Information on Sites Transmitted to the American Jewish Committee for the Protection and Memorialization of Mass Graves
May 13, 2011
Paris / Washington, May 12, 2011 – Father Patrick Desbois, President, Yahad-In Unum, Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs, American Jewish Committee, and Paul Shapiro, Director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum met today at the Museum to discuss new developments in their cooperative work regarding the Holocaust in the Soviet Union.
Village-by-village reports on the Nazi campaign of genocide and mass killings of Jews, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war by mass shootings in the former Soviet Union, including videotaped testimony of non-Jewish eyewitnesses, will be made available online, the result of a joint effort by Yahad-In Unum and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. For nine years, Yahad-In Unum research teams, with the involvement and support of the Museum, have traveled the back roads of Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and Poland, identifying mass grave sites and videotaping interviews with eyewitnesses, shedding new light on the Holocaust in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, sometimes called the “Holocaust by bullets.” The results of this unique research will be made available on the Internet for the first time, via a specially designed database.
At the meeting, Yahad-In Unum presented its complete data on mass grave locations to the American Jewish Committee, which will insure the permanent protection of many long-neglected grave sites that are at risk of being desecrated by development, theft, or simple neglect. The American Jewish Committee is spearheading efforts, with the financial support of the German government and along with several other organizations, to permanently protect and memorialize a number of these sites. During the meeting at the Museum, Rabbi Baker reviewed current plans regarding this aspect of the project.
Yahad-In Unum President Father Patrick Desbois, a French Catholic priest, has called his organization’s work to interview the remaining eyewitnesses to the atrocities of 70 years ago while they are still alive “a race against time.” Yahad-In Unum estimates that only 60-70% of the mass grave sites have been identified in Ukraine, the country with the largest number of victims, and that it has approximately five more years before the last witnesses disappear.
Reports on more than 30 villages will be included initially when the new database goes live. A total of 600 villages have already been investigated by Yahad teams. Reports on additional villages will be added on an ongoing basis. Yahad plans to conduct 15 two-week research trips this year, which will add approximately 120 more villages to the total.
The database, known as “Traces,” will be available by mid-summer on Yahad-In Unum’s web site www.yahadinunum.org and via the Museum’s web site www.ushmm.org. Each village report includes summaries and extracts of videotaped testimony by eyewitnesses to the mass shootings of Jews, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war in the East by the Nazis and their allies. The database also includes a consolidated listing of the localities investigated to date by Yahad - In Unum and information on archival documents and photography relating to the testimonies, organized by place, region, country and date of investigation. Much of the archival material for the project comes from the Museum’s extensive archival holdings.
The complete witness videos, archival records and artifacts are being made available to researchers, journalists, educators and the family members of victims who visit the Museum in Washington, D.C., or at Yahad’s headquarters in Paris. Access to the full videos also can be requested online at www.yahadinunum.org.
At this meeting, Yahad-In Unum presented its data to the American Jewish Committee, which will ensure the permanent protection of many long-neglected grave sites at risk of being desecrated by development, theft, or simple neglect. The American Jewish Committee is spearheading efforts, with the support of the German government and along with several other organizations, to permanently protect and memorialize a number of these sites. During the meeting at the Museum, Rabbi Baker reviewed current plans regarding this aspect of the project.
Father Desbois recognized the role of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a longtime partner and supporter of Yahad’s research efforts. “Without the active assistance, resources and leadership of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, we would never have been able to make such progress in ensuring that the victims of the Nazi genocide in the East are not forgotten,” said Father Desbois.
Paul Shapiro, Director of the Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, commented, “The fact that German and Soviet archival materials created during and immediately following the Holocaust and the testimonial evidence of eyewitnesses being collected today by Yahad-In Unum tell the same story---the fact that they corroborate and enrich one another---makes it possible for the first time to see in detail what happened on the ground in that part of the world and know that we are looking at the truth.”
Alongside other partners, the Museum and Yahad-In Unum have co-organized a series of conferences designed to bring greater awareness of the Holocaust in the East to European audiences and the need for constant vigilance against genocide: The Holocaust in Ukraine (Paris, 2007), Operation 1005: Nazi Attempts to Erase the Evidence of Mass Murder in Eastern and Central Europe (Paris, 2009), and Mass Graves of the Holocaust (June 2011, Bucharest). Father Desbois’ book, The Holocaust by Bullets (2008), winner of the National Jewish Book Award, published with the support of the Museum, re-stimulated interest in studying the Holocaust in the East.
Yahad-In Unum is a research organization whose teams travel to towns and villages in Eastern Europe investigating execution sites, identifying mass graves and videotaping interviews with witnesses to the executions. More than 1,700 interviews have been recorded to date and are available to researchers, journalists, educators and the family members of victims at Yahad’s headquarters in Paris. Since its founding in 2004, Yahad has confirmed the location of hundreds of mass graves, many previously unknown, in more than 600 towns in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Poland. Yahad teams will conduct 15 two-week research trips in 2011, interviewing 40-50 witnesses each trip. www.yahadinunum.org
A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Federal support guarantees the Museum’s permanent place on the National Mall, and its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors. For more information, visit www.ushmm.org.