Fr. Desbois works to locate places where genocide has occurred.
Fr. Desbois works to locate places where genocide has occurred.

Fr. Patrick Desbois is the guest speaker for this year’s JFS Spotlight Event on May 24.

When I asked Fr. Patrick Desbois what he hopes people get out of his appearance at Jewish Family Service’s Spotlight Event on May 24, his answer surprised me. “I hope they will not sleep well after,” he said. “Because when we see people sleep well, they forget what is happening.”

Fr. Patrick Desbois
Fr. Patrick Desbois Rita Villanueva

A Roman Catholic priest, distinguished author, university professor, historian, forensic detective and world-renowned human-rights activist, Desbois has dedicated his life to educating the world about the Holocaust and antisemitism.

He is the founder of Yahad-In Unum (“Together In One” in Hebrew and Latin), a nonprofit organization dedicated to discovering genocidal practices wherever they are found around the world, providing documented proof of crimes against humanity, and a leading voice of protest on behalf of all past and present victims of mass murder. His dedication to this work has been featured on 60 Minutes.

Yahad-In Unum’s original charter was documenting the evidence of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, known as the “Holocaust by Bullets.”

For nearly two decades, Yahad-In Unum pioneered the application of modern forensic research to the study of genocide. Through this developed methodology, they have uncovered the location of more than 2,900 killing sites and documented more than 7,000 witness testimonies to the war crimes of the Einsatzgruppen (Nazi Death Squads).

Desbois’ ongoing work brings closure to the victims and survivors of genocide and calls for legal justice for the perpetrators. His book, Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews, is based on this work. Desbois will be signing books (available for purchase) at the dessert reception following his talk, where he’ll share his riveting story in what will surely be an emotional, educational evening.

The May 24 event takes place at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield. The program begins at 7 p.m. Admission is $75. Event chairs are Helen and Martin Katz.

Given that JFS provides services to more than 600 Holocaust survivors, Desbois is a fitting choice for its Spotlight event.

Risa Berris, director of Holocaust survivor services for JFS, says it’s beneficial anytime somebody goes out and educates people on these topics like Desbois will on May 24.

“He’s well known; he’s been doing this a long time; he has a perspective,” Berris said. “I think he contributes to that ‘Never Again’ concept where people need to be educated in order to not have this happen again.”

Berris says local survivors have been invited free of charge, though she’s not sure how many will be there.

Desbois has been to Detroit 40-50 times and says it’s the city and Jewish community he knows best in all of America. He’s excited to return once again but is focused on the topic at hand and how important it is to teach new generations what happened — not only to remember the past, but to anticipate the future.

“We must think largely to teach the Holocaust, not only to people who are near to us but people who are far, because antisemitism is not (just) a Jewish issue, it’s an issue for the non-Jews,” Desbois said.

Desbois says he believes we must train new leaders to know exactly what happened and to name where antisemitism is coming from today. Otherwise, he says, we are dreaming.

“I think we have to teach the Holocaust to heal as a society because these ideologies of intolerance and hate are unfortunately coming back all over the world.”

For registration and sponsorship information, visit or call (248) 592-2339. Dollars raised enable JFS to address the greatest needs of the community and continue serving the most vulnerable.

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