By Marisa Buchanan, NBC News producer
There is a public reason French Catholic priest Father Patrick Desbois gives about why he has worked so tirelessly for seven years uncovering a little-known part of the holocaust during World War Two. "Pope John Paul II said to the Jews, 'We are brothers,'" Father Desbois told Ann Curry, "but when you are brothers, you have to help your brothers. And I cannot accept that my brothers are laying the fields of a Christian country."
There is also a more private reason that he reveals to Ann in her piece tonight on Nightly News.
We traveled to Paris late in December to look at the exhibition of Father Desbois's work at the Memorial de Shoah. There are over 600 eyewitness accounts that Father Debois and his team at Yad In Unum have gathered in remote parts of the Ukraine. These are memories long locked away. As one holocaust expert told me, these villages have been practically hermetically sealed since the war. These eyewitnesses don't talk about what they saw, and they have not had access to the vast dialogue and research about the Holocaust the way many of us have. There are no memorials and no museums.
Strikingly different from what most people know about the holocaust--the hidden gas chambers and the work camps--these atrocities were not hidden from the public.
Many people saw this "holocaust by bullets" firsthand. Many of the children who saw them or were forced to participate, grew up without ever discussing the subject again. They live only a few miles from where the atrocities took place. So not until Father Desbois asks a simple question. "Were you here during the war?" do they often slowly reveal what they know.
There are so many stories uncovered for the first time in village after village: old men and women, who Father Desbois says are now "destroyed" from one day in their life so many years ago. They relive the traumatic moments in detail.
Desbois told Ann in the interview, "These people for one day, they have been implicated in the genocide. And they want to speak before to die. Now they are 75, sometime 91. They say, 'We don't want to finish our life without speaking'."
The memories come pouring out. One woman said she had to run across bodies in a mass grave to push them down . Another man remembers being forced to collect sunflowers to burn the corpses. It goes on and on. Desbois ask them, how far away were you standing? How far away were the men with the guns from the Jews? Did they play music? How many hours did it last? And on and on. People often say its too difficult to look back at this tragedy but Father Desbois's words in his interview lingered with the NBC News team.
"What is too difficult? To look at it or to be killed?" What is really difficult? What was difficult in Cambodia? To look at it or to be killed? What is difficult in Bosnia? What is difficult in Rwanda? To be killed or to know it? And if you don't know it, other people will say, 'Okay, if you don't want to listen, we can kill other people'.
Editor's note: Ann Curry's report airs tonight on the broadcast.