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Meet The French Priest Documenting Crimes Committed By ISIS Against Yazidis


Now the story of a French priest whose work uncovering Nazi crimes in Russia and Eastern Europe has led him to the Middle East. He calls himself a reluctant specialist in massacres, and he plans to document crimes by ISIS against the Yazidi people, an ancient religious minority in Iraq. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.



Father Patrick Desbois has just returned from several weeks in Iraq, where he and his small team have been interviewing witnesses and victims of Islamic State's persecution of the Yazidis. Desbois is using the same methods as when he investigated and reconstructed the details of Nazi massacres in places like Ukraine, Belarus and Russia during World War II.

DESBOIS: We have been working now since more than 15 years to find the mass grave of Jews and gypsies and disabled people shot by the German units and their collaborators.

BEARDSLEY: Desbois says he and his team have become reluctant specialists in massacres.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: His Paris-based nonprofit organization Yahad-In Unum now houses video testimony from thousands of witnesses detailing the methods, timing and tactics of each massacre. He has just published a book called "In Broad Daylight: The Secret Procedures Behind The Holocaust By Bullets." Desbois says the Nazis and ISIS used many similar tactics like executing people in public and enlisting local help in their murders.

DESBOIS: I realized that Jews were shot in public, that it was like a show, and also that the German used the Soviet system to have workers for free to do all the dirty job. There is no genocide without the neighbors. You cannot kill people without the neighbors.

BEARDSLEY: Desbois says unwillingly and sometimes willingly, neighbors helped out with the massacres, whether it was Poland, Ukraine or Iraq. And though both the Nazis and ISIS had strong ideologies, that wasn't the only motivation for killing.

DESBOIS: In the genocide machine, there is never a pure ideology. The Nazis and the ideology of Hitler was important, but sex and money was also important. There were so many sex slaves in the Gestapo in Russia. It's the same with ISIS. When they arrest the Yazidis, the first thing - they bring one bag for gold, one bag for the telephone, one bag for the jewels. The German is exactly the same. The criminal is attracted by uber power, sex and money.

BEARDSLEY: Desbois says once he began documenting the crimes against the Yazidis, he knew he had to do more. This time, he had the chance to help the victims.

DESBOIS: I couldn't do an interview and say bye-bye; now I will come back in one month. It was impossible for me.

BEARDSLEY: Desbois' organization has opened five workshops to try to help survivors deal with the trauma and reintegrate into society. ISIS attempted to destroy the Yazidi people, killing men, selling women as sex slaves and taking away children. In his travels, Desbois says he sees people becoming more nationalistic, and he says that Holocaust denial is on the rise. There is also a tendency, says Desbois, to see the Holocaust and other persecutions as a kind of global force that we are helpless to fight. That is why he is pushing relentlessly to document the crimes of the Nazis and now ISIS.

DESBOIS: The Holocaust was not a tsunami. It was a personal crime. And so if we don't prove it was a crime, we dismiss completely the responsibility of the killers.

BEARDSLEY: And if you do that, says Desbois, you give carte blanche to the mass murderers of tomorrow. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.


Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.