Mass violence is one of the defining phenomena of the twentieth century, which some have even called the 'century of genocides'. The study of how the dead body is treated can lead us to an understanding of the impact of mass violence on contemporary societies. Corpses of mass violence and genocide, especially when viewed from a biopolitical perspective, force one to focus on the structures of the relations between all that participates in the enfolding case study. Argentina is an extraordinary laboratory in the domain of struggle against impunity and of 'restoration of the truth'. It constitutes a useful paradigm in the context of reflection on the corpses of mass violence. Its special character, in the immediate aftermath of the military dictatorship, is to test almost the entirety of juridical mechanisms in the handling of state crimes. The trigger for both the intercommunal violence and the civil war was the mass murders by the Ustaša. This book discusses the massacres carried out by the Ustaša in Croatia during the Second World War. After a brief presentation of the historical background, the massacres carried out by the Ustaša militia and their corpse disposal methods are described. Using Rwanda as a case study, the book proposes an agenda for ethnographic research to explore the relationship between concealment and display in contexts of genocide. This relationship is explored in detail after a discussion of the historical background to the 1994 genocide.
humanitarian interventions. The
topic was thrust upon me by events in Rwanda in 1994. As a teenage, second-generation Rwandan
immigrant in Belgium, I was more personally affected than fellow classmates by the hypocrisy of
the international community: the preaching of respect for human rights, followed by their
omission during one hundred days of massmurder before the eyes of the world. It felt like there
was more to the story than ‘good intentions versus regrettable outcomes’.
Ever since, I have worried about the content and purpose of (Western
area. ‘The exhumations were a dreadful task’, the general said.
‘Nobody could enter the cave because the rotting bodies stank so
badly. One man who we lowered down on a rope fainted and we
had to pull him out again.’ 2 It seems that the soldiers were finally
equipped with gas masks.
During the Second World War, up to 45 million people lost their
lives.3 Almost a quarter of them were victims of targeted attacks
with the intent to kill and massmurders, rather than armed hostili
ties. While the death of the victims can be said to have been well
Germany, Poland and Korea) act as reminders that the Soviet
capital was the scene not only of massmurders, but also of mass
cremations, well before the ovens of the Nazi camps.
The vast majority of corpses from the gulags, however, remain
buried in the vicinity of the camps. And so, given that the camps
were for the most part situated in the vicinity of urban conglomer
ations, the map of the gulags precisely matches the map of the
population of the Soviet Union. Yet in spite of the proximity
between the Soviet population, the camps and their mass graves
Corpses and mass violence: an inventory of the unthinkable
Élisabeth Anstett and Jean-Marc Dreyfus
Genocide: MassMurder in
Historical Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003);
M. Shaw, War and Genocide: Organized Killing in Modern Society
(Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003); M. Levene, Genocide in the Age of the
Nation State (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005).
B. Schmidt & I. Schröder, Anthropology of Violence and Conflict
(London: Routledge, 2001); A. L. Hinton & K. L. O’Neill, Genocide:
Truth, Memory and Representation (Durham: Duke University Press,
A. Corbin, J.-J. Courtine & G. Vigarello, Histoire du corps (3 vols)
(Paris: Le Seuil, 2005, 2005
the dismemberment of their bodies (chapter 9).
It is already possible to suggest that some research hypotheses
have been confirmed. This is true of the link between the ideology
that led to the massmurder and the modality of the treatment of
corpses, which can be seen perfectly clearly in the cases of Rwanda,
Argentina, South Africa, Iran, and Armenia, as well as in that
of the Holocaust. Certainly, looking at the case studies in this
volume, we can say that human ingenuity has no limits when it
comes to defiling, dismembering, concealing, or destroying a body,
Towards atypology of the treatment of corpses of ‘disappeared detainees’ in Argentinafrom 1975 to 1983
in Argentina. This heterogeneous set of
actors and political practices was, for the perpetrators and their
civilian allies, a negative otherness5 that was labelled ‘subversion’,
whose aim was to change the ‘Western and Christian’ lifestyle and
essence of Argentina.
Given what happened in Argentina, it is valid to ask how a
professional of war (a soldier) or a security professional (a police
officer or gendarme) becomes a perpetrator of massmurder and
can exercise extreme violence against a largely civilian population
that is unarmed and unable to resist or defend
The daily work of Erich Muhsfeldt, chief of the crematorium at Majdanek concentration and extermination camp, 1942–44
‘destruction’.5 Destruction is a
broader and less normative concept than the judicial concepts of
‘murder’ and ‘genocide’, and it may be the result of any method
of killing, whether it involves fire, water, gas, hunger, or cold, or
whether direct and fast or stealthy and slow.6 This concept is
useful in examining the massmurder that took place at Majdanek
concentration and extermination camp since it can be used to
analyse the systematic murder of European Jews as well as the mass
extermination of prisoners of different nationalities. This makes it
possible to see how
progress has always been
distant and difficult and faith in progress has not become any easier. Signs of
barbarism were acutely visible in the 1990s in the massmurder of Muslims in
Bosnia and Kosovo and the simultaneous genocide in Rwanda, and more indirectly
indicated by the silence, if not effective collusion, with which these
catastrophes were largely met in the ‘international community’. In
addition, the scepticism with which many leftist groups and
repression. These supranational repressive mechanisms, which
included a range of criminal activities that reached across the entire
Southern Cone, would become known as Operation Condor.
Massmurder’s pressing problem: the fate of
Over the course of the period of political repression and dictatorship, the treatment of victims’ bodies followed different procedures.
It must firstly be said that many of the disappeared political detainees were subject to harsh and systematic torture following their
arrival in clandestine prisons. Systematic torture had begun some