French Priest Honored with 2013 Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award

HOUSTON, TX (April 30, 2013) – More than 920 people were on hand Tuesday, April 30, 2013, as Holocaust Museum Houston honored a French Catholic priest whose organization has helped identify more than 800 hidden mass killing sites with more than 2,000 mass graves from the Holocaust with its internationally recognized Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award.

Madeleine Albright, Patrick Desbois and Anna Steinberger Father Parick Desbois, Michael and Barbara Gamson
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, with honoree Father Patrick Desbois and Holocaust survivor Anna Steinberger. Photo by Kim Coffman Father Patrick Desbois with event chairs Michael and Barbara Gamson. Photo by Kim Coffman

The event, held at the Hilton-Americas Houston, raised more than $1.1 million to support ongoing educational programs of the Museum that promote awareness of the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy against the backdrop of the Holocaust and enable the Museum to continue to offer free general admission to the public year-round.

Father Patrick Desbois, president of Yahad-In Unum in Paris, was honored for his truly historic undertaking of identifying and locating undiscovered mass graves of Jews and Roma killed during the Holocaust in Eastern Europe.

In less than three years, from June 1941, when Germany invaded the former Soviet Union, until spring 1944, Nazi mobile killing units, or Einsatzgruppen, massacred well over 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe. The Jewish populations of whole villages were slaughtered in hours; entire regional populations were annihilated in an afternoon. Unlike the concentration camps, there were few survivors to tell the world what had happened.

During the course of Yahad-In Unum’s research on mass shootings by the Nazis in the territories of the former U.S.S.R., Desbois’ teams discovered, so far, 55 extermination sites of Roma people, as well as eyewitnesses to their murders. Knowing that Roma communities suffered the same fate as the Jews, Father Desbois has made it his mission to undertake similar work on behalf of the Roma community as well.

Desbois talked of his interviews with witnesses to the events in the Ukraine during the Holocaust, and how many described the ground as “moving” below them because of the policy of one bullet per Jew.

“We cannot build democracies on mass graves,” he said in answer to why he has pursued such work.

Chairing this year’s event were Museum Board member Michael Gamson and his wife Barbara.

Among VIPs in attendance were Museum Chair Tali Blumrosen and husband Eric; incoming chair Mark Mucasey and wife Judy; Peter N. Berkowitz, chair of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission; Fred Zeidman, former chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council; Arthur Schechter, former American ambassador to the Bahamas; Mayor Annise Parker; Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan; and Meir Shlomo, consul general of Israel to the Southwest.

Also seen in the crowd were Dr. Kelli Cohen Fein and Martin Fein; Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza; Rabbi Brian Strauss; Isabel and Danny David; Holocaust Survivor Bill Morgan and wife Shirley; Gary and Tracy Stein; Laura and Roy Nichol; Fred and Velva Levine; Christina and Mo Ibrahim; Trini Mendenhall Sosa; Trish and Rock Morille; Lester and Sue Smith; and Eric and Noylan Pulaski.

Holocaust survivor Anna Steinberger brought in another $19,000 for the Museum in just four minutes with an empassioned plea about the importance of preserving the Museum’s collection of videotaped oral histories of more than 300 survivors who eventually made their homes in the Houston area. Those tapes are currently in older, now outdated formats.

“One day, just like my beloved, departed husband Emil, also a survivor, I won’t be here,” she said. “That is why, like many other survivors in this room, we gave our videotaped oral testimonies to Holocaust Museum Houston to help document our experiences and our destroyed communities.... Madeleine Albright once said: "It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.  That’s a pledge those 300 Holocaust survivors living in Houston made when we gave our oral testimonies, and one we, as a Museum, must honor.”

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the evening’s keynote speaker, brought the crowd to its feet before ever saying a word, receiving a resounding standing ovation as she walked on stage. She closed the event with a keynote address on global responsibility, calling for continued moral courage and human compassion in the face of atrocities worldwide.

“The Holocaust proved that what should be unthinkable is not truly beyond thought and that, if we are complacent, the inconceivable can happen over and over again,” she said. “Genocide is unacceptable, and we can and should do more to prevent it. The United States does not bear this burden alone, but we have both a duty and a profound interest in helping to show the way.”

“Our citizens will be safer in a world governed by law, in which human rights are respected, and those responsible for aggression and war crimes are held accountable,” she said.

Albright, who was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, was raised Catholic but converted to Episcopalianism at the time of her marriage in 1959. She did not learn until late in life that her parents were Jewish and that many of her Jewish relatives in Czechoslovakia had perished in the Holocaust, including three of her grandparents.

Holocaust Museum Houston created the Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award in 1994 in cooperation with the Johnson family. In 1938, as a young congressman, Johnson stretched the limits of his authority and risked his personal dreams to provide American sanctuary for threatened European Jews. It is because of these acts of moral courage that the Museum proudly named the award in his honor. The award recognizes either a single righteous act or a lifetime of morally courageous behavior.

Previous recipients of the award have included television producer Holocaust survivor and author Ellie Wiesel; television producer Norman Lear; the Houston community of Holocaust survivors; the late Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered by terrorists in Pakistan; activist Sir Bob Geldof; former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell; former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Jr.; former U.S. Sen. Robert Dole; U.S. Sen. John McCain; filmmaker Steven Spielberg; and former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, among others.

Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the Museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy.

Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public and is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004. For more information about the Museum, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.

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