Honoring Father Patrick Desbois, President of Yahad-In Unum
Residence of France, March 21, 2012
Ambassador Oren, Madame Oren,
Ambassador Gildenhorn, Chère Madame Gildenhorn,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s a great pleasure and honor for my wife Sophie and for me to welcome you tonight to our Residence for this dinner in honor of Father Patrick Desbois.
I would like to acknowledge my Israeli colleague and friend, Ambassador Oren and his wife; Monseigneur Lalanne, Bishop of Coutances and Avranches, who is working hard to promote exchanges with Sainte-Mère-Eglise in Normandy; Marco Gonzalez, Executive Director of Yahad-in-Unum; and David Black, President of American Friends of Yahad.
I would also like to thank all those who have worked hard to make this event possible, with a special word of thanks to Robin Massée – a long-time friend of Sophie’s and mine – and to Patricia Ibarra and Marina Dutertre from Yahad Paris.
We are still under shock after the horrific and tragic attacks that struck a Jewish school two days ago in Toulouse, killing four people including three children.
Confronted with such a tragedy, our countries
– France, the U.S., Israel, many other countries of course – stuck together.
I am very grateful for the many messages of sympathy that
I have received over the last two days.
President Obama and President Sarkozy spoke on the phone earlier today and, according to the White House press release, - I quote - “President Obama underscored that the American people stand shoulder to shoulder with our French allies and friends in this trying time” – end of quote.
So ladies and Gentlemen, may I request a minute of silence.
Father Patrick Desbois, President of Yahad-In Unum, has devoted his life to confronting anti-Semitism and furthering Catholic-Jewish understanding.
Since 2004, he has led a truly historic undertaking of identifying and locating undiscovered mass graves of Jews and Romans killed during the Holocaust in Eastern Europe.
From June 1941, when Germany invaded the former Soviet Union, until the Spring of 1944, Nazi mobile killing units, or Einsatzgruppen, massacred well over 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe.
And there were few survivors to tell the world what had happened.
So that history may not be forgotten, Father Desbois conducted his work by first having Yahad-In Unum researchers carefully review war archives in the former Soviet Union, Germany and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
With this information, Father Desbois and his teams traveled to small villages across Ukraine, Russia, Poland and Belarus to interview and videotape witnesses to the killings. Many of those he interviewed had never before spoken of the massacres.
These invaluable testimonies, which serve as important evidence of this genocide, are archived in Yahad-In Unum’s Paris headquarters and are shared with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s permanent collection.
It is estimated that in less than 5 years these witnesses will be gone.
To date, Yahad-In Unum has identified over 800 mass killing sites at an estimated 2000 locations; over 2300 witnesses have been interviewed.
Father Desbois serves as Director of the Episcopal Committee for Catholic-Jewish Relations, under the auspices of the French Conference of Bishops. He also is an advisor to the Vatican on the Jewish religion.
Father Desbois was awarded the Medal of Valor by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Humanitarian Award of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, and Honorary Doctorates from Hebrew University, Bar Ilan University in Israel, and Yeshiva University. He was named a Visiting Scholar at New York University in 2012 and this May, he will receive an Honorary Doctorate from NYU.
I have known Father Desbois for years, and he is for me, as
I am sure for all of you, a source of deep admiration.
Please join me in welcoming Father Patrick Desbois./.