too.
MacIntyre: To make them settle?
Desbois: Yeah. Yeah. They were using young Ukrainians like machines. Because don't forget that they hated Jews, they hated Gypsies, but they hated the local population. All of them were not human beings for them.
MacIntyre: They considered Slavs to be [inaudible]...
Desbois: Exactly. Exactly.
MacIntyre: These young people, now old people, when they tell you these stories, how do they react today?
Desbois: It depends. It's like you and me they are like human beings nobody is the same. Some people are crying a lot becuase it's the first time they speak, first time they remember everything, other people are very, uhh, don't cry at all, it depends, it depends.
MacIntyre: There's a photograph in your book of Anna.
MacIntyre: Her eyes are full of tears.
MacIntyre: What did she tell you?
Desbois: Because she didn't want to speak. Her husband didn't want her to speak. When I arrived in the farm he was running in the farm court and he was saying, No, I don't want my wife to speak, I will call the police and so on. And she said, No I will speak. I will speak. I came back from the school and I saw the last Jews, they were closed in a pig sty and they burned them alive in front of me. And we went in this place and she told me the fire was going on till heaven. And it was the first time she was saying this story. But you know, witnesses most of the time they are afraid after, they say perhaps somebody will bring us to Siberia for that, perhaps German will come back to shoot to us. Because for them, past is not past. It's not like in Canada or in France or in America. They still think Germans are just back on the door. And Soviet people behind the other door.
MacIntyre: I wonder, so you are a Frenchmen.
Desbois: I try to be. I try to be.
MacIntyre: You are a Roman Catholic priest.
MacIntyre: And you show up, and they talk to you.
Because they are sure I will not judge them. I have only one question, what happened? I am not here to judge. I come only for the truth and to know exactly what happened and where are the corpses.
MacIntyre: The willingness to talk... The fate of how many, 2 million people, in an attempt to achieve some sort of justice?
MacIntyre: To achieve some sort of justice, some sort of dignity, some sort of redemption. This is what-
Desbois: Yeah but first I'm alone, I have a team, we are 11 (?) when we land on the ground, and now we are building new teams for other countries, but it's true I want them to keep my print (?) and my spirit. Because uh I come only for that. I don't come to judge Ukrainian, or Belarus or Russian, it's not at all my question. It's completely to take care of my victims. That's it. It's a very simple way. You know I am very strongly marked by Mother Theresa. She was alone in the worst place in the world. I went to work with her in Calcutta. It was a home for dying people inside Calli Temple, far from here. She was from Albania, she was not even Indian, she didn't care. She passed all her life doing that, day after day, believing in God, but not dreaming. You could not dream in Calcutta. And it's not the same but it's the same spirit for me. It's very simple. It's because I am simple guy that it works. Because a lot of people raise questions about that but they don't do anything. See a lot of people raise questions about that but they don't do anything. They say, Oh Father, amazing, amazing, and that's it. 'God bless you,' and forget you, see you, bye.
MacIntyre: Or here's a dollar, or 10 dollars.
Desbois: And uh so, every time that people tell me amazing, amazing, I say no. Forget me please. But don't forget these people who die. And so people change their face. I was four days ago in Los Angelos after an award that I recieved. And a young lady came to me and said, Oh amazing, Father, you are unbelievable and so on, and I said, No. Don't think of me. Think of the dead people. And suddenly she didn't smile any more.
MacIntyre: Well your book is full of stories about particular dead people out of the mouths of dead people.
MacIntyre: And I want to get some of those stories, because it seems to me, not to get too sort of abstract, it seems to me that you do achieve some sort of redemption or resurrection for these people by keeping their stories alive.
Desbois: Very frequently people remember their neighbour. I remember Anna, she was living in a small village, Buske, in a place where officially no people have been shot. And suddenly she told me, I was hidden in a wooden barrack with five of her children and we were looking at killing the Jews in the Jewish cemetery. And suddenly I saw a family of my friend and my friend himself his name was Itzhik and he was naked with all the family waiting to be shot. And suddenly he saw that his girlfriend was looking at them, and he turned back and he said, bye-bye life. And you know it was for me it was very shocking because 60 years after she still remembers the last words of the dead friend.
MacIntyre: Bye-bye life. And it happened many many times. Many many times.
Desbois: Bye bye life. And you know, that's my job is to recall the last words of dead people. One Jewish leader told me, Patrick, now you are carrying the last words of dead people. I want to carry them to bring them to humanity not to carry them like you carry a stone.
MacIntyre: The ring. Tell me the story about the ring.
Desbois: The ring. We discovered now recently we discovered that in many places not near the grave, 100 m before, they were asking people to be naked. And we know from the witness, that most of the young Jewish women did not want to give their rings, their wedding rings to the Nazis. So they were throwing the rings and hiding them in earth just before being shot. So in one place in Bulskasso we found 25 wedding rings. It was the last sign of these people. And I brought them, I gave them to the Holocaust Museum of Washington. Because you see, they are human beings and they did not want an awful Nazi to have their wedding rings. Everyone is linked to their wedding rings.
MacIntyre: So in finding them and delivering them to this place where they will be forever....
Desbois: Yeah, it's also to say to this woman, we understand you, we understand what you did, and we came back. We came back. I think that never the Nazis would think that a poor man from France would come back.
MacIntyre: You describe a particular expression on the faces of the people who witnessed this, this horror. 60 years later that look is still there. What is the look?
Desbois: There is always a moment inside the interview when the witness is no more with us. He is with them he is 60 years far away. In any interview in the beginning I would say, what is your name, where did you live during the war, and so on and so on and suddenly we would arrive at the killing time I would say, and suddenly...
MacIntyre: The expression, the facial expression.
Desbois: Yeah, I would say that most of the time after five minutes of interview the Ukrainian witnesses who is now 75 years old or 90 years old is no more with us. She sees again her boyfriend. She sees again the rabbi who is arriving to be killed. She sees again the German trucks and the dogs and the killers and at this very moment we try to enter in her vision and to make her develop what she is watching again. For them it's very difficult. One lady told me after the end of the interview, I never thought in my life to see the German again. Because it seems that 60 years after when you saw a huge killing, not only you remember but it is inside.
MacIntyre: So they had this impression on their face.
Desbois: Oh yeah, very strongly. You know they are poor people. They are still very poor. They were the only witness on a huge mass killing in front of their window. Sometimes their window is still giving onto the same mass grave. One old women was dying on her bed, told me, Father I still wonder why they killed all these people in front of my room. Because you know they could not move they are so poor they could not move. For us it is only a story, for them it is their usual landscape.
MacIntyre: Now that you understand Ravarouska, now that you understand Ukraine, what happened there, do you understand your grandfather?
Desbois: A little bit more but I think he's still present in my research, I think he's still alive, so I think he helps me to understand. But I think that he saw all of this killing and he was mute like nearly everybody. Because you know it's difficult when you come back in France or in Canada with a normal family to explain, oh you know, I saw 10,000 being killed this day. Imagine all the movies that we viewed actually it was a fiction when there is one person who is killed in a house, we think it's a ghost. And here it is 1 million point five and no ghost. So when I look now at fiction and it is a ghost because a small girl has been killed 200 years before and they buy an apartment and they see a ghost, and it's strange because we are in Europe and we see no ghosts.
MacIntyre: Is that because we don't want to see the ghosts?
Desbois: I'm not sure there are ghosts. And it's easier for a movie builder to build one ghost for one person but for one million point five...
Desbois: Imagine a movie with one million point five ghosts in Europe.
MacIntyre: Some Jews escaped.
MacIntyre: Some Jews managed to hide in the forest. How did they survive?
Desbois: It depends. I meant Nina, Nina she escaped, she was shot to death but in fact she was fainting at this moment so she came back outside of the grave in the night she was six years old and she went to see a farmer. She was naked full of blood, and the farmer didn't denounce her. And brought her back to her great father. So she is still alive living one kilometer from the grave where she has been sent. So we meet a lot of survivors like that. A lot of others were hiding in the forest and some succeeded to cross enter into Soviet Union and after went in America or in Australia.
MacIntyre: But this was not common.
Desbois: This was not common. Normally in the village there is no survivor. Because they shot one time the Nazi people and after they let two or three killers in the village who will wait for two three weeks to see if there was anyone who is coming back. It was really like hunt. It was a Jewish hunt. That's why people don't realize because when they say mass killing, people say, oh it's a genocide. Fortunately it's not always a genocide. A genocide is when you want to kill the last of the babies even if it's living 3,000 kilometers. You want part of humanity to disappear.
MacIntyre: Now you objected to the word I used early: obsession.
Desbois: Yeah. Yeah.
Desbois: Because I worked in Africa before, I worked with people who were sick. I worked in France in a parish. If you saw me in my parish you tell me, 'it's your obsession, father.' And I'm a very passionate guy but it cannot be an obsession because we are working in a scientific way. We are looking for the cartridges (?), we are looking for the proofs, we are criss-crossing archives, Soviet archives that I found in Holocaust Museum of Washington, German archives that I found in Germany. So we are establishing proof against a wave of deniers. You know there are people now, from Tehran, from anywhere, who are denying Holocaust existed and thinking, that surely it existed but perhaps not, perhaps Jews exaggerate. So I've found so far because if you don't if you don't establish the proof, and when you are in obsession you are not a good guy to establish truth. It's like a police man that is looking for a killer and you say, 'isn't that an obsession Mr. Policeman?' and you say, 'No, I am looking for a killer.' Course.
MacIntyre: So you see yourself a little bit as the modern police man investigating?
Desbois: It's a part of investigation, it's a part of scientific investigation, it's a part of also of religious commitment. It's a mix.
MacIntyre: And how do you detach yourself from the normal human, horror, despair--
Desbois: Taking my time. Every evening I try to stay alone, to pray, to be alone with God and present myself to God with holiness/loneliness far away from anybody I would say. It's my way to keep myself.
MacIntyre: Would this mission be possible if you did not have that faith?
Desbois: I don't know you never know. But for me no. For me no. If I'm not my prayer and my faith, and my relationship with God is very personal, and outside of that I could not stay.
MacIntyre: We've heard this expression so often it's become a cliché: never again.
Desbois: Yeah I don't know what it means.
MacIntyre: When do you think never--
Desbois: I think unfortunately, I'm not sure about never again because since Holocaust we had Rwanda, we had Cambodge, and I think any genocide can happen anywhere, and I don't speak of the mass killings of Latin America. I was many times in Guatamela they killed many Indians, and so, never again, ok what does it mean? I think you know, (?) called anti-Semitism a sin against God. And a sin, by definition, never dies. A sin unfortunately is something from evil, it never dies. It could take the population like that.
MacIntyre: So a Holocaust could happen again?
Desbois: Of course. Of course, unfortunately. It's why we have to work hard to prevent it. We prevent tsunamis, we prevent earthquakes, we have to teach to the new generation that terrorism(?), anti-Semitism, are leading directly to genocide. So it could be a joke in a bar, you see this Jew, you see this Iraq, you see this Black, but at the end of the corridor it's a mass grave. At the end of the corridor it's Auschwitz.
MacIntyre: There is a point in your book when you go to this community. There is farm equipment in the Jewish cemetery and you make the contrast with the German cemetery.
Desbois: Yeah I discovered the first German cemetery in Potovitch, it's a small village near Ravarousska. And uh a Ukrainian guide told me, there, German cemetery. So I went to visit it. I'm not against the fact that they decided to bury all the Germans. They took the decision to ask for Ukrainian for any German who is buried in their garden and to bring them, to bring back the corpse in a huge cemetery. They built already four huge cemetery and they are waiting for 20 other cemeteries. Everyone is buried with their own identity because we found the name with the metallic plaque of Fell-Jean D'Ammerie and so on. And so they sent to Berlin, Berlin sends back the name, after they phone to the family, the family is coming back. I'm not against that. I think everybody deserves to be buried, even a killer. And all Germans were not killers. What I cannot appreciate is that huge money is arriving to bury the German with wonderful symmetries, with wonderful crosses and so on. Nearly nothing for the soviet prisoners, nearly nothing for the French prisoners, and absolutely nothing for Jews like animals. So I wonder why we don't ask to Germany to add a little bit of money to bury the victim they killed. They were victim of German. These people were Nazis but they German. So it makes a shock. Because if we go on like that in 20 years far we'll visit Ukraine and we'll say, see, the huge cemeteries of the people who delivered us from communists and we will not be able to see a century of genocide. I don't know why there is nearly no cemetery of genocide. Tell me why where is the cemetery of Armenian? It seems that victims of genocide don't succeed to bury them, perhaps they are so much frightened. But if we go on like that in full Europe, if we cannot show the cemetery of the victim of genocide, no cemetery no victim. By example after war there is always a military cemetery. You go to New York-eh- to Washington there is huge beautiful military cemetery, you go to Normandy, there is huge military cemetery, and that's right. But there is no genocide cemetery anywhere.
MacIntyre: Will there be? When you--
Desbois: In any case, what we are pushing is that every grave is protected, indicating that we know the victims are inside, so that we show with the landscape of Ukraine and Russia and Belarus and so on is a huge cemetery of the genocide of the Jews killed by the Germans. Because otherwise it is means an ultimate victory of Hitler. If we don't bury the victims and we only bury the shooters, it's like a bad joke.
MacIntyre: Alex reminds me that the story of the ring had a resonance.
Desbois: Yes the first wedding ring that I found was in Kovel. Kovel they shot 10,000 Jews. It's a city NW of Ukraine. And the first wedding ring was from a lady, and I suddenly understood that this lady was hiding her ring 60 years ago to let something from her, that we finally arrived to take it back. It's like if I met her, and I said, ok, you are here.
MacIntyre: I'll take care of her. (D nods). The revelation at the end of your book I find quite interesting. Your book has a symmetry, it begins, the mystery of your grandfather. It ends with a certain resolution. What is that revolution?
Desbois: At the end very late, I discovered that a part of the prisoners of the camp of my great father were required to dig the grave of the Jews. I read with sarkai(?), which was a Soviet archive, I phoned to the survivors in Paris, they told me, no never we would have accepted to do that. It means when that in fact when you are a victim it is very difficult to accept you have been brought in a genocide of other people. It means that the French of this camp finally have been brought inside history like the young Ukrainian ladies, like the small children, because they are ties to the Nazis, all these people are ties.
MacIntyre: How does it affect your feeling about the young French prisoners including your grandfather? That they were—
Desbois: I feel strong with them, because sometimes we are tired, it's very cold, it's minus 17 and we are alone in the village, there is no electricity, no running water and we don't find any witness. And we have the temptation to say, ok, we'll let the village, we won't find anything this night, it's so late. And at the same minute I say no, your great father was here during three years, it was cold, he was a prisoner, you don't have right to say, I'm tired, I'm cold, so at this same minute I am standing because of him.
MacIntyre: How did you feel when you learned that he may have been a grave digger?
Desbois: I was surprised in the beginning and happy to find. Because you know when you find truth, any truth makes you free.
MacIntyre: You've mentioned Holocaust denial. You've mentioned revisionist historians. France has them, America has them, Britain has them, they're everywhere. They will deny the Holocaust. They will say there were not 6 million killed. What is your response to that?
Desbois: My response is that they were not the first one. The first one to do that was Himmler himself. In 42 he was afraid. He discovered that the war was not going so well, and perhaps Western people would find back all the graves. So he decided to build a secret operation called 1005. The secret operation was to unbury all the corspe of the victims. Not only the Jews. The gypsies, the partisans, the Soviet people, and he appointed a Nazi, (??), to take care of that with an amount of money, and he run from city to city and he build a special way to burn the corpse, but he didn't succeed, because Red Army was coming too fast. So it means that the real denier is Himmler. So I think all deniers are only the son of Himmler. That deny by paper and before they denied by burning, and they know it by heart. So when I see someone who is a denier, I say, oh I know from where you are coming.
MacIntyre: And people who have been born recently, the concept, 6 million people killed, is hard to believe. And conversely it's easy to deny. And what you seem to be telling me is that 6 people is not only easy to believe, it may be an understatement.
Desbois: Yeah it can be understatement. And also it is not six million. Genocide it was people were killing people. It was Huns were killing Dura, it was Franz was killing David and so on and so on, so if they want to understand they can follow the individual stories. Nobody killed six million. Everyone killed one person. So we try to think machine, killing machine, no. It was murderers, and that's it. For me a genocide is nothing but serial killers who decide to kill one by one the whole population. It's like a serial killer when you hear on the news that a serial killer killed 20 women in a city you cannot believe. It's unbelievable But if you learned that they killed 10,000 in the same village, of course it's difficult to believe. Evil has always been difficult to believe.
MacIntyre: So the key is to think of it one by one.
Desbois: Yeah. For me it's not only the key, it's the reality. If it's your mother, your mother is not six million, it's your mother. I met a woman, she was very friendly with a girl who has been killed in mass grave. And she told me, I go three times per year in the mass graves of the village. Because for me it's not a mass grave, it's the tomb of Dura. Because I knew her. And then she said three times per year I put flowers on the mass graves because it's a tomb of Dura. You know he never we'll have not half mass of people that would enter one by one.
MacIntyre: I grew up as a Catholic, and I know about confession, and I know about absolution and I know about how important that is, and I sometimes wonder reading these stories of these people talking to you, the Priest, whether this is their version of confession part of their hope for absolution and forgiveness.
Desbois: Never. Never. Because they were children, and you know we are 11 in the room the thing you don't see, there is a camera man, there are technician, there are translators, body guards, so are we are 11 person around the person so you know confession is private. If it was a confession they would ask to see me privately. And there are priests in the village. No, it's not a confession. But they want, they want our Western countries to know the truth. They are poor people, old, and they realize that we don't know anything and they are the last ones to know the truth. So they want to tell us the truth before to die. It's very simple.
MacIntyre: Is there one story that comes out--was there a moment in this, I mean you've been through 400, 500, I don't know how many witnesses--
Desbois: 800 now.
MacIntyre: 800 now. Is there one witness that stands out in your memory--
Desbois: Many, many of them.
MacIntyre: --as really shocking.
Desbois: Many of them, I don't--, many of them. Many. One perhaps was the strongest, it was in the village called Sateniff, this village had been called Sateniff because it was a Jewish city. And uh I went in the Jewish cemetery, was still there, and I saw a small grave, one meter per (?) two. And they said all the Jews had been buried there and I said, oh, surprising, one meter per two. And so I went outside to the cemetery and they said nobody would speak. And suddenly I met two old women. It was raining, they were with raining coats with their cows, they told me, Father we'll tell you the truth. Jews have not been shot in our village, they have been buried alive under the market. And so, what happened? The Germans arrived, so it was been mainly a Jewish community. They brought the Jewish community inside a huge cellar under a market and they pushed them there, they buried them alive, they closed the door with two meters of earth. And I always remember, I raised the question, which year was it? And she told me in '42.
MacIntyre: So you were telling me about the village where they were just herding people into a big basement.
Desbois: And they closed this cellar and people were buried alive, not buried there, closed alive. She told me the market was moving because it was under the market and the market was moving during four days. And so I said, but which year was it? And she told me it was in '42. And I asked her, when did you open back the doors? And she told me in '54. And I remember I had to stop the interview because I did not even know which questions more to raise, because for me it was unthinkable that they closed all the Jewish community and nobody opens the gate afterwards even after the end of the war.
MacIntyre: 12 years.
Desbois: Yeah 12 years. It seems that in this village half of the community is still buried in another place that I cannot find, under another house but now it's a private house and they are afraid to take back the house. You know everything it's a new story. It was genocide, it's not military assassination. Anybody could kill the Jews in any way according to this own craziness. So sometimes we are very in shock.
MacIntyre: I want to get back now because we didn't finish, this this, the idea of the earth moving, the market moving, the earth is protesting what is going on.
Desbois: It is not earth who is protesting, it is people who are trying to move outside. The only secret of the mass grave is that they are very deep. 8 meters deep minimum. They very frequently will stop the corpse when it is four meters deep. Because they wanted Jews not to be in capacity to go outside. So in fact they are buried alive, they die from stuffing, it's why mass grave is moving during three or four days after each killing, because people are still alive.
MacIntyre: I want you to tell me that, give me the complete story, what the villagers told you about what happened to the earth.
Desbois: In every village in all Ukraine, in west to east, north to south, they said the same thing, that the ground was moving during three days. And in the beginning I didn't understand what did it mean. After I understood in fact, that the people were not dead, in fact they were buried alive. They were trying to get outside, they were injured, and the died like that. So it was an awful death.
MacIntyre: And the children?
Desbois: Children were always thrown alive. Because they wanted children, disabled people, old people, most of them were thrown alive because the Nazis were sure they could not escape. The rule was one bullet, one Jew, one Jew one bullet. So they didn't care. They threw the children like toys. One German, he wrote a letter to his fiancee, he said, We are playing with young Jewish children like balloons, we throw them like that. And I think we never spoke of that but I think the Nazi were playing with the Jewish children like dogs.
MacIntyre: Tossing them in the air?
Desbois: Yeah. They were treating them like dogs.
MacIntyre: There is a story in your book of a mother with a small baby.
MacIntyre: and what the soldier said to her.
Desbois: There are many many stories now I know from that. There are not two cases the same. Sometimes they ask the mother to hang high their children and because they will shoot this child first. Sometimes, most of the mothers they try to hide the child, baby with them and they are shot from them with the child with alive in the grave. It's the general case, the general case.
MacIntyre: And how many--what is the magnitude of this?
Desbois: From this killing, it comes from Poland until Chechnya, it means that it concerns Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Latonia, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Moldova. It concerns all these countries. Of course in Poland not all of the Jews, 15 per cent of the Jews. But in the other countries all of the Jews from these countries.
MacIntyre: How many people?
Desbois: Nobody knows. Until we are not done the job. Because the Nazis were doing good reports. By example in Simferopol, capital of Crimea, they wanted to kill all the Jews before Christmas. So the Jews are killed 19 of December, 20th etc, until 31. And they asked for a paper that said the city is Judenfrei, free of Jews. And suddenly next April they discover a lot of Jews. So they kill them without any declaration because they didn't want to invalid their report. So for one declared killing you have 10 killings that are not declared. That's the reason of the gap between the archives, the German archives, and the ground. They wanted to show themselves like very effective. They want to send back to Berlin a perfect image of killers, very effective, but it was not true. They were only killers.
MacIntyre: Do you have any, can you make a guess how many Jews did they kill--
Desbois: I don't know. For Ukraine we built an international symposium here, in Sorbonne. With researchers from America, Germany, Israel and so on. They all agree that the million number of victims only in Ukraine is 1 million point five Jews shot in Ukraine. Only in Ukraine. Now I enter into Belarus. And the minimum number in Belarus is 700,000. So I don't know.
MacIntyre: It staggers the mind to try to imagine what was happening day, after day, after day.
Desbois: Yeah. In these units they were killing Jews for three years from 41-44. It was like a daily job. It was like a daily job. By example, in Babi Yar in the main, one of the main killing sites of Ukraine, in Kiev. We have tesitmony of a German killer, he was shooting during two days, he was one of the main shooters. And at the end there was no more Jews. He killed 30,000 Jews in two days. And he went to see his boss and he said, Are there any more people to kill? And it's written in the testimony, in his trial. It means that people (??) they were feeling like God. You arrive in a village, you kill all the population yourself. At the end you drink, you organize a feast, and so on, and you go to another villages. You were like Gods. And many of them escaped anywhere in the world after, and went back to their quiet life.
Desbois: It means that that is human being. You can be a killer and after go back to be a teacher, a farmer, a worker in a post office or anywhere.
MacIntyre: You paint this picture of these killers taking lunch breaks.
Desbois: Yeah. In some village they know that the killing will take all the day so they ask for a lunch. So they order the mayor to ask for Russian women to cook a cow. A full cow. And they prepare this meal just near the grave. And I met a lady she was serving this food and this meal. And she told me, they went outside of the table two by two to shoot at the Jews. And she told me, at the very end of the meal it was 1000 Jews less. So she saw at the same time the killers were eating meat just near the grave and the Jews were naked, waiting to be shot. And I raised the question, How could they eat hearing to all these people yelling and crying? And the person told me, Father you don't understand. When you kill people every day you don't care about anything like that. So it seems that they were killing them like animals. That's it. That's racism. You know racism you don't consider everyone exactly like a human being. So it's very sad to kill but it's exactly like an animal.
MacIntyre: And in some cases you describe the local citizens were asked to make noise.
Desbois: Yeah in some villages the Nazis asked people to come every morning to make noise or music. To avoid the rest of the village to listen to the cries. And they have to come. One day one of the guys refused to do it and he was killed both. You must understand also it was a complete war. They killed also a lot of Ukrainian, a lot of Gypsies, a lot of disabled people. Sometimes in the village you have mass grave for the Jew, you have another mass grave for the Gypsies, you have another mass grave for the disabled people. And if in the city where partisan people were fighting, sometimes they shoot all the village. Only in Belarus they destroyed 7000 villages that they shoot. Completely. So it was a complete war. They were feeling like in colonial empire, they didn't care. In France and that they care, because they were afraid to be put on trial, there they don't care. Because they were thinking to deport all the population. One guy in Kovel, the German leader, killed himself. Every morning he was like crazy, he went outside in the streets and he shot two people, he killed even the priest. And he has been judged for having killed 6000 persons only by himself like that, without any organized shooting.
MacIntyre: How do you explain that? Was he..?
Desbois: I have no explanation. You know I fight against evil I don't explain it. Anybody has this ability, that's the main problem.
MacIntyre: Here's the other thing I can't understand, and maybe it's naive. All these Jews, all these Ukrainians, they outnumbered the Germans. Sometimes the Germans left their weapons there. And nobody resisted.
Desbois: It happened. It depends where. Why did they kill people not in the forest but in the very centre of the village? Because they are afraid to be attacked. Why they don't kill people in the cities but in small village? Because they are afraid to be attacked. The main question for the Jew--for the Nazis was to feel safe. That's why they brought by example all the Jews of Odessa in a very isolated village. And they knew they could control everything. Another point also it was a war. So inside the village there was no, no guy, only women and children. And you know in this period it was no asphalt, no running water, people were running from villages with carts with horses. And Germans were arriving with tanks and trucks and modernity. Sometimes there were revolts. In one ghetto people tried to fight, and to escape. But you must know also that if people tried to escape it was a massacre. They were punishing them like in awful way and after people were scared. By example one guy, he was hiding in a family, he was hidden by a Ukrainian family, a Jew and he's still surviving, I met him. And he told me suddenly we are denounced and the Nazis entered in the house and he told me, I jumped by the window and they entered in the family and when they saw they were hiding Jews they took all the family in the market and they cut everybody in two pieces. And threw the pieces in the market in front of the population. So he told me after no one was willing to hide people anymore. That was the war in the East.
MacIntyre: And this is, this is a pattern that you can see consistently.
Desbois: Yeah. In Ukraine...I come back from Belarus and one village they killed 2,500 Jews in front of one family and one guy of the family said to the German, you are very violent with the Jews, because he was speaking German, and German he said, Yes, and I will kill you too. So he decided to kill the two boys of the family in Belarus. It was a complete war. They didn't care. They didn't care. It was a complete war. It's why I think Germans were thinking we're forgetting that. Because you know it was good to say there were SS and there were Germans and there were killers and there we not killers, but in East, who was killer who was not killer? I cannot say.
MacIntyre: How do you, having seen as intimately as this, what these people did, and there is a consistency, they were German people
MacIntyre: They were educated, they had choices.
MacIntyre: How does that leave you in terms of your attitude towards--
Desbois: I think it's one of my reasons to say, first Holocaust is not only a Jewish story, it's not Jews who are killing Jews, it was young people from Germany, Austria, who are arriving to kill the population. And now we are not so far, there are still survivors, Jewish survivors and Nazi survivors, and if we don't establish the truth it means that we anticipate another genocide. Because people, you know, Himmler was always saying, who remembers about the genocide of the Armenians. So people who are committing the genocide they know each other, it's a small group. One from Rwanda, one from Cambodge, one from uh Turkey, and so on and so on. It's a small team. It's like a small team of serial killers. And they study each other. So if they see that in Ukraine, in Russia, in Belarus, we don't come back, we don't speak of it, they will say, ok no need for extermination camps, kill them anywhere in the field. And if you see the modern genocide in Rwanda, in Cambodge, there were no camps. It was (?)
MacIntyre: They managed to mobilize, you know in Rwanda they mobilized, a small group managed to mobilize a larger crowd of people.
MacIntyre: And this--
Desbois: They trained them. They trained them to be killers. Because the German by example was trained to find a job in Germany, enters in a police unit, not for killing. And all these unit has been sent to Ukraine. And suddenly this unit was killing people. But when he in entered police in Munich, or Brehmen, he didn't know it was for killing.
MacIntyre: Parking tickets.
Desbois: Yeah. And suddenly he is a killer. So, I think in official history you know, you try to say the killers are very bad guys, they are inhuman, they are monsters, because you don't want to think it could be you.
MacIntyre: So where does that leave us, Father? I mean--
Desbois: It means that we have to be realists. To educate people strongly to keep a, to have a responsibility to keep their consciousness, and when dictator is arriving, to try to be strong psychically (?) otherwise we can be killers like anyone else and a new genocide can appear. You know, sometimes we feel a genocide like a tsunami, but it's not a tsunami, it's somebody who is killing somebody. So even for tsunami they are preparing an electronic machine who avoids a tsunami to enter on earth. But for genocide there is no electronic machine.
MacIntyre: It's people like you and me.
Desbois: Yeah it's only people like us who can say, hello, here we are, mass killings, and nobody is moving. You see what happens in Darfur even if it's perhaps not a genocide but a mass killing, you know what happened in Rwanda. Also, people who are committing the genocide are very quick people. The time we establish the facts, the time the journalists arrive, the lawyers decide, the politicians decide, it's finished. Genocide is done. You saw in Rwanda, you saw in Cambodge, how quick it's done. So after we cry and so on, but it's too late.
MacIntyre: How much time do you have left to complete--
Desbois: It depends on God's will. Uh, normally for Ukraine it stays for me more three years. Minimum.
MacIntyre: Because you're a young man, but your witnesses are not.
Desbois: Yeah, it depends what is to be young. You ask somebody who is 20 will feel me like an old man. And uh yeah, witnesses are not, and I think we have three, four years maximum to finish Ukraine and Belarus. Belarus also is very welcoming of that in a nice way. So I am coming back in Belarus in next August to establish the facts village after village. And I will try to enter in Russia to do the same. Because in Russia they went far. They went until Kocazus, until near Chechnya. So nobody will go back there, it's in the very middle of the mountains, and nobody will come back. I tried to go, nobody will go.
MacIntyre: Why is it important--and I might be wrong, but I get the impression that it is very important to you that each victim.
Desbois: Yeah. You know also, A Russian proverb says that a war is not finished, until the last victim is not buried. And for me, I would dare to say a genocide is not finished until the last victim is not buried. So in this way, this genocide is not finished because Jews are not buried. They have been buried like animals, killed like animals. They are in our fields, behind our churches, in front of our municipalities, anywhere. But not like human beings.
MacIntyre: By your own modest estimate, there's a million and a half of them. How do you expect, ever--
Desbois: You know, people always say, it's a million and a half, it's two million and a half it's seven million, it's six million. Me, I worked with Mother Theresa in Calcutta, and she was among millions of poors. And all journalists were asking to Mother Theresa, how can you bear to see millions of poors? And she always answered, I never saw one million, I only saw one in the same time. That's why I can do it. At it's the same for me. When I arrive in a village I'm not in front of millions, I am in front of the death of Gloria, of Dora, or Itzhik, or David, we're human people. And you know also that in the Jewish tradition, the Orthodox Jewish tradition, people are pictured (?) like saints, like tzadikim, and that they are alive in heaven. So we cannot say that they are alive like saints and have not even a grave. They are alive like in a pit. So it's a strong gap. And also I remember like in the Bible, in the very beginning of the Bible, Cain is killing Able. And the first brothers are killing each other. And if you read where is in the Bible, Abel is not buried. Nobody buries Abel. And God is coming to see Cain, and says to him, where is your brother? And I very frequently in my conference raise the question, don't you listen to this question of God? Where is your brother? Where is your Ukrainian Jewish brother? Where is your Jewish brother from Russia, from Belarus, from Moldova. Where is he? He's in the fields, like Abel. And you know the answer of Cain, it's say, (?) is the guardian of my brother, to say it's not my problem, I sleep well. And God goes on, he says, don't you hear that Abel is crying from earth? And this cries goes to heaven and I listen. I think since I am grown I listen to that and the people I work with they listen to that. They think that Abel is still crying, and we cannot build Europe and say to Abel to keep silence. Otherwise we will say to any Abel from Cambodia, Rwanda, other country to keep silence because we want to sleep well.
MacIntyre: Simplify that for me in modern terms. You are saying that the future of Europe is compromised...by voices.
Desbois: Yeah. It's comprised. I say that because we are in Europe. But I think that other genocides, other continents it's the same. It's my responsibility because I'm French, I'm Christian, I'm European and if we don't do that in Europe, what will be done in Africa?
MacIntyre: You're saying the voices of the dead are crying out to--
Desbois: Of course, of course. And we cannot say, we were building banks, don't worry, new streets, news highways. And Abel will stop to yell to God. No. God will still hear him. It's also an item(?) to our humanity and to any faith I would say. We cannot speak to love and so one and do nothing for dead people. Otherwise it means we don't believe in resurrection.
MacIntyre: You talk about this quest of yours in terms of resurrection in terms of justice. Put together those ideas of justice, genocide, resurrection. How do you-
Desbois: For me it's very easy. Jews believe in resurrection. Especially for these victims of Holocaust, they believe they are alive in heaven. And Pope Jean Paul II when he went to the synagogue, first time in the synagogue for 2000 years, in 86, he says to the Jews, you are our elder brothers in faith. We cannot speak only, and not act. So what I do is very simple. It's only to act as brother, and to say, my brothers are in the fields. We say that as a people of course. And they have never been buried and nobody cares. So that's the only reason, it's very simple for me. You know, I'm always to explain myself, people think it's complicated. But it's very simple. I have not even the question that you have, in fact. I try to answer other questions but it's not my questions.
MacIntyre: People think it's complicated because they identified the Vatican as a --
Desbois: No I think people try to say it's complicated not to do it. Nobody raise the question, can I come with you Father and stop my job? No they raise question and question, it's a way to say, am I (?) of my brother. To say, please Father, tell me I'm not. Because everyone wants to sleep well.
MacIntyre: So this is your, your mission is justice for the--
Desbois: It's one of part. Because I work also for relationships between Catholic and Jews in France, I work for the Catholic Bishop's conference, I'm also advisor for Vatican for relationship with Jews, we are also a positive wing towards the future, I work also in league with Israel, and so on and so on, it's a part of my duty.