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Karlee Sapoznik at Rovno memorial site, where 17,500 were killed by bullets.

Remains of a child under 10 next to those of an adult found in Busk by Desbois and his team


Limmud presentation by Karlee Sapoznik-A case study of my Shetetele Berezne

By Elaine Bigalow, April 1, 2012

The systematic murder of 2.25 million Jews during the 1941-44 “Holocaust by Bullets” in Ukraine and Bella Russia has been overlooked by most people unless they were part of the people or families who experienced this part of the Shoa, according to Karlee Sapoznik, a Winnipeg historian.
Sapoznik, who is a PhD candidate in history at the Harriet Tubman Institute at York University, explained that mass grave sites in these areas have been located through the work of Father Patrick Desbois, using ballistic evidence from spent cartridges and shell casings, unearthed at the side of the pits where the perpetrators did the shooting.
Patrick Desbois is the President of Yahad-in Unum, an organization dedicated to uncovering this evidence. Father Desbois's interest in the Holocaust started at a young age, because his grandfather, who helped raise him, was a French soldier who been deported to the Nazi prison camp Rawa-Ruska during World War Two. His grandfather did not speak much of his time in the camp, and Father Desbois remained curious about the Holocaust and its Jewish victims. In 2004, when Desbois traveled to Ukraine, so he could see where his grandfather had been imprisoned during the war, he was shocked to discover that there existed not a single marking or commemoration to 1.25 million Jewish victims in all of Ukraine and Belarus. He made it his life's mission to uncover information about these mass graves.
Through the use of metal detectors and by interviewing local witnesses, Father Desbois, and his team toil against the clock to interview witnesses who are still able to recall these terrible events of mass shootings and people buried alive. Sapoznik, who is on B’nai Brith Canada’s National Task Force on Holocaust Education and will be teaching a course " Genocide in the 20th Century and Slavery from 1500 to the present" at Saint Boniface University, travelled to the Ukraine in 2010 to interview witnesses in Rovno and Berezne as part of the research for "Holocaust by Bullets".
According to Sapoznik, witnesses speak of the earth moving for days until all movement ceased, and of the stench of death that followed later in the area so pronounced it could not be ignored. 
As Sapoznik has written in an article in 2010, "On August 25, 1942, 3,680 Jews were marched out of the Berezne ghetto and forced to help dig three mass grave pits, each 20 meters in length. They were then shot to death in rows of five. According to witnesses, the pits moved for three days, and blood leaked through the ground. Many of the children were simply thrown into the pits and pushed down so as not to waste a bullet. Some Ukrainians were forced to assist in the killings. Others willingly did so."
In her talk, Sapoznik began by asking everyone in attendance what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the Holocaust. Many answered from personal perspectives involving family. Others spoke of specific words or photos, places, one spoke of the Canadian National Museum to Human Rights in Winnipeg, another of ‘other holocausts’. Then Sapoznik spoke about her research in Rovno and Berezne. She explained how she was welcomed as a "homecoming hero or foreign dignitary" but the tone changed when she began interviewing witnesses.
Sapoznik spoke of how she felt that a local official and an interpreter working with her tried to embellish things and actually told a witness “you don’t remember what you saw, you are wrong, this is how it is….”
Sapoznik pointed to what she believes is a continued cover up and denial of participation in the murder of Jews by locals aiding Nazi exterminators in Shetetele Berezne.
Regarding the city of Rovno, Sapoznik has written on the Active History website, "A number of Jews from Berezne were killed in the major city centre of Rovno, a 45 minute car ride away today. The total population of Rovno in 1939 was approximately 40,000, 30,000 of which were Jews. As witnesses explained and I saw firsthand, 17,500 people were killed by bullets at the mass grave site in Rovno, and approximately another 5,000 were thrown into a big stone quarry pit in Kostopil. The memorial area where the 17,500 were buried in mass pits in Rovno is overwhelming. It is very large and there are dozens of plaques with some of the names of those killed. Symbolic footprints commemorate their forced descent to their deaths."
During her talk, Sapoznik presented photos of the market place where Jews were rounded up and processed for extermination. The building, now the color of a bright yellow, is a local business in Berenzne.  Looking at the building in the photo one would think how can business go on as usual in this place of mass killing, and in such a brightly colored building--this should be a memorial museum rather than a place of business.
Holocaust by Bullets raises the death count by millions over a continent sized war zone when you consider that just 2000 gravesites have been identified in the Ukraine.
As Sapoznik has concluded in the article she has written on the Active History website,  "In spite of the Einsatzgruppen Nuremberg trials from 1947 to 1948, material evidence (bullets and archival photos), accounts of local witnesses, and testimonies by rare survivors, the Holocaust by bullets in Berezne and Rovno, like in the Ukraine at large, remains shrouded in secrecy. It is not discussed, and rarely acknowledged in public. The active historical investigative work under way by Father Desbois and others is challenging that silence, and educating people around the world. The next time you read or hear the world “Holocaust,” I encourage you to picture bullets in addition to concentration camps and emaciated bodies. After all, 2.25 million out of the 6 million Jews who were murdered during the Shoah were killed by bullets."

Editor's note: Moment Magazine has just recently written an extensive and very interesting article on the work of Father Debois which is recommended to readers who are interested in this subject:

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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