Counting Keys

Sunday February 22; lecture by Michael Berenbaum at Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Sponsored by Second Generation.

Dr. Berenbaum is one of the foremost Holocaust scholars in the USA and the world. He is the director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University where he is also a Professor of Jewish Studies. Not only is Dr. Berenbaum generous with his time speaking weekly it seems on topics of interest to those who share his passion to preserve the memory of the Holocaust as well as understand it, he is always engaging in that he has something to offer that is not widely known about the Holocaust. Such was the case on this Sunday afternoon.

He announced that a new field known as genocide archaeology has emerged. One of the initial scholars working in the field is Father Patrick DuBois who has located more than 2,000 previously unknown

graves of murdered innocents in Lithuania, Latvia and the Ukraine. These discoveries are completely new and are the foundation for the reconsideration of the death tool in this region, as well as for the Holocaust itself. The methods used by DuBois, who is a Roman Catholic priest, are powerful if subtle. He visits villages and inquires of the elder citizenry “where are the Jews buried?” These are the people, he suspects, who had contemporary knowledge of where were killing fields. He counts on his frocks to persuade a “confessional” response. When he travels to the sites he begins digging in the topsoil. More often than not DuBois finds keys and bullets that tell him a story.

The significance of the keys, said Berenbaum, is that victims were innocent and did not realize they were being taken to their death. It also suggests they knew their murderers. The significance of the bullets is that certain casings were used by certain groups: i.e., the SS used one kind, the Wehrmacht another, and the local police a third kind. DuBois’ chilling conclusion is that, based upon his discoveries, the victims’ murderers were often local police encouraged in one way or another by neighbors.

Berenbaum described German occupied Russia as the “black hole” of Holocaust death data. These new discoveries will help fill in the gap as well as document the long suspected pattern of opportunistic murder wherein the locals pulled the triggers but attributed the actions to the Nazis. Claims based upon memories of survivors from these regions have been discounted because of the lack of evidence. Until now.

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