Edward Bacal

I focus on two contemporary art installations in which Teresa Margolles employs water used to wash corpses during autopsies. By running this water through a fog machine or through air conditioners, these works incorporate bodily matter but refuse to depict, identify or locate anybody (or any body) within it. Rather, Margolles creates abstract works in which physical limits – whether of bodies or of art works – dissolve into a state of indeterminacy. With that pervasive distribution of corporeal matter, Margolles charts the dissolution of the social, political and spatial borders that contain death from the public sphere. In discussing these works, I consider Margolles’ practice in relation to the social and aesthetic function of the morgue. Specifically, I consider how Margolles turns the morgue inside out, opening it upon the city in order to explore the inoperative distinctions between spaces of sociality and those of death. In turn, I consider how Margolles places viewers in uneasy proximity to mortality, bodily abjection and violence in order to illustrate the social, political and aesthetic conditions by which bodies become unidentifiable. I ultimately argue that her aesthetic strategies match her ethical aspirations to reconsider relations to death, violence and loss within the social realm.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Roxana Ferllini

This article presents an account of the involvement of forensic anthropology in the investigation of human rights abuses in the modern era, and the difficulties it faces with respect to lack of adequate funding, volatile settings, the presence of unexploded ordnance, corruption in governmental agencies and a lack of good will, absence of support for NGOs and the curtailment of formal judicial proceedings to effect transitional justice. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Spain, Mexico and the Northern Triangle are provided as regional examples of the problems encountered when attempting to conduct forensic anthropological investigations to locate mass graves, retrieve victims and obtain proper identifications. Interventions by various organisations are highlighted to illustrate their assistance to forensic and non-forensic individuals through technical support, training and mentoring in the areas of crime-scene management and identification techniques. Interventions in mass-grave processing when state agencies have failed, the importance of DNA banks and information from family members and witnesses are also presented.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Elyse Semerdjian

This article discusses how Armenians have collected, displayed and exchanged the bones of their murdered ancestors in formal and informal ceremonies of remembrance in Dayr al-Zur, Syria – the final destination for hundreds of thousands of Armenians during the deportations of 1915. These pilgrimages – replete with overlapping secular and nationalist motifs – are a modern variant of historical pilgrimage practices; yet these bones are more than relics. Bone rituals, displays and vernacular memorials are enacted in spaces of memory that lie outside of official state memorials, making unmarked sites of atrocity more legible. Vernacular memorial practices are of particular interest as we consider new archives for the history of the Armenian Genocide. The rehabilitation of this historical site into public consciousness is particularly urgent, since the Armenian Genocide Memorial Museum and Martyr’s Church at the centre of the pilgrimage site were both destroyed by ISIS (Islamic State in Syria) in 2014.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Jessica Auchter

The after-effects of mass atrocity – bodies and bones – struggle to be defined within memorial projects. This article seeks to examine the politics at play in displaying dead bodies to interrogate the role of materiality in efforts to memorialise and raise awareness about on-going violences. It focusses on the nexus between evidence, dignity, humanity and memory to explore bone display in Rwanda. It then takes up two artistic projects that play on the materiality of human remains after atrocity: the art of Carl Michael von Hausswolff, who took ashes from an urn at the Majdanek concentration camp and used them as the material for his painting, and the One Million Bones Project, an installation that exhibits ceramic bones to raise awareness about global violence. In thinking about the intersections between human biomatter, art and politics, the article seeks to raise questions about both production and consumption: how bones and ashes of the dead are produced, and how they are consumed by viewers when placed on display in a variety of ways.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Caroline Fournet, Élisabeth Anstett, and Jean-Marc Dreyfus
Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Dead bodies, evidence and the death march from Buchenwald to Dachau, April–May 1945
Christopher E. Mauriello

This article utilises the theoretical perspectives of the forensic turn to further expand our historical understandings and interpretations of the events of the Holocaust. More specifically, it applies a theory of the materialities of dead bodies to historically reconstruct and reinterpret the death march from Buchenwald to Dachau from 7 to 28 April 1945. It focuses on dead bodies as ‘evidence’, but explores how the evidential meanings of corpses along the death-march route evolved and changed during the march itself and in the aftermath of discovery by approaching American military forces. While drawing on theories of the evidential use of dead bodies, it remains firmly grounded in empirical historical research based on archival sources. The archives at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp contain eyewitness accounts and post-war trial testimony that enable a deeply contextualised ‘microhistory’ of the geography, movements, perpetrators, victims and events along this specific death march in April and May 1945. This ‘thick description’ provides the necessary context for a theoretical reading of the changing evidential meanings of dead bodies as the death march wove its way from Buchenwald to Dachau and the war and the Holocaust drew to an end.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Antonius C. G. M. Robben

Thousands of people died in Rotterdam during the Second World War in more than 300 German and Allied bombardments. Civil defence measures had been taken before the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940 and these efforts were intensified during the country’s occupation as Allied bombers attacked Rotterdam’s port, factories, dry docks and oil terminals. Residential neighbourhoods were also hit through imprecise targeting and by misfired flak grenades. Inadequate air raid shelters and people’s reluctance to enter them caused many casualties. The condition of the corpses and their post-mortem treatment was thus co-constituted by the relationship between the victims and their material circumstances. This article concludes that an understanding of the treatment of the dead after war, genocide and mass violence must pay systematic attention to the materiality of death because the condition, collection and handling of human remains is affected by the material means that impacted on the victims.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
A reassessment
Jon Seligman, Paul Bauman, Richard Freund, Harry Jol, Alastair McClymont, and Philip Reeder

The Ponar-Paneriai base, the main extermination site of Vilna-Vilnius, began its existence as a Red Army fuel depot in 1940. After Nazi occupation of the city in 1941 the Einsatzgruppen and mostly Lithuanian members of the Ypatingasis būrys used the pits dug for the fuel tanks for the murder of the Jews of Vilna and large numbers of Polish residents. During its operation, Ponar was cordoned off, but changes to the topography of the site since the Second World War have made a full understanding of the site difficult. This article uses contemporary plans and aerial photographs to reconstruct the layout of the site, in order to better understand the process of extermination, the size of the Ponar base and how the site was gradually reduced in size after 1944.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Benoît Pouget

Based on a study of intersecting French archives (those of the Val de Grâce Hospital, the Service Historique de la Défense and the Archives Diplomatiques), and with the support of numerous printed sources, this article focuses on the handling of the bodies of French soldiers who died of cholera during the Crimean War (1854–56). As a continuation of studies done by historians Luc Capdevila and Danièle Voldman, the aim here is to consider how the diseased corpses of these soldiers reveal both the causes and circumstances of their deaths. Beyond the epidemiological context, these dead bodies shed light on the sanitary conditions and suffering resulting from years of military campaigns. To conclude, the article analyses the material traces left by these dead and the way that the Second Empire used them politically, giving the remains of leaders who died on the front lines of the cholera epidemic a triumphant return to the country and a state funeral.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Andrzej Grzegorczyk

The Kulmhof extermination camp in Chełmno nad Nerem was the first camp set up by the Nazis to exterminate Jews during the Second World War. The history of Kulmhof has long been an area of interest for academics, but despite thorough research it remains one of the least-known places of its kind among the public. Studies of the role of archaeology in acquiring knowledge about the functioning of the camp have been particularly compelling. The excavations carried out intermittently over a thirty-year period (1986–2016), which constitute the subject of this article, have played a key role in the rise in public interest in the history of the camp.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal