In the immediate aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, Poland was quite literally a vast Jewish cemetery. In fields, forests, by the side of roads, and in Jewish cemeteries throughout the country, the corpses of dead Jews were buried helter-skelter in mass graves, partially buried in an apparent rush, or even left unburied. Even Jews who had no intentions of remaining in postwar Poland returned to their home towns resolved to fulfill a solemn duty to give the dead a proper burial, if possible in a Jewish cemetery. Using several yizkor books, this chapter will examine the efforts of Polish Jewish survivors to exhume the corpses of their dead and then rebury them with dignity in accordance with Jewish ritual and the role of memory in depiction of this act.
The chapter will show how both the Soviet authorities and the leaders of independent Ukraine attempted to block real investigation and commemoration at the hamlet of Bykivnia, where the NKVD buried murdered bodies from 1939-1941. The chapter will look into how their attempts failed due to pressure from within—grave robbers and activists—and, especially, without—Germany and Poland. Following this account, details about the little-known Nazi and Soviet exhumations at the site will be examined.
The chapter will examine how forensic scientists, including anthropologists, have been exploring the potential of new methods and processes in the resolution of mass grave contexts. The introduction of DNA to contexts where these challenges exist has had some success in the Balkans and in Guatemala, two areas that have experienced brutal civil wars for a number of years. More recently, the analysis of elemental and osteometric measures on the body have demonstrated potential in attempts to re-associate remains. Ultimately however, technological developments complement extensive ante-mortem investigation and the two cannot be utilised independently if the required end result is to successfully identify victims.
This paper will examine the excavation of mass graves in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has evolved into a significantly standardized yet methodologically flexible set of procedures based on integrated principles of forensic archaeology, forensic anthropology and crime scene processing – the overall goal of which is to maximize the collection and documentation of all sets of human remains, forensic artifacts and features for the purposes of establishing an objective historical record, supporting the criminal justice process and the victim identification process. In particular, the phenomenon of the secondary mass grave will be explored. Why might a secondary mass grave play a distinct role from a primary mass grave, and in what ways, and for whom? Through an (admittedly implicit) description of the actor-network in which these graves are embedded, and the many sorts of actants with which they are in relation, the authors will attempt to describe the precarious and shifting place of Bosnia’s secondary mass graves in the country’s processes of social reconciliation and peace-building.