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The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest's Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews Hardcover – August 19, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0230606173 ISBN-10: 0230606172 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; First Edition edition (August 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230606172
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230606173
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #831,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Father Patrick Desbois is a French Catholic priest who, virtually single-handedly, has undertaken the task of excavating the history of previously undocumented Jewish victims of the Holocaust in the former Soviet Union, including an estimated 1.5 million people who were murdered in Ukraine." --Wall Street Journal

"Part memoir, part prosecutorial brief, The Holocaust by Bullets tells a compelling story in which a priest unconnected by heritage or history is so moved by an injustice he sets out to right a daunting wrong…One might think Holocaust history has been exhausted, but Desbois breaks real news about how an emerging democracy in the New Europe still hasn’t emerged from World War II. We have witnessed a decade of forensic excavations documenting genocides in Guatemala, Bosnia and Rwanda, but only now are these same tools being used to find the murdered Jews of Ukraine, thanks in large part to Desbois." – The Miami Herald

"Father Desbois is a generation too late to save lives. Instead, he has saved memory and history." --Wall Street Journal

"One of the most moving, troubling and insightful books on the Holocaust, or for that matter any other subject, that I have ever read." --Eugene J. Fischer, The Catholic Review

"Using a diverse team consisting of a researcher, photographer, interpreter, and ballistics expert, Desbois endeavored to uncover these burial sites and the brutal stories behind them. He uses ample testimony from those who may have witnessed key parts of this brutal process, and he makes some surprising discoveries. The narrative flows because Desbois has such a passion for his subject; he writes simply and well, so that even readers with little initial understanding will learn a lot. The result is an outstanding contribution to Holocaust literature, uncovering new dimensions of the tragedy, and should be on the shelves of even the smallest library. Highly recommended." -- Library Journal, starred review

"An important addition to studies of the Shoah, agonizing to read and utterly necessary." -- Kirkus Reviews

"In Jewish tradition the greatest category of acts one can perform are those of 'loving kindness,' including taking care of the sick, welcoming the stranger, and sheltering the needy. The most treasured of these acts is taking care of the dead because, unlike the others, it cannot be reciprocated. Jewish tradition posits that it is then that the individual most closely emulates God’s kindness to humans, which also cannot be reciprocated.  Father Patrick Desbois has performed this act of loving kindness not for one person but for hundreds of thousands of people who were murdered in cold blood. He has done so despite the fact that many people would have preferred this story never to be uncovered and others doubted that it ever could be done. His contribution to history and to human memory, as chronicled in this important book, is immeasurable."  -- Deborah E. Lipstadt, Ph.D. author of History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier

"In this very personal and affecting account of his gradual discovery of the events of the Holocaust in the Ukraine  Patrick Desbois, a French priest,  gives us a widened perspective of the extraordinarily complex manipulation of the local population by the Nazis, who forcibly requisitioned Ukrainian citizens of all ages to assist in the killings.  In village after village, more than 60 years after the horrific events, the inhabitants, many of whom had been children at the time, came forward to bear witness. From the many interviews in the text, it is clear that the personal trauma of forced involvement in the mass executions has never diminished. And indeed, the stories of what they saw takes one's breath away.  This is a significant addition to the history of the Holocaust that sheds new light on events in the Nazi occupied areas of the former USSR."   -- Lynn H. Nicholas, author of Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web and The Rape of Europa: Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War

"Prompted by compassion and intellectual curiosity, Father Desbois revisited the graves of a million and a half Ukrainian Jews, who were murdered during the German occupation. Combining archival sources and ballistic evidence with the voices of Ukrainian eyewitnesses, Father Desbois delivers a complete, harrowing account of what happened. This book is a triumph of historical exploration, deeply moving and profoundly disturbing." -- Nechama Tec, Holocaust Scholar, University of Connecticut in Stamford, and author of the National Jewish Book Award-winning: Resilience and Courage: Women, Men and the Holocaust and of Defiance: The Bielski Partisans 
"Father Patrick Desbois gives a horrifying account of dimensions of the Holocaust until now undocumented. His Catholic faith, experiences of his own family, the support of the French bishops and the research capacities of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are enabling him to carry out a work of discovery, of healing and reconciliation. This book is a striking contribution to Christian-Jewish relations. We owe him a debt of enormous proportions." -- Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I. Archbishop of Chicago
"[Desbois] is a human bridge between the modern Jewish world and the Catholic Church and a major conduit through which the Holocaust will be remembered."--The Christian Science Monitor

"[T]his modest Roman Catholic priest from Paris, without using much more than his calm voice and Roman collar, has shattered the silence surrounding a largely untold chapter of the Holocaust when Nazis killed 1.5 million Jews in Ukraine from 1941 to 1944." -- The Chicago Tribune

About the Author

Patrick Desbois is secretary to the French Conference of Bishops for relations with Judaism, advisor to the Cardinal-Archbishop of Lyon and advisor to the Vatican on the Jewish religion. Grandson of a deportee to the Rawa Ruska camp, he has set out to investigate the mass murder of Eastern European Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War. He is the winner of the B'nai B'rith International Award for Outstanding Contribution to Relations with the Jewish People. He lives in Paris, France.

Paul A. Shapiro is the Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies.

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Customer Reviews

As one villager said "One day we woke up, and we were all wearing the Jews clothes."
Stephen Campbell
This is the true story of a Catholic priest discovering how and where millions of Ukrainian Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their local collaborators.
Rene-Pierre Azria
It was very emotional to read and I am grateful that I, too, can now remember these nearly forgotten victims.
Kelly Hock

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 77 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In "The Holocaust by Bullets," Father Patrick Desbois, a French Roman Catholic priest, embarks on a sacred mission with the help of many others who are also deeply committed to the ideals of truth and justice. His goal is to uncover the facts concerning the slaughter of roughly 1.5 million Jews in the former Soviet Union by the Nazis and those who collaborated with them. Among the murdered were many young women and children, as well as the elderly. The Jews were usually transported by cart to an area within or just outside the villages where they lived and then made to undress before they were shot and thrown into pits.

Father Desbois and his team traveled to such towns as Rawa-Ruska, Lisinitchi, Busk, Khvativ, and Ternivka to videotape the testimony of often reluctant witnesses who, even after more than six decades, still remember every detail of the massacres that they observed. Their testimony, along with microfilmed documents stored in the archives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is bringing renewed attention to "an ocean of extermination" that reached across the Ukraine.

Desbois had heard stories about the Second World War from his relatives, and he was especially riveted by the anecdotes of his grandfather, Claudius, who was imprisoned by the Germans in 1942. Claudius proclaimed that no matter how much he suffered, "it was worse for the others!" Patrick later found out that "the others" were the Jews who were methodically exterminated in villages and towns in full view of their non-Jewish friends and neighbors.

This book is a nightmarish look at man's inhumanity to man.
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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Campbell VINE VOICE on October 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I just finished this book. I was doing research at the Holocaust Museum and picked it up in the gift shop. I read it all the way through today. At times I felt like crying. I am somewhat hardened, I thought, to these stories. I was wrong.

The book becomes a little overwhelming in the repetitiveness of the stories of death of the innocent by the uncaring. The stories of people being buried alive. The pits moving for days afterwards as the bodies decayed and those still alive struggled.

These are not new stories to those familiar with the mass killings in the east. Yet in this book they are brought to life by his interviews with eyewitnesses. Children who watched as their neighbors were shot in groups.

What is different is here you read about entire village populations being enlisted in the mass murder. Someone had to cook for the Germans; pull the gold teeth; dig, and then fill in the pits. Children were forcibly conscripted to sort the freshly dead Jews clothes. As one villager said "One day we woke up, and we were all wearing the Jews clothes." Now the mass graves are grown over and unmarked. Unlike the cemeteries of the German war dead which are still carefully tended.

A story of a noble endeavor.
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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Sever Sternhell on October 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The "Holocaust by bullets" is an exceptional book on two grounds. Firstly, it gives an insight into a very major and under-researched aspect of the Holocaust, the killing of an estimated 1,500,000 Jews by the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squads) and their local helpers.This particularly brutal chapter remains largely unknown to the general public, even those who are familiar with the operation of the Vernichtungslagern (Death Camps of Chelmno, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor and Majdanek, the Ghettos (particularly the Warsaw Ghetto) and the Konzentratzionslagern (Dachau, Matthausen,Bergen-Belsen, Grose Rosen and innumerable others). Secondly, it tells the story as it really was: I know, because I have (just) lived through it. It is a tremendous achievement on the part of the author, a "simple" French priest from la France profonde with no relevant academic background, armed only with an exceptional conscience and a remarkable personality. This book is a must for anyone seriously interested in the Holocaust, but I must warn any prospective reader: this is a harrowing story.
S.Sternhell, Sydney, Australia
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By T. Kunikov VINE VOICE on December 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Every case is particular." This book is aptly named, the mass murders perpetrated by Einsatzgruppen, German reserve police companies/battalions, and local auxiliaries took the lives of over one million Jews throughout Eastern Europe. The Holocaust the majority of readers are familiar with took place in the ghettos, labor, concentration, and death camps. This, Holocaust by bullets, took place in villages and countryside of Eastern Europe - in anti-tank ditches and pits dug by locals or Jews themselves for the occasion. As the author explains, each village is a different crime and each case is particular to itself. No two are alike aside from the fact that Jews by the dozens, hundreds, and thousands were slaughtered in sight and within hearing distance of the villagers they used to be friends and/or neighbors of. As with many books written on the Holocaust this is not an easy read but it will make you think and it will show you a side you might not be familiar with when dealing with this human tragedy. Some of the stories within these pages, for all of my years in reading about the Holocaust, I had never encountered and just for that this book is worth its weight in gold. Official German reports and Einsatzgruppen testimony will give you one point of view. While victim accounts will paint a different picture. Finding a point of view that speaks on behalf of what both the victim and perpetrator were doing is an altogether new realization made possible by the interviews presented in this book. Reading eye witness accounts, filled with anguish and sorrow, of men and women who saw Jews being led to the slaughter or helped pack their bodies into pits and lay sand on top of them for the next group, that is something you won't encounter in official German reports, but you'll find it here.
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