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Jean-Marc Dreyfus

From 1945 until around 1960, ceremonies of a new kind took place throughout Europe to commemorate the Holocaust and the deportation of Jews; ashes would be taken from the site of a concentration camp, an extermination camp, or the site of a massacre and sent back to the deportees country of origin (or to Israel). In these countries, commemorative ceremonies were then organised and these ashes (sometimes containing other human remains) placed within a memorial or reburied in a cemetery. These transfers of ashes have, however, received little attention from historical researchers. This article sets out to describe a certain number of them, all differing considerably from one another, before drawing up a typology of this phenomenon and attempting its analysis. It investigates the symbolic function of ashes in the aftermath of the Second World War and argues that these transfers – as well as having a mimetic relationship to transfers of relics – were also instruments of political legitimisation.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Kitty S. Millet

This article has two aims: to examine the effects of victim proximity to crematoria ashes and ash pits both consciously and unconsciously in a subset of Holocaust survivors, those who were incarcerated at the dedicated death camps of Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, as well as Auschwitz-Birkenau; and to contrast these effects, the subject positions they produce, with their suppression as the basis both for a strategy of survival during incarceration and for a reimagined identity after the war. Within a cohort of four survivors from Rudolf Reder (Belzec), Esther Raab (Sobibor), Jacob Wiernik (Treblinka) and Shlomo Venezia (Auschwitz), I trace the ways in which discrete memories and senses became constitutive in the formation of the subject prior to and after escape – the experience of liberation – so that essentially two kinds of subjects became visible, the subject in liberation and the subject of ashes. In conjunction with these two kinds of subjects, I introduce the compensatory notion of a third path suggested both by H. G. Adler and Anna Orenstein, also Holocaust survivors, that holds both positions together in one space, the space of literature, preventing the two positions from being stranded in dialectical opposition to each other.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Joachim Neander

During the Second World War and its aftermath, the legend was spread that the Germans turned the bodies of Holocaust victims into soap stamped with the initials RIF, falsely interpreted as made from pure Jewish fat. In the years following liberation, RIF soap was solemnly buried in cemeteries all over the world and came to symbolise the six million killed in the Shoah, publicly showing the determination of Jewry to never forget the victims. This article will examine the funerals that started in Bulgaria and then attracted several thousand mourners in Brazil and Romania, attended by prominent public personalities and receiving widespread media coverage at home and abroad. In 1990 Yad Vashem laid the Jewish soap legend to rest, and today tombstones over soap graves are falling into decay with new ones avoiding the word soap. RIF soap, however, is alive in the virtual world of the Internet and remains fiercely disputed between believers and deniers.

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
Jacques Gerstenkorn

This article describes the powerplay around the recent discovery (summer 2015) of eighteenth-century Jewish graves in the French city of Lyon. Prior to the French Revolution, Jews had no right to have their own cemeteries, and the corpses of the deceased were buried in the basement of the local catholic hospital, the Hôtel- Dieu. In recent years this centrally located building was completely renovated and converted into a retail complex selling luxury brands. The discovery and subsequent identification of the graves – and of some human remains – led to a complex confrontation between various actors: archaeologists, employed either by the municipality or by the state; religious authorities (mostly Lyons chief rabbi); the municipality itself; the private construction companies involved; direct descendants of some of the Jews buried in the hospital‘s basement; as well as the local media. The question of what to do with the graves took centre stage, and while exhumations were favoured by both archaeologists and the representatives of the families, the chief rabbi – supported by the construction companies – proved reluctant to exhume, for religious reasons. In the first part of his article the author details the origins of this Jewish funerary place and current knowledge about it. He then goes on to analyse what was at stake in the long negotiations, arguing that the memory of the Holocaust played a role in the attitude of many of the parties involved. By way of conclusion he considers the decision not to exhume the graves and elaborates on the reasons why this led to some dissatisfaction.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Jes Wienberg

characterised by traumatic losses and changes and by fear of the future (Lowenthal 1985 : 8ff, 394ff; 1997 : 1, 5ff; 2015: 31ff, 413ff). However, Laurent Olivier is, if possible, even more dystopic. Olivier sees the wreck of the Age of Enlightenment since the twentieth century in a series of disasters – the two world wars, the Holocaust, Hamburg, Hiroshima, Chernobyl, the World Trade Center. With references to Benjamin, Heidegger, and Adorno, he looks on the industrialisation of war, the mass production of goods by machines, and the crisis for European civilisation; and

in Heritopia
Jes Wienberg

be changed, modernised, or destroyed more or less freely? A temporal reservation for relics of the past? And, more generally, are history, memory, and heritage only islands in a sea dominated by silence, oblivion, and vandalism? That a World Heritage site may indeed be an exception is seen from the example of Auschwitz-Birkenau (WHL 31, 1979). The Nazi death camp is a profoundly unsettling metonymic icon of the Holocaust; it is concrete, material testimony to something much more extensive that can be difficult to comprehend. Despite the size of the camp, it was

in Heritopia
Jes Wienberg

ideologies. Michel Foucault and many others after him see the will to knowledge as a will to power (Foucault 1976 (French); 1990 (English)). Technological and organisational progress has a share in the responsibility for the worst genocide of the twentieth century, the Holocaust (Bauman 1989 ). Knowledge, facts, and truth, in particular, are called into doubt as concepts, goals, and means. Knowledge is said to be a social construction that can be negotiated in a laboratory (Latour & Woolgar 1979 ). Enlightenment’s radical doubt has been directed against enlightenment

in Heritopia
Open Access (free)
Jes Wienberg

(English): 68). From this, it is no great leap to assert that the real function of a monument and memorial is to allow us to forget. The monument and memorial can relieve traumatic memories. And if forgetting was not the explicit purpose, it was the unintended consequence (e.g. Rowlands 1999 ). Every monument or memorial therefore comes into conflict with its own paradoxical capacity to foster forgetting. New forms for creating permanence are constantly being tested. One such example is the Holocaust monument “Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas” (“Memorial to

in Heritopia
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