French priest who uncovered Nazi killing sites awarded Lantos rights prize
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French priest who uncovered Nazi killing sites awarded Lantos rights prize

Accepting honor named for Holocaust survivor congressman, Father Patrick Desbois warns against standing idle as atrocities are carried out

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Father Patrick Desbois speaks after being awarded the Lantos Human Rights Prize on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on October 26, 2017. (Chris Kleponis)
Father Patrick Desbois speaks after being awarded the Lantos Human Rights Prize on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on October 26, 2017. (Chris Kleponis)

WASHINGTON — A French priest whose work has uncovered millions of previously unknown victims of the Nazi genocide was awarded the Lantos Foundation’s Human Rights Prize on Thursday morning, named for the Holocaust survivor and longtime California congressman.

Father Patrick Desbois, a Roman Catholic clergyman who teaches at Georgetown University’s Program for Jewish Civilization, was recognized during a reception on Capitol Hill as a “vital voice standing up for the values of decency, dignity, freedom, and justice.”

His scholarly reportage on the Holocaust has focused on the Jews who were killed by mass shootings by Nazi units in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Moldova and Romania between 1941 and 1944.

In 2004, Desbois founded Yahad-In Unum, a French organization whose sole mission was to locate the mass graves of Jewish victims from Nazi paramilitary death squads. These regiments were responsible for the mass killings of Jews, often by shooting and primarily in the former Soviet Union.

Through this project, he exposed the “Holocaust by bullets,” as he called it, which claimed roughly 1.5 million Jewish lives.

His first book, “Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews,” was based on that work and the culmination of its discoveries.

Desbois has another book — a memoir on his life as an anti-genocide activist and Holocaust scholar — due for publication in 2018.

Father Patrick Desbois accepts the Lantos Human Rights Prize on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on October 26, 2017. (Chris Kleponis)

As part of his research, he has conducted numerous interviews with the witnesses of the Nazi atrocities and used detectors to find and excavate cartridges and bullets from the graves where corpses were thrown and buried.

Other than uncovering unknown truths about the Nazi’s killing operation, Desbois has also been working on collecting evidence of the Islamic State’s massacre of the Yazidi people in parts of Iraq and Syria.

In brief remarks Thursday, he warned against sitting idly while genocides and atrocities are carried out in plain sight.

“The more you advertise the crime, the less people act,” he said, adding “the bad people connect faster than the good people.”

The Lantos Human Rights Prize is an annual award given by the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, an organization founded by Tom and Annette Lantos, who were both Holocaust survivors.

Past recipients have included Hillary Clinton, the Dalai Lama and Elie Wiesel.

Tom Lantos, who died in 2008, was a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives from California. He is the only Holocaust survivor to have ever served as a member of Congress.

Introducing Desbois on Wednesday, CBS correspondent Lara Logan said his work shed light on a dark aspect of the human condition.

“There is nothing more human than the capacity to kill,” she said.

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