Father Patrick Desbois is partly responsible for our understanding of "The Holocaust by Bullets," the mass murder of millions of Jews throughout Eastern Europe that is often overshadowed by the assembly line mass murder of Jews and other "undesirables" in German death camps. In his first publication on the subject, Desbois took an original approach to the topic by aiming to interview adolescent bystanders who could still recall how and where the local Jewish population was murdered by the invading Germans and their collaborators.
"In Broad Daylight" takes that initial research a step further as Desbois and his team have continued to gather information through interviews and presents the minutia that has often been overlooked or simply never considered by researchers or academics. We have many accounts from German concentration and death camps by survivors and perpetrators, but Jews murdered by the millions in mass graves no longer have a voice. Those who were lucky enough to survive can only offer accounts from their limited perspective, but Desbois is interested in the minute details that were needed for mass murder to become an almost acceptable everyday phenomenon.
He looks at a typical mass murder site starting from the night before, when locals were conscripted to help transport Jews to their final destination and when German forces and their collaborators would begin arriving inevitably leading to a night that finally saw the last vestiges of human decency disappear as Jews were beaten and raped before their eventual executions in the early morning hours. Aside from speaking to those who only witnessed German aktions Desbois's team also initiates discussions and interviews with those who participated in cooking the food the Germans ate while on break from executing Jews, those who dug the mass graves, and numerous others who one day lived with their Jewish friends and neighbors and the next found themselves drawn to either watching their death, including hearing their cries and screams, or in some way participating in the German aktion itself.
This is a haunting and deeply disturbing text. For many, simply reading a list of sites where German mass murders took place throughout Eastern Europe leaves them unable to grasp what those on the ground witnessed and experienced as their everyday lives were torn apart by an invading army and a genocidal occupation policy. Therefore, this is a volume best read slowly and methodically so that readers can contemplate what humanity is capable of all too easily when presented with a specific set of circumstances as those with a superiority complex decide human life is cheap and disposable. This is a study that offers an important contribution to our understanding of how the Holocaust by bullets unfolded and presents in a new light the vital role played by the local population in the mass murder of East European Jewry.