Thursday, August 18, 2016

Shoah By Bullets: Desbois Film Transcript

A film of Patrick Desbois' work in Ukraine was released in France in 2008. A preview of the Desbois film, showing the Busk excavation is here. I originally posted a partial transcript in June 2013 but did not have the full transcript at that time. I have therefore updated the article below with the full transcript, produced for educational purposes only:

00:05 Rawa Ruska, Ukraine
Hester Wilcox This was the camp of prisoner number 325, minus 30 degree centigrade in winter, stifling heat in summer, the place was also called the camp of slow death. During World War II, the Germens interned 25,000 French deputies here. Claudius Desbois was one of them. He recounted this slow agony to his grandson Patrick and this story changed Patrick’s life for good.
00:35 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
01:40 Patrick Desbois My grandfather who was such a cheerful man told me, it was hard for us in Rawa Ruska, we ate dandelions, grass. But for the others it was worse. And so I started to come here, to try to understand. Our daily round was work. One group worked at the station, and another on the roads. They were ordered to destroy the Jewish cemetery, but I know they refused. Some of the commandos were very hard, and others weren’t as bad. But they worked all the time with Jews from the ghetto, the men and women from the ghetto. But the difference was that the same number never returned. So, there were summary executions, because a guard got annoyed or simply because he just didn’t want to bring any Jews back. They saw a huge amount of things like that; they were condemned to see. That was their main sentence to see…
Hester Wilcox A condemnation that would haunt him. Patrick Desbois, the catholic a man of the church would become the relentless investigator of the massacre of the Jews in Eastern Europe.
01:50 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
02:05 Patrick Desbois The Ukraine, my vocation as a priest, my identity and the Holocaust are one. This is part of the circle of my life and I wanted to understand.
Hester Wilcox Understand the terrible audio of the Ukrainian Jews.
02:10 [sil.]
02:15 Hester Wilcox The crime of these men, Einsatzgruppen, SS Special Task Forces. All was sent to the Eastern Front officially to secure the re-alliance against all and any resistance. In realty, they were the foremen of a directive delivered by Adolf Hitler, exterminate all the Jews of Europe.
02:40 [music]
02:50 Hester Wilcox Of these killings, there are few images that remain like this film shot by a German soldier in Libau, Lithuania in 1941.
03:05 [music]
04:20 France 3
A mano a mano
Shoah by Bullet
The Forgotten History
A film by
Romain Icard
Hester Wilcox For the last five years, Father Desbois has been driving along the roads of Ukraine, the same two vehicles follow one another, interpreters, experts and ballistics, a whole crew, how can one exhume these forgotten dead? How can one prove the existence of the Soah by Bullets? Sometimes other men of the Church lend their support for this search for lost memory.
04:50 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
06:10 UNKNOWN I’ll tell you a story. I know that here in front of the church, at the corner of the house next door, an unspeakably cruel German soldier grabbed a Jewish woman’s child from her. He was barely two years old, and he took him and banged his head repeatedly against the wall. The child died in pools of blood in front of the parent’s eyes. Brothers and sisters in faith, maybe some of you here today know something about the tragedies that took place during the war, under the Nazi occupation. About how Jewish families lived and died. I beg you, if you know something, tell. But now, let us pray, together. Glory to the Lord…
Hester Wilcox An appeal for witnesses during mass. Memory is not easily recalled, it’s too painful. Outside the Ukrainian churches the faithful must be solicited.
06:20 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
06:30 UNKNOWN What do you remember the Jews who lived here?
Koutcha Olha Haveryliva [non-English narration]
06:40 Koutcha Olha Haveryliva Yes, I remember when we lived here, we saw arrests, killings, executions…
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
06:45 UNKNOWN They brought them to the edge of a pit and shot them.
Koutcha Olha Haveryliva [non-English narration]
07:05 Koutcha Olha Haveryliva But you see the pit move, because some of them were still alive. We were young and it was hard to watch. It was a tragedy, a great tragedy.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
Koutcha Olha Haveryliva [non-English narration]
Koutcha Olha Haveryliva What’s my name? Koutcha Olha Haverylivna.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
07:10 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
Patrick Desbois And what age were you during the war?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
07:15 UNKNOWN And what age were you during the war?
Koutcha Olha Haveryliva [non-English narration]
Koutcha Olha Haveryliva I was 15.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
07:30 UNKNOWN We’ll come to see you later; it’s not very feasible here.
Koutcha Olha Haveryliva [non-English narration]
Koutcha Olha Haveryliva Alright, I’ll tell you what I know.
Hester Wilcox The crew led by Father Desbois listens and records those who lived through World War II, those who witness these killings, but who never talked about them. The work has been accomplished step by step methodically. 65 years later villages have revealed little by little their dark secrets. Throughout Ukraine over a million and a half Jews were executed by the Nazis. Until today nobody knew precisely what had become with these victims, a whole chapter of the Shoah forgotten.
08:10 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
08:25 Patrick Desbois There are no gas chambers, no camps or no tattoos here. Everyone was killed quickly. They were shot. The holocaust by bullets, all over the continent…
Hester Wilcox Two years after the beginning of the war, Nazi Germany opened a new front towards the USSR.
08:35 [sil.]
08:40 Hester Wilcox This was the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. Adolf Hitler’s objective was to crush the Soviet Union and take procession of Ukrainian land, which was indispensable of heinous plans to expand Third Reich. In only two weeks after combats of extreme violence Germen troops controlled the country.
09:05 [sil.]
09:15 Hester Wilcox In their footsteps, the Einsatzgruppen started to work.
09:20 [sil.]
09:35 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
09:55 Patrick Desbois In the West we thought we would never find these Jewish victims of the Holocaust, that they had disappeared. But, they were often buried under a ditch. We are now examining all the murder sites to find the bodies, to find the proof. The bodies can then be buried with dignity. Humanity begins with burying our dead.
Hester Wilcox And often the search begins with witnesses encountered outside churches. Olga was 12 years-old in 1942.
10:05 Olga Havrylivna
Aged 12 in 1942
Hester Wilcox 12 years-old when she witnessed it all.
10:10 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
10:15 UNKNOWN How do you know that Jews were killed here?
Olga Havrylivna [non-English narration]
10:45 Olga Havrylivna But, because everybody talked about it, oru parents talked about it. Everyone knew that Jews were killed here at Oukopysko. The day we came to see they brought a lot of Jews here. There must have been 60 or 70. We look on. We didn’t go too near, we stayed over there, but we children could still see everything.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
10:50 Patrick Desbois Where did that start?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
10:55 UNKNOWN Where did the pit start?
Olga Havrylivna [non-English narration]
11:00 Olga Havrylivna Somewhere over there, as far as here.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
11:05 Patrick Desbois Up to the tree?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
Olga Havrylivna [non-English narration]
11:10 Olga Havrylivna Yes, that’s right.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
11:15 Patrick Desbois How many soldiers fired?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
11:20 UNKNOWN How many soldiers fired?
Olga Havrylivna [non-English narration]
Olga Havrylivna A lot. A lot.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
11:25 UNKNOWN 5? 10?
Olga Havrylivna [non-English narration]
11:35 Olga Havrylivna More. There were a lot of guards when they brought them here. All around the pit and in front of them as well. There must have been about 15 Germans.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
11:40 Patrick Desbois Were the Jews standing or on their knees when they were killed?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN Were the Jews standing or on their knees when they were killed?
Olga Havrylivna [non-English narration]
11:55 Olga Havrylivna Standing. Standing, standing. They were in groups. They formed a line and they shot them. Then a new line came up and they were shot.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
12:00 Patrick Desbois Was that how it happened?
Olga Havrylivna [non-English narration]
12:05 Olga Havrylivna Yes, yes, they had their backs to the pit, and they shot them.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
Patrick Desbois And the commander, he stood to the side?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN And the commander, he stood to the side?
Olga Havrylivna [non-English narration]
12:10 Olga Havrylivna Yes, on the side like this.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
Patrick Desbois They didn’t get into the pit?
Olga Havrylivna [non-English narration]
12:20 Olga Havrylivna No, nobody pushed them into the pit. They killed them and the Jews fell in.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
Olga Havrylivna [non-English narration]
12:25 Olga Havrylivna That’s what I saw.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
12:30 Patrick Desbois Did they shoot them in the back or face to face?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN Did they shoot them in the back or face to face?
Olga Havrylivna [non-English narration]
12:40 Olga Havrylivna In the back. They shot them in the back.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
Hester Wilcox From Olga’s memory of the vents, Father Desbois may have discovered a mass grave, but one testimony alone is not enough. He would have to return to fill-out the story of this killing.
12:50 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
12:55 Patrick Desbois We’re not leaving Rawa Ruska for Rovno, where we’ve already begun. I think that it would be better to begin in the North.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN Yes, the North is much different from the South.
Hester Wilcox Every evening, the crew goes over the day’s work. With Giom, his photographer and right hand man, they prepared the next day’s research.
13:05 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
13:10 Patrick Desbois We’ve already done Lubijiv. In my opinion, we have enough information to do this area.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
13:15 UNKNOWN Yeah, and there’s a large ghetto at Sarny.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
14:10 Patrick Desbois In Sarny alone, 13,000 Jews were killed, 33 hanged, 91 tortured and then killed. 13,895 all told. There is a huge amount of testimony from people who witnessed the killings. Historically, this project shows how each person was killed by one person with the aid of other people. I just couldn’t listen to some of the first witnesses I spoke to and I stopped several interviews. I said we’d stop here, thank you. It’s too awful. And then I though, ok, but if you let the horror take over, you’ll never know the truth and that would give Hitler a posthumous victory. I had to stay calm and not show my emotion and reconstruct the crime.
Hester Wilcox They use the same method in every village. Look for those who are children at the time.
14:15 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
14:20 UNKNOWN What do you want to do with your grandfather?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
14:25 UNKNOWN He was at the front at the time. We’re looking for your grandmother.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
14:30 UNKNOWN Ok, I’ll go with you.
Hester Wilcox Testimony is not always easy to find. More than 60 years after the killings, time is playing against Father Desbois, often the few witnesses left are either dead or too weak to speak. Lviv, Ukraine’s second largest city, the crew wanted to show us what was one of the largest extermination sites in the country, Lesienicki forest. The forest where the Jewish population of a whole city disappeared, 90,000 dead. Adofe was 12 years old in 1941, he too was 12 years old when he saw everything.
15:25 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
15:30 UNKNOWN You were in the forest when it started?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
15:50 UNKNOWN Yes, I was up in a tree somewhere over there. I couldn’t tell you exactly which one. We were playing with our sleds when the Germans arrived. Then we heard shots and we saw smoke. We were told not to go over there.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
15:55 UNKNOWN What did you see from the tree?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
16:15 UNKNOWN We saw how they took them up. There were guards and they passed along there, but it was higher there at the time. They beat them and pushed them down from the trucks. Then we heard shots and people crying.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN Did it last long?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
16:35 UNKNOWN Yes, it was a long time. It must have started in 1941, when the Germans arrived. Nothing happened for two months. We continued to play in the forest, trapping squirrels, etc, and then it started. There were massacres here all during the German occupation.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
16:40 UNKNOWN Were they adults or children?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
17:15 UNKNOWN Mostly adults. That’s what I saw. But, there were some children they said, others saw children. I wasn’t the only one who saw. People didn’t watch all the time, it was terrifying. When you see cattle taken to the slaughter, it’s frightening, but these people. We couldn’t help hearing, pa-pa-pa pa-pa. They were shooting. You know, I really want to know that we lived in fear. We were afraid that we’d be the last ones into the grave. We witnessed it; we saw everything. We were afraid that the last bodies would be ours that they would take all the witnesses.
17:20 [music]
17:25 Hester Wilcox The victims were subjected to a final humiliation, they were ordered to undress before being assassinated. Certain mass graves interred up to 2,500 corpses.
17:45 [sil.]
17:55 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
18:15 Patrick Desbois They made them run down the path to the mass graves that were ready for them. There were 49 graves altogether. Not all at the same time. They dug one pit, filled it and then started another. This is an extermination site.
Hester Wilcox The irrefutable character of the proof soon became evident to Father Desbois, but the question remained how to demonstrate that the witnesses were telling the truth that the Jewish population of Ukraine was indeed exterminated and buried where this rural memory had designated. In August 2006, to verify the truth, he decided to exhume the mass graves of the City of Busk. Here the Jewish community was five centuries old, it was decimated during the war.
18:45 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
19:00 Patrick Desbois Officially, there was no mass grave at this site. And all neighbours who were interviewed at Chevchenko Street that 10 people, said that they killed Jews in the cemetery.
Hester Wilcox Father Desbois wanted to know for sure. He started digging, it was a matter of passing from words to undeniable proof.
19:10 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
20:00 Patrick Desbois First of all we had to ask Grand Rabbi Blaich the Grand Rabbi of the Ukraine to request it. Rabbinic law absolutely prohibits moving a bone, especially the remains of the victims of the Holocaust, who are seen as saints by the Jewish Orthodoxy. We received the permission and the area was marked out with archeologists monitored by a Rabbi from the Zaka orthodox movement. We had to balance the requirements of Rabbinic law and the needs of the archaeologists on the other. And then in the Ukraine, we weren’t used to opening up a mass grave containing the bodies of Jewish victims. We discovered that there were 17 graves. It was very hard…
Hester Wilcox After three weeks of meticulous excavations, the archaeologists discovered the unbearable. Under their instruments 1,700 skeletons were revealed clearly disclaim the horror of their last moments alive. Most were shot with the bullet to the head, others without apparent traces were most likely buried alive. As ultimate proof of these killings, Misha, the ballistics expert who works with the priest found hundreds of German cartridges near the mass graves. For Father Desbois, the witnesses were telling the truth, no further doubts could be foreseen. But constrained by religious regulations, the digs were stopped at the first layer of skeletons.
20:55 [sil.]
21:10 Hester Wilcox Obliged to leave the bodies in their current state, Father Desbois wanted to offer the memorial tombstone. He poured a slab of concrete and invited Jewish authorities to pay homage to the memory of the victims.
21:25 UNKNOWN [non-English song]
21:55 Hester Wilcox Three times a year, Patrick Desbois and his crew go to the United States. They are in close contact with one of the most renowned research centers Yom Ha-Shoah, the Holocaust Memorial. Their collaboration is essential for this institution. Thanks to their accumulated testimonies, the victims of Shoah in Eastern Europe have finally gained their place in history.
22:25 UNKNOWN We are dealing here with a is a very interesting and huge puzzle and this huge, huge puzzle is coming together and it’s confirming that Ukraine was and remains a huge cemetery.
22:45 Hester Wilcox The work is meticulous and demands patience, rigor and hours of discussion. They must confirm the millions of testimonial documents that historians have a must.
23:00 UNKNOWN This is just another piece of documentation. Martin has found documentation relating to places – I think a couple of places that you have been, but several that are on your agenda to go to.
23:15 UNKNOWN My project is parallel to Patrick’s, I’m trying to identify the ghettos in Ukraine and whenever I find a sketch map or a drawing where the ghetto was, for me, this is very, very useful. Often of course they showed the mass graves as well. If you look at this one here from Vyshnivets, did you go to Vyshnivets already.
23:35 Patrick Desbois Yeah.
UNKNOWN This is a town in Volhynia just on the border of Polish.
Patrick Desbois Yeah, we – just – yeah, I know.
UNKNOWN And for this time we actually have a number of different sources which cooperate each other.
23:40 Patrick Desbois Where does it come from?
UNKNOWN Regional KGB Archive in Tanapol(ph) and the protocol is taken by two witnesses, I think they were bystander witnesses and they described that the person being investigated, participated in the shooting and it shows the root they get from the ghetto and one of the survivors describes on the day that this happened on the 12th of August. And this man claimed, he made a speech to the Ukraine police telling them to drive all the Jews out of the ghetto and that they have to shot outside the town, they shouldn’t be shot in the ghetto.
24:15 Patrick Desbois That’s why it’s also difficult find them, because people look into the city and they have been killed in the city.
24:20 UNKNOWN But they are marched through the center of the town…
Patrick Desbois Everybody so well.
UNKNOWN …providing the – but it’s providing the eye witnesses…
24:25 Patrick Desbois Yeah.
UNKNOWN ... that you’re interviewing today.
Patrick Desbois Exactly.
24:30 Hester Wilcox These exchanges with Father Desbois have made evident the importance of Soviet Archives. Several tons of documents which have been up to now largely neglected.
24:40 Paul Shapiro The reality is we tend to not want to believe Soviet documentation, because of the reputation of the Soviet Union in some areas to not be completely true to fact. It’s just the way it is. We tend to question and scholars have tended to question the authenticity of what’s in Soviet documentation. Your testimonies are saying that this is – this was seriously done.
25:15 Patrick Desbois This was seriously done, yeah.
Paul Shapiro And people also tend to question testimonies taken today. Because 60 years have gone by, because the people are elderly, but what we’re seeing here is such a strong way is the reality is when you’re – when you come face to face with this kind of event and this kind of tragedy, your memory does not leave you with time, it’s burned in these people’s memories and having watched some of testimonies you’ve taken, you can tell that for these – for those people, it’s as if this happen…
25:50 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
25:55 Paul Shapiro … you’re doing it at a time when it’s essential to do it, because those survivors, those eye witnesses won’t be there five years from now.
26:00 Patrick Desbois That’s for sure.
Paul Shapiro Whatever we can do to facilitate this, you have total access here to this whole institution and the institution is with you 100%.
26:15 Patrick Desbois I know, it’s also because of that that it works, because in some complicate places like -- as we said, (inaudible ) archived we cannot work to it.
26:30 [music]
26:40 Paul Shapiro
Director of the Holocaust Memorial
Paul Shapiro The machinery of death of the death camps and deportations it is what we know best and it’s important to know it. But it’s also important to understand that over 1.5 million innocent Jewish victims were murdered in the former USSR and Ukraine in the greatest numbers. This research won’t change the basic facts, basic facts are that more than 1.5 million innocent people were murdered. What it will change is our understanding of what that really means, who did what to whom and how did they do it, on the ground, in the villages, in the towns, with what motivation did they act, what were the consequences, the local consequences, what has been the impact on the people who survived.
27:45 Volyn region, Ukraine
Hester Wilcox Since historians have given their support to the Frenchmen, research has accelerated. The Catholic Church lets Father Desbois works early on in his mission. Last summer with the aid of archives from the United States, he decided to explore North Western Ukraine. This is one of the poorest parts of the country, which in pre-war times counted over 150,000 Jews. We were in what was then called Yiddishland, one of the cradles of Jewish culture. Craftsmen, merchants, rich and poor, Jews were an integrated part of local society, nearly half the population. Not a trace of this culture remains today. And to the question, do you any witnesses of the holocaust, the response is explicit.
28:55 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
29:05 UNKNOWN I know nothing. I have other things to do. I don’t have the time. I know nothing.
Hester Wilcox Here as everywhere in the country, the mass graves are near cities and villages. Patrick Desbois knows this well. At the end of this road over 30,000 Jews were killed by German bullets.
29:30 [music]
29:40 Hester Wilcox From summer 1941, the Germans organized the segregation of the Jews. Herded into ghettos, they were cut-off from the rest of the population. From then on, the Germans organized what certain historians would later call the devil’s trap. At the time, Eastern Europe was in washy Nazi Semitism, Tsarist Russia and Stalin’s regime inflamed this hatred. The Germans had not trouble in manipulating local populations, they forced Jews to dissenter the bodies of victims of recent Soviet purges with the purpose of accusing them of being the perpetrators of these killings. The devil’s trap then snap shot. Convinced that the Jews were responsible for the death of their loved ones, blided, mad with rage, local populations took their revenge. Under the satisfied eye of German troops and cameras of Nazi propaganda the program started as in vid in 1942. But Nazi dignitaries quickly put an end to the lynching, they wanted the killing to be more efficient.
31:05 [music]
31:10 Yossip Revonuk [non-English narration]
31:40 Yossip Revonuk The first executions began when I was going to the technical school, so that I wouldn’t be sent to Germany. We saw the German arresting Jews. They told them to take everything with them. We children ran as far as the bridge. We never went any further than that. All our group watched.
Yossip Revonuk
Aged 15 in 1942
Hester Wilcox Yossip was 15 years old in the autumn of 1942.
31:45 Yossip Revonuk [non-English narration]
33:20 Yossip Revonuk There were thousands of people in the column and one Jew threw himself off the bridge into the river to get away. The German guard fired and I saw the way the blood flowed but that was just a child’s curiosity. We kept watching what was happening. The Germans were taking away the Jews, but they could also have taken us by mistake and made us join the column. Then suddenly, over there behind the bridges, there are a few houses we noticed movement in the crowd. The women started to run away and shots rang out. Then here, in this street a German soldier killed a woman and her two daughters. Right in front of my eyes they killed the girl. I went home and started to tell my father, but he punished me soundly and told me I shouldn’t have been there that I couldn’t been killed as well, as I could’ve been Jewish or Ukrainian. So yes, I remember. It started in the ghetto sometime in the autumn. In the autumn in 1942…
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN And where did they shoot people?
Yossip Revonuk [non-English narration]
33:50 Yossip Revonuk Bakhiv. Here’s how it worked. They brought a train up there and told them they were going to Germany for forced labour. They piled them all in, but in reality the train skirted Kovel for about kilometers and then turned into Bakhiv. The train was going to the sand quarry and that’s where they shot them.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
34:35 Patrick Desbois And nobody has asked them. Thousands of them saw the Holocaust close-up and nobody asked them about it. They are often asked why they’re talking now. The answer right across the Ukraine never varies; because you asked me. Did anybody asked about it since 1942? No, never. They are telling what they saw for the first and maybe the last-time. The Holocaust in the East, here, remains in the minds of the poor. It is also the Holocaust witnessed by poor people who hadn’t yet imbibed Soviet ideology. They are telling in their own words what happened here.
Hester Wilcox Yossip offers precise details to his story and points out the trail to follow to the site of the executions. Today, Yossip can’t stop talking after 60 years of silence.
34:45 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
34:55 Patrick Desbois Our aim is to see the topography of the events. Then, other witnesses will appear because we know where we are.
Hester Wilcox The search begins as soon as they reached the village.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
35:10 Patrick Desbois Stop, stop, there’s a babouchka.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
35:15 Patrick Desbois Where were they during the war?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN Where were they during the war?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
35:25 UNKNOWN I didn’t live here, I was in Karminska.
Hester Wilcox After an hour, a villager ends up point at a house on the village outskirts. The person who lives there already lived there during the war. He has always told the story of having seen the villagers Jewish women forced to dig their own graves.
35:45 [music]
35:50 Hester Wilcox His home is modest almost miserable, the man is without force striking with pain.
36:00 [sil.]
36:05 Temofis Ryzvanuk
Aged 14 in 1942
Hester Wilcox Temofis was 14 years old in 1942. He is an eye witness.
36:10 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
36:20 Patrick Desbois It’s July 30, 2007 and we’re in the Loutsk region in the village of…
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
36:25 Patrick Desbois Bakhiv. We’re at the house of…
Temofis Semenovitch Rizvanuk Temofis Semenovitch Rizvanuk.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN My name is Temofis Semenovitch Rizvanuk.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
36:30 Patrick Desbois And what year was he born in?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN What year were you born in?
Temofis Semenovitch Rizvanuk [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
36:35 Temofis Semenovitch Rizvanuk [non-English narration]
Temofis Semenovitch Rizvanuk In 1928.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
36:40 Patrick Desbois And where did he live during the war?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
Temofis Semenovitch Rizvanuk [non-English narration]
38:15 Temofis Semenovitch Rizvanuk I lived near the quarry, I was born there. I’ll tell you how it happened. We had trains here and they immediately made a track. The train went in and they loaded the ballast from the pits. We didn’t know why the Germans were forcing the Jews to do that. Why they were digging those big holes, we didn’t know they were for the Jews. The Germans beat them with some sort of whips. The women cried and screamed, by they still took small shovel and loaded up the train so they were working. Everybody was afraid. We were so afraid of the Germans. They had things on their caps they were terrifying. My father’s brother said: don’t be afraid, no one is going to kill you. They’re only killing Jews. And they realized that they were going to be killed. They stripped them naked men and women. When they had killed them, they put them beside each other, head to head, to pile in as many as possible, to save space. The Germans had automatic rifles and when they got close to the pit they shot them.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
38:20 Patrick Desbois How long did it take to kill a whole wagonload?
Temofis Semenovitch Rizvanuk [non-English narration]
38:40 Temofis Semenovitch Rizvanuk One whole wagon? A few minutes. A few minutes, that’s all, nobody left. It was all so well organized a production line. They had barely gotten out when they fell and were pushed in and piled together, head to head like hearings. Then the next wagonload arrived, and then the next.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
38:45 UNKNOWN Were there people in charge in cars?
Temofis Semenovitch Rizvanuk [non-English narration]
39:35 Temofis Semenovitch Rizvanuk Yes, there were six cars. They stayed a little distance away. Six cars, all German officers. They watched, hooted their horns and left. I know I saw insignias. They were SS, but special. They were like some kind of communists… Me, I’m old and I don’t care, but I don’t want my family sent to Siberia.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
39:40 Hester Wilcox Patrick Desbois decided to stay in 48 hours, the descriptions of the killings came one after the other. But who would accept to guide them to the old sand quarry, the site that everybody talked about.
39:50 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
40:00 Patrick Desbois Hello. Does he remember where the mass graves are? Tell him that we know where they are, but not the exact location of the graves.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
40:10 UNKNOWN We know the place, but not the exact spot where the graves are, can you bring us there?
Igor Chemko [non-English narration]
40:15 Igor Chemko Don’t know. I don’t have much time.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
40:20 UNKNOWN Tomorrow if you prefer.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
40:25 Patrick Desbois Maybe we should find someone else.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
40:35 UNKNOWN You show us and we’ll bring you back in the car. You just show us, it won’t be long.
Igor Chemko
Aged 15 in 1942
Hester Wilcox Igor was 15 years old in 1942, he saw the end of the killings.
40:50 [music]
41:05 [sil.]
41:10 Igor Chemko [non-English narration]
41:25 Igor Chemko There are two mass graves there; one is behind, over there. And there was a mass grave here.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
41:30 Patrick Desbois The big one, which is it?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN 3,000.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
41:40 Patrick Desbois Wait, ask him, wait. How was it dug? What was it like? A long one?
Igor Chemko [non-English narration]
Igor Chemko How should I know?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
41:45 Igor Chemko [non-English narration]
Igor Chemko It was this long, like this.
41:50 [sil.]
41:55 Igor Chemko [non-English narration]
42:00 Igor Chemko That’s the large grave, there.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
42:05 UNKNOWN How many people?.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
42:10 UNKNOWN 9,000
Igor Chemko [non-English narration]
42:15 Igor Chemko That’s a bone.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN Yes, a bit of a skull.
Igor Chemko [non-English narration]
42:20 Igor Chemko The grave took up all that, there.
42:25 [sil.]
42:40 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
42:50 UNKNOWN Patrick, I think that this hole was made by looters and grave robbers…. There that’s bone. Here, a bone.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
43:25 Patrick Desbois All those bones have been taken out recently. And that says volumes about what is going on. Look, each grave robber has a hole. It’s simple. There’s one over there. It’s like a site for them. One there and a large one over here. They dig systematically hoping to find jewellery or gold teeth. We’ve heard witnesses describe it. They take away heads in a bag and go through them at home. We’ll look for cartridge cases.
Hester Wilcox The cartridges amasses expertise, he can spend entire days, accumulating evidence is the obsession of the whole crew.
43:35 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
43:45 UNKNOWN Patrick, a German cartridge case.
43:50 [sil.]
44:00 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
44:05 UNKNOWN It’s a seal, for signing letters, in Hebrew.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
44:15 UNKNOWN Oh! There Patrick, a seal with the name in Hebrew.
44:20 [sil.]
44:25 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
44:35 Patrick Desbois Bulger Soderma… I’m not sure. If that is the name, it’s incredible, he threw in his name so that someone could find him.
44:40 [sil.]
44:50 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
45:05 Patrick Desbois So, we’re coming into Loubijov. Maybe here we’ll interview people in the square, old people. Over there’s a good spot, you have the bus station, the market, the restaurant and the church, so we’re at the heart of the village life.
Hester Wilcox The crew laid out a sophisticated good work searching for a key witness, someone who saw what happened with his own eyes. For the Third Reich, it was crucial to keep the extermination of the Jews secrete, but here in Eastern Europe in spite of their orders, SS commanders assassinated openly.
45:25 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
45:45 UNKNOWN The Nazis didn’t say that first they weren’t obeying the secrecy order, but that they also had moonlighters. There were an awful lot of moonlight death workers. They put them into groups and had them dig the graves. Or ordered them to walk on the bodies in between each execution.
Hester Wilcox Forced laborers forgotten by history, thousands of young Ukranians accomplished the base tasks of the Nazi killers. He was one of them. The Germans induced threats to make insipid to them. Stepan was 18 years old in 1942, a constrained grave digger of the Shoah.
46:05 Stepan Unchik
Aged 18 in 1942
Stepan Unchik [non-English narration]
48:25 Stepan Unchik I had Jewish friends in my hamlet, two boys. We hid them and fed them in my parent's house. The father and mother asked us to hide them - they're killing us, they said. The hamlet was 5 kilometres from here. Me, they conscripted me when I lived there. The Germans arrived, two of them and took the able bodied young people. I was there at the time - be quiet, got to bed. They took us and showed us a spot. To be more precise, there were stakes planted to mark out the ground we had to dig. There were 3,700 souls in that grave. Even Children were buried over there. When it was over there was a hillock. To tell the truth, we used a digger to put sand on top and the blood spread out over more than a metre. Any of us who had horses were ordered to go to the ghetto and get lime to pour over it. The grave formed a mound, they killed 3,600 souls. The blood rose.
Hester Wilcox Each commando of killers had its method of execution. Paying close attention to details, some even drafted maps. Everything was specified from the distance of the killers to the depths of the mass graves. An assassin for a victim, a firing squad fire a row of condemned, grenades, dynamite, machine guns, the sufferance of the Jews is unalterable. But the horror did not stop there. Any attempt to revolt was met with an unrestrained response. Again, Patrick Desbois would verify the implacable strategy applied by the German occupier. An active resistance isolated or collective led to punishment by fire. And the whole village had to pay the price. Thousands of Ukrainians met their death burned alive.
49:30 [music]
49:50 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
49:55 UNKNOWN Did your father die in the village?
Nadia Stepanova [non-English narration]
50:10 Nadia Stepanova Yes, he was burned to death in the church. When we buried him we only identified him by a piece of his jacket. He was unrecognisable otherwise. He was burned to ashes.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
Nadia Stepanova
Aged 13 in 1942
Misha Stepanova
Aged 15 in 1942
Hester Wilcox Nadia and Misha saw all the horrors of the war in Ukraine.
50:15 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
50:20 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN Tell us how it happened.
Nadia Stepanova [non-English narration]
51:15 Nadia Stepanova How it happened? The German soldiers advanced from Loutsk to occupy the whole region. This is the part where there were no houses, you probably noticed, there are no buildings. There was an act of resistance against the Germans. After that shooting they stopped in the village and spent the night. In the morning they gathered all the people. They separated the Jews and shoved them into the ghetto, like you said, into a barn, men on one side and women and children on the other. Shots rang out. And then they dug the mass graves and we thought, we're all going to die, like in the nearby villages.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN Were many Jews executed?
Misha Stepanova [non-English narration]
Misha Stepanova What?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
51:20 UNKNOWN Were many Jews executed?
Misha Stepanova [non-English narration]
52:05 Misha Stepanova I think they must have killed about 1,000. There are two mass graves over there. They dug large graves up to the three over there. They used diggers for two of them. They brought them here in trucks and shot them, the Jews. Even tiny children, so high. They lay them down, killed them and threw others on top. I don't know how many were killed three. Many. many.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN Did you see the trucks with the Jews?
Misha Stepanova [non-English narration]
52:25 Misha Stepanova But of course I saw them. We saw how they brought them here in trucks, how they stipped them naked. Everything off and into the hole. Lie down.
Hester Wilcox Each time the priest asked his witness to accompany him to the site of the killings, he knew then that it would be easier to find all the witnesses.
52:40 [sil.]
52:45 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
52:50 UNKNOWN Please. Give me your hand.
Misha Stepanova [non-English narration]
52:55 Misha Stepanova Over there, the graves are over there.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN We'd better take the road. This way.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
Misha Stepanova [non-English narration]
53:10 Misha Stepanova There, there's a large grave. And there was another one beside it.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
53:15 Misha Stepanova [non-English narration]
Misha Stepanova It was this size.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
53:20 Patrick Desbois How far did it go, to these plants?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
53:25 Misha Stepanova [non-English narration]
53:30 Misha Stepanova I don't remember exactly how far it went.
Leonid Kvil [non-English narration]
53:35 Leonid Kvil What is it?
Misha Stepanova [non-English narration]
53:40 Misha Stepanova Tell me where the second mass grave is, where?
Leonid Kvil [non-English narration]
53:55 Leonid Kvil So, why did you come here if you don't know? What do you want? Drink? Money? When they were killed, you lived over there, far over, you weren't there!
Misha Stepanova [non-English narration]
Misha Stepanova I lived there at the time.
Leonid Kvil [non-English narration]
54:20 Leonid Kvil Show me where the graves are?Where is the second grave? Where? You don't know! Me, I saw how they killed them, because I lived here. You, you lived over there! What do you know about it, you bastard?
Leonid Kvil
Aged 7 in 1942
Hester Wilcox Memory is still a very touchy subject among witnesses at the time. Leonid was seven years old in 1942, seven years old when he saw the massacre of the Jews. Seven years old when the SS entered his village. But for him, it's like yesterday. The day when he was almost thrown into the grave with his neighboring Jews.
54:45 Leonid Kvil [non-English narration]
Leonid Kvil He didn't even live here.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
54:50 UNKNOWN Did you go near the grave?
Leonid Kvil [non-English narration]
55:10 Leonid Kvil I'll tell you. If my mothere didn't know people in the police who collaborated, I wouldn't be here. A German soldier was pulling me by the hand to put me in the grave. And then someone said, he's not a Jew. If not, I would have been stretched out like them.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
Leonid Kvil [non-English narration]
55:25 Leonid Kvil My mother took me by the hand, I was with my younger brother, and we both went back there. To see. It was terrible.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN Where was he on the day of the executions?
Leonid Kvil [non-English narration]
57:45 Leonid Kvil Where do you think? At home is where. It began, I remember, just before the harvest. We had just started to cut the hay. There were very few houses here. Nobody lived here. This man, us and Paraska. When they dug the pit, nobody knew why, even the Jews didn't know they'd be killed. And the next day, a truck, a lorry actually, arrived here and they went all over. And there were no houses here yet, only Klym and Vlasko, that's all. And they began bringing them in the truck. Bringing them in the lorry, there were two trucks, or three. I don't remember exactly. I was small.... They took them and drove them towards the pit. They took off all their clothes, naked, and over there, three German submachine guns, big ones, you know, huge, waited for them. They stripped them and into the pit. There were only sparks. And we were young, we looked on, we were interested. They killed them, and the trucks picked up the clothes and took everything back to the ghetto, in the centre of town. Then they put more Jews on top of the ones they had killed. Some weren't even dead. And it all began again. They had put them all together in the ghetto and for two days this went on! They covered up the grave. It moved for 6 months and the blood flowed. They took the clothes, brought them to the ghetto and went on killing. The Germans took the jewellery. All the earrings, everything, they took everything.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
57:50 UNKNOWN How far did the blood flow in the grave?
Leonid Kvil [non-English narration]
58:00 Leonid Kvil Maybe three hundred-four hundred metres. It flowed as far as the river. It was horrible.
Hester Wilcox In silence, he sees the scene again. What's more? The village has remained as if frozen in time. Today, the children listen. They discover history.
58:15 Nikola Kristitch
Aged 8 in 1942
Hester Wilcox A friend from that time has much to say as well. Nikola was eight years old in 1942. He tells the story of massacred innocence.
58:25 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
58:30 UNKNOWN Do you remember the beginning of the executions?
Nikola Kristitch [non-English narration]
01:01:25 Nikola Kristitch Yes. It was a Friday. We were near the river taking out the sower. There were nine of us boys. Then we heard "Bah, bah", something was going "bah". We glanced around and saw vehicles, here near Mohky's and Kopysk's houses. We looked and we saw three policmen and a German coming. We ran and they started shooting at us. We stopped. Who are you? We said we were taking out the sower. What are you doing around here? Scram or we'll kill you! We ran for our lives. And here, there was a house, on the edge, near Kopysk. We hid behind that house to see what was going on. One after the other, the cars came, black crows as we called them. They pushed them, roughly, the small children... I can't tell. The children, thrown into the pit by the hand. And the others were completely naked and walked witht he Rabbi at their head. He gave a sermon, to all those who were already there. And the cars kept coming, there were more and more people and they went into the pit in rows. They all lay down like herrings. They lay down, and there was one submachine gun and two Germans, they had the skull and crossbones on their caps. They fired a burst at the people lying there, and then more went in and another burst. They kept shooting them until nightfall. And we watched. Then the Germans went back again to get the villagers to cover the grave. People hid to escape doing it. And us kids, we hid in the bushes, out of curiosity, to see. That night, the people covered it in, but the ground was still moving, for another two days. The ground heaved.
Hester Wilcox The horror of a child's memory. Nikola remembers down to the smallest detail, down to the torture experienced by one of the village's young Jews.
01:01:35 Nikola Kristitch [non-English narration]
01:02:45 Nikola Kristitch I remember one of the girls, a young girl. Her panties were around her ankles. A German fired at her and her hair caught fire. She screamed and he took an automatic rifle, got into the grave and fired. The bullet ricocheted off his knee and he bled everywhere. He bandaged his knee, he was half undressed and then he emptied his round. He even killed Jews who still had their clothes on, he couldn't wait he was so crazed with rage. He fired at everybody, he was crazy. The next day, the Germans began searching everywhere, in the forests. They found some and dug another grave there. This was covered in and there were no more killings here. But over there, there was a second grave and all the others were killed over there, in summer, whenever they found them.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
01:03:20 Patrick Desbois Those who took part in the killings here were sentenced. And we know that they admit killing at least 700, at least. And at the same time there were a lot of Ukrainian police who took part, everybody said it. So the killers are clearly identified. What is often estimated is the number of victims, as the people told us that it went on all through the war, and that they reopened the graves to put in more bodies. Clearly, that's not declared, because Ostregeits was certainly declared "Judenfrei". And afterwards, the SS probably didn't dare to admit, that they were still killing Jews, because their reports were false.
Hester Wilcox "Judenfrei", get rid of the Jews, that was the ultimate purpose of the Nazi extermination mission.
01:03:35 [music]
01:03:40 Hester Wilcox Heinrich Himmler, Head of the SS, was the mastermind behind this systematic killing. On August the 15th 1941, he went to Minsk, a city largely destroyed to inspect his troops. On that day, he visited Soviet Prisoner Camp. A few hours later, he himself watched a mass execution. Paradoxically, the Chief Executioner couldn't stomach the macabre event. No more than the killers themselves who were qualified by the SS hierarchy as alcoholics and psychopaths. According to historians, Himmler concluded in his own words, death by shooting is certainly not the most humane death. He then asked his men to imagine a more impersonal way of killing. Talks of gas came on to the scene. The prefigured the industrial stage that of extermination camps and Zyklon B.
01:04:45 Myzoczs
01:04:50 [music]
Hester Wilcox Nevertheless in Ukraine, killing by bullets continued. Hundreds of villagers saw Jews massacred in the middle of the countryside. These fields are the silent witnesses of forgotten history. On October the 13th 1942, five photos by a German policeman recount the sequence of the death sentence. Assembling 1,700 Jews from the ghetto, undressing, lining up in rows, execution, the final blow.
01:05:30 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:05:35 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
01:05:40 Patrick Desbois So he lived there and saw nothing?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:05:45 UNKNOWN Yes, he was born in 1926.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
01:06:05 Patrick Desbois Yeah, he was only 14. Ok, let's go, we'll come back, but they saw, they lived beside there, it's not possible. Often, people are afraid to speak because of the vegetable gardens. A very small thing stops them from speaking. People think that it's the killings, guilt, but it's just the vegetable gardens. We've come across that hundreds of times.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN One day, they opened it with a digger. It was probably in the '60s.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:06:10 UNKNOWN There was a ravine, a huge pit.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:06:25 UNKNOWN I don't remember exactly, but the one who did the work told us that they found a huge amount of bones and skulls. That it gave him the shivers.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:06:55 UNKNOWN There, where the car is, there's a ravine, they buried a lot of people there. Over there too. There, where you see a tree. There, they covered it in. Then higher up as well. That's all I know. Bye.
01:07:00 [sil.]
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
01:07:20 Patrick Desbois In the West, there can be no memory of the people they didn't bury here. Whose bodies have been found with tractors, diggers, dogs. The gulf is too wide. Europe will be totally blocked with this. We're in the heart of Europe here.
01:07:25 [music]
01:07:30 Hester Wilcox It's here without a doubt that for a lack of witness the research ends in vain. They will return.
01:07:40 [music]
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
01:07:50 Patrick Desbois It's not possible that there's no rural memory of where they are. They know. They must have seen.
Hester Wilcox The crews voyage is near its end. After five years of research, Father Desbois' crew located 700 sites of extermination in Ukraine. Death is sometimes right around the street corner, in the middle of a city.
01:08:10 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:08:15 Hester Wilcox Public Works have brought to like Jewish cemetries. The cemetry was ancient and was used to hide the massacres. The Nazi's buried 6,500 victims here, a typical technique.
01:08:30 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN Misha found human bones.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:08:35 UNKNOWN A child's bone, a pelvic bone.
Hester Wilcox During the 1960s, the Soviet raised a Jewish cemetry to build this cultural center. Here a simple public works director shows that his long history of memory erased is far from over.
01:08:50 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
01:09:15 Patrick Desbois This is where we are. These are human bones, these are people, they're not animals. And we're in the middle of the town. We're not in a village in the middle of nowhere. A desecrated Jewish cemetery. This would make international headlines normally. Not here. All the bones are in the open, everybody saw them, and the workers didn't bother to rebury them.
Hester Wilcox The remains of the Jewish cemetery. Misha found them a few hundred meters from here in an old Soviet barracks.
01:09:25 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:09:30 UNKNOWN These are all gravestones, but the inscriptions are on the other side.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:09:35 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:09:40 UNKNOWN Can he turn them around?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:09:45 UNKNOWN Look, letters.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
01:09:50 Patrick Desbois I think that's "Yehuda's daughter".
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:09:55 UNKNOWN We'll try to turn that one.
01:10:00 [sil.]
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:10:05 UNKNOWN There are colours on it.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN It's beautiful, it must be very old.
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
Patrick Desbois What's her name?
Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
01:10:25 Patrick Desbois Massia, she was Tema's wife. That's her life story... told in a few words. It goes on and on. This path running perpendicular here, well it's made from gravestones too.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:10:40 UNKNOWN They've been tarred over, but the stones are there. You can see some of them. This is where the soldiers marched. The memory has been totally eradicated. And everything's been reused.
01:10:45 [sil.]
01:10:55 [music]
Hester Wilcox Today, the descendents of the Ukrainian Jewish community live principally in New York. Father Patrick Desbois regularly informs them of the fruit of his research. The validation of his findings by religious authorities is indispensable for the French priest. A few kilometers from Manhattan resides one of the most respected Rabbis in the United States. At the very start of the French priest research, Israel Singer supported his cause, because according to him, his research corresponded to a major historic global site.
01:11:45 Israel Singer Now what is happening in this special project is that these people who were left to die in the worst way possible are suddenly possibly in some way being resurrected by Father Patrick and his team. I think that this is a unique opportunity to take the most evil that was done in the world possibly in world history. And to take these events of over a half a century ago and turning them on their head.
01:12:20 Hester Wilcox Many Jews themselves attempted to locate these mass graves, but they had never attained such results.
01:12:30 Israel Singer The local population is much more trusting of a catholic priest who is coming than a Jew from Brooklyn, this is the first thing, this is a logical thing, this is very simple to understand. You're come in the place you know in the Western Ukraine where most of the people are Catholic and seeing Catholic, brisk on to say, this is good idea. If they would see me coming with a kippah from Brooklyn, you know they would think, this is not such a good idea, you know and so that's the first point, the feeling of trust. And second one, is it just wasn't done, because the people who could do it were mostly dead. They killed million and half people, among them, 113 people from my family.
01:13:10 Hester Wilcox Over the years and through his encounters, Father Desbois became imbued with Eastern European Jewish culture. This allowed him to understand the still vivid pain that families suffer from.
01:13:25 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
01:14:10 Patrick Desbois We work with Jewish organisations, first because they know many survivors and they put us in contact with them, but also because our work will be exhibited in New York, the city with the largest number of survivors. These people say that the camps were often talked about, but never what happened to us. Brooklyn is still home to a large number of Jews from the Soviet Union. In the beginning, unfortunately, we were the ones who brought bad news. A Jewish friend once said to me: "The crime itself had been uppermost. Now you're telling us that they're dead and that's very different." The fact that we know where the bodies are, it's not just as reminding of the crime.
Hester Wilcox Over the last several months, the testimonies of survivors arrive in numbers of Patrick Desbois' desk. In particular that of one man, essential to the understanding of the perversion of Nazi crime. Today, settled in New Jersey Leon Wells accepted to recieve the priest. He told him the story of his childhood as Ukrainian Jew, a youth destined to die before being forced to work for the SS.
01:14:40 Leon Wells We dugged our own grave and worked on and it was two people at that time shot. So when it came to my name to go down, so I shouted, no, they meantime shot somebody in the camp, so they had to be brought to this grave. So I was in line, so they said fine, you come with us to bring over men to the grave, these men, say, created the death brigade, it was called the 1005. It was a purpose to erase any sign of criminal signs or killing. So they took out the bodies from the graves, put it on, you know, wood, bodies, wood, bodies and burnt it, separated out ashes to find gold and that was all.
01:15:50 Hester Wilcox Operation 1005 was top sectret. The Einsatzgruppen did not hesitate to use Jews to carryout their most soded tasks.
01:16:00 Leon Wells My job as Einsatz was to take care of the gold and teeth and son on from the ashes, so they burned the bodies. So they had to bring it in from the day and in the evening somebody came from the bank, an assessment and I had to give it over to them and also some assessment were on positive sides because they took some gold for themselves. So I gave it to them. So I became like an important friend.
01:16:45 UNKNOWN And how did you escape?
01:16:50 Leon Wells I have something to give gold to them, they opened the door and I --
01:16:55 UNKNOWN And you ran.
Leon Wells And we started to run. And I did not know the neighborhood to travel, I was too young and we never went out my one neighborhood. I did not even know where to go, where to go.
01:17:10 Hester Wilcox He finally settled in the United States a few years later. In the 1960s, he testified at the trial of other wise men one of the leading figures in the final solution. Since his flight from Ukraine, he has always refused to return.
01:17:30 [music]
01:17:35 Hester Wilcox The German army ran into trouble at Stalingrad. It was the winter of 1942. This was one of the turning points at war, confronted with harsh Russian climate, the German's retreated. Doubt settled in, and with that doubt came the fear of having to account for their actions. After months of indecision in 1943, Himmler finally demanded the Einsatzgruppen to erase all evidence of their butchery.
01:18:10 Lysinitchy Forest
Hester Wilcox This forest became one of the principal sites of Operation 1005. Adofe had again become a witness. He who at the age of nine witnessed the beginnings of the killings of the occupation, now witnessned their negation.
01:18:35 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:19:25 UNKNOWN They put barbed wire all round at the end of the war. They brought the Jews and made them live here. They dug up the bodies and burned them. Two, three heaps, you could see the smoke rising from the pyres. I remember that the Jews used to take this path to get water from the well. Because the fires went on for so long, maybe five or six months, people said there must have been 90-100000 killed.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN How did they burn them?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:19:45 UNKNOWN They took the bodies out of the mass graves and the stink was so strong that you could smell it in the houses. You couldn't breathe, see. The bodies had been lying there for two or three years decomposing. They opened up the graves, took out the bodies and took them away on stretches to here.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
UNKNOWN Did you see them burning the bodies from your house?
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:20:05 UNKNOWN It was awful. It was like smoke rising from hell. And the worse was the stink, when they opened the graves. We ran into the fields, to make something to eat, the smell in the house was unbearable.
UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:20:10 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:20:15 Hester Wilcox While the Nazi's struggled to make the bodies disappear, they organized an elaborate stage plan, a theater of death with a role for each and everyone. It's unique purpose was to further humiliate the young Jews.
01:20:30 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
01:21:00 Patrick Desbois They had a whole ceremony, the one who lit the fire had cow horns for devil's horns. They had music, they had a whole ceremony. They had someone to count, a young lad of 14 who counted the bodies and wrote everything down in a notebook. They killed him so that he couldn't tell the number. This is an extermination site and the site of operation 1005.
Hester Wilcox An operation that the German's wouldn't have time to execute throughout country, which is why mass graves can still be found today.
01:21:10 Rawa Ruska
Hester Wilcox During his last voyage, Father Desbois came back to the site where for him, it all began five years ago. Members of the local Jewish community accompanied him. A prayer was heard to pay homage to the memory of 1500 brothers killed in November 1943 in this forest.
01:21:35 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:21:45 Patrick Desbois [non-English narration]
01:22:45 Patrick Desbois This is the first mass grave I discovered. It was a huge surprise. was sitting here and the witnesses arrived, they told me their story. I didn't have a video or a camera. And just like that I discovered we could find out where the bodies were buried. And that it was nowhere as you can see. That the spot was unmarked. I discovered everything in that moment. It was the previous Mayor of the town who decided to protect the site, he arranged all that and the Star of David to show that this is a Jewish grave. That fact that Ukrainians are doing this means that there are people here who want to keep the memory alive. They want people to know where the Jews were killed and what became of the bodies. The Star of David is being seen again on Ukrainian soil. There's not a single Star of David on the ground in this whole region I think this will be the first in this region.
Hester Wilcox Three figures were present, three survivors, the first witnesses met by Father Desbois. Three women who pushed him to pursue a lifelong work of research.
01:23:00 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:23:10 Hester Wilcox Another race against death has begun. Each day that goes by the eyewitnesses disappear one by one, and with them a part of the work of Father Desbois the memory keep up.
01:23:25 UNKNOWN [non-English narration]
01:23:50 [music]

1 comment:

  1. Amazing man, I hope that one day, all the sites will be identified and permanent memorials laid.


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