World

French priest who documented Holocaust atrocities turns attention to Yazidis

Islamic State almost wiped out a group of people they consider apostates

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A French Catholic priest who has dug up new insights into the Nazi holocaust of the Jews in Eastern Europe is turning his attention to a holocaust that is going on right now, so that the facts of the tragedy will not be hidden in history.

Father Patrick Desbois and a team of experts have made six trips to Iraq to interview members of the Yazidi community. Action Yazidis, an initiative of Yahad-In Unum, which seeks to reveal and denounce the moral disease of genocide in all its forms, is collecting the testimony of survivors to document and offer evidence of what the Islamic State has done to the Yazidis. The semi-structured interviews are held with victims of all ages – women, men, children, and the elderly. The eye-witness accounts of those who escaped slavery and imprisonment by ISIS are crossed-referenced with other sources, including photographs and written material, as well as from separate testimonies.

“They are a group that never accepted Islam,” Father Desbois said in an interview. “They have no religious book, so ISIS classifies them as apostates.”

He and his team interviewed about 100 Yazidis of all ages, many of whom described a similar scene: ISIS surrounding a village, and reassuring residents that if they convert to Islam “nothing will happen.”

But then the Yazidi families are forcibly separated, with babies put into an “adoption” system, boys put in training camps to be used in terrorist operations, girls sold into sexual slavery and the elderly used as human shields.

“It’s a genocide that is still going on,” Father Desbois said. “They have no voice.”

The 61-year-old priest directs the Episcopal Committee for Catholic-Judeo Relations under the auspices of the French Conference of Bishops. He is the grandson of a WWII French prisoner held in the Rawa Ruska camp on the Poland-Ukraine border. In 2004, he began to research the story of the Jews, Roma and other victims murdered in Eastern Europe during WWII by the Nazi mobile killing units, the Einsatzgruppen. He has found evidence of public executions of Jews and mass graves that were never documented.

The biggest problem the Yazidis face right now is the reunification of families, he said. Most of the men have been shot, and the women are alone and have no work. Psychological help is also important for those who have experienced horrors such as multiple rapes or having to watch innocent people beheaded or burned alive.

Two years since ISIS invaded the ancient Yazidi city of Sinjar, the city has since been liberated, but the jihadists are not far away. And Father Debois is already documenting the genocide they had hoped to carry out.

Defend International and its supporters provided humanitarian aid to Yazidi refugees in Kurdistan region, Iraq/Defend International
Defend International and its supporters provided humanitarian aid to Yazidi refugees in Kurdistan region, Iraq/Defend International
Shawn Neal

John Burger

John Burger is a news editor at Aleteia. He formerly worked at the National Catholic Register and Catholic New York in the Archdiocese of New York. He has also written for a wide variety of Catholic publications.