The crime was horrific: Go into a town, round up Jewish families, take them to a ditch and shoot them.
The National Geographic Channel on cable will air “Hitler’s Hidden Holocaust” Aug. 2 at 10 p.m EDT/PDT and take viewers on a journey back to Nazi Europe to tell the story of the killing frenzy of Adolph Hitler’s extermination brigades, known as the “Einsatzgruppen,” or action groups.
National Geographic will follow the quest of Father Patrick Desbois to document the crimes through eyewitness accounts and find the multiple killing sites known to exist but hidden throughout Ukraine.
Since 2001, through interviews with elderly men and women in remote villages in the Ukrainian countryside, Father Desbois and his team of experts have found 800 of an estimated 2,000 Nazi mass execution sites.
Catholic News Service was present during his presentation last year at the U.S. Holocaust Museum here in Washington and at his 2007 pilgrimage in Israel and has captured his descriptions of witnesses’ firsthand accounts of soldiers murdering Jews in Ukraine and memories of being forced to dig a hole where their fellow villagers would be buried, sometimes alive.
Descriptions of these horrid crimes are recounted to Father Desbois as he tries to piece together what he calls in French “the Holocaust of bullets,” in which about 1.5 million Jews were killed by the Nazis in the Ukrainian forests and ravines.
Father Desbois is secretary of the French bishops’ office for relations with Judaism and adviser to the Vatican on Judaism. His interest in the Holocaust was spurred by his grandfather’s stories about his imprisonment as a French prisoner of war during World War II in Ukraine’s Rava-Ruska Nazi prison camp.
One elderly Ukrainian woman told the priest that as a young girl, she saw the Nazis order Soviet prisoners to burn the corpses of Jews. When they were finished, the prisoners were locked in a former chicken house and burned alive. Another woman told him Nazis used village children to walk on the bodies of the Jews who were shot in order to pack them down to make room for the next group of Jews. The woman remembered stepping on the body of a former classmate.
Father Desbois wrote a first-person account last year narrating his interest in the event and his methodical approach to uncovering the mystery of where the murdered bodies are buried.
“The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews” is a tale of the massacre of Jews in Ukraine but also gives a glimpse into the redemption received by eyewitnesses who had kept their 60-year-old memories to themselves until they told them to Father Desbois.
The National Geographic’s one-hour special will present in chilling detail how Nazi soldiers planned, documented and committed these crimes.