From legal procedures to collective forgetting
Johanna Lehr

This article seeks to show that the bodies of Jewish people who died in the Drancy internment camp between 1941 and 1944 were handled on French soil in a doubly normalised manner: first by the police and judicial system, and then in relation to funeral arrangements. My findings thus contradict two preconceived ideas that have become firmly established in collective memory: first, the belief that the number who died in the Drancy camp is difficult to establish; and second, the belief that the remains of internees who died in the camp were subjected to rapid and anonymous burial in a large mass grave in Drancy municipal cemetery.

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
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
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
John Borneman

Katherine Verdery, an American anthropologist, was the first to make some systematic observations about the accelerated movement of dead bodies in East-Central Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Empire. She noted that, in this period of political transformation, the corpses of political leaders and cultural heroes accrued certain powers leading to a struggle over appropriating those powers, and to the exhumation and displacement of their bodies. This chapter considers the modes of appropriation of the power of corpses and offers an explanation for their widespread movement in post-socialist states. This movement is a manic reaction to the death of political regimes and to the sense of abandonment that accompanies this end. Although people may understand this reaction as asserting sovereignty over the dead, it in fact demonstrates the inverse: that the dead govern the living.

in Governing the dead
Contested narratives of the independence struggle in postconfl ict Timor-Leste
Henri Myrttinen

Timor-Leste's struggle for independence cost the lives of more than 108,000 people, the majority of them unarmed civilians. The supposedly unifying narrative of the nation struggling as one for independence, of which the claim of the nation over the remains of the dead heroes is one manifestation, is however not uncontested. This chapter focuses on three aspects of the socially, culturally and politically complex debate. Following a brief historical outline, it looks at the role of the dead in narratives of the state, the role of narratives of continued struggle and competing efforts of state and non-state actors to collect the remains of the fallen and demand recognition. The end of the struggle and the 'realness' of independence is questioned not only through the dead, however, but also through the state's politics of recognition.

in Governing the dead
Regnar Kristensen

This chapter argues that the brutal treatment of corpses transgresses the spheres of national security politics and the simple spread of terror. Corpses are instead seen as a social force that enchants politics and socialises religion. The chapter focuses on the possible social and cosmological complications of the violations of Arturo Beltrán Leyva's corpse in the Mexican drug war. It suggests that, as a result of Beltrán Leyva's violent death, his corpse is likely to be suspected in Mexico's violent underground economy of confining a restless terrorising force capable of attacking people. Two days after Beltrán Leyva's funeral, the marine who had been shot during the campaign was buried in the presence of both family and military personnel in his home state of Tabasco. The chapter concludes that a violent death in popular Catholicism may prevent the soul from leaving the dead body for purgatory.

in Governing the dead
Open Access (free)
Pollution, contamination and the neglected dead in post-war Saigon
Christophe Robert

Pollution in the dead zone seeps in and becomes unbearably real and anxiety producing when its source is identified as 'death itself '. Georges Bataille reflected on the fear of violation and contamination resulting from encounters with corpses and humans' efforts to institute rituals to domesticate the pollution from encounters with dead bodies. The city government wants to remove graves and raze the cemeteries because they are a chaotic mess, symbols of disorder, pollution and contamination. The municipal government of Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City has tried without much conviction or success to close down the textile and plastics factories that dump waste directly into the marshes around Binh Hung Hoa cemeteries. The government has also tried to regulate illegal dumping of trash and close down illegal garbage dumps that sprouted in the marshes.

in Governing the dead
Open Access (free)
Theoretical approaches
Finn Stepputat

This chapter sets out the theoretical terrain that the authors of the volume navigate in their analyses, a terrain where dead bodies and sovereign practice intersect. It looks at four different approaches, including psychoanalysis ('fear of death'), critical theory ('between bio- and necropolitics'), the anthropology of rituals ('sacralisation of authority') and lastly more ideas of materiality and alterity ('dead agency'). Given the theoretical links between sovereignty and dead bodies, it would be no surprise if shifts in the ways authorities claim to govern dead bodies coincides with shifts in the ways in which sovereignty is claimed. The chapter looks at ways in which anthropologists and others have interpreted the ritualisation of death as linked to power and sovereignty. The power of death is associated with classical accounts of sovereignty. Dead bodies have an important role to play in the enchantment of politics and the sacralisation of authority.

in Governing the dead
Open Access (free)
Sovereignty and the politics of dead bodies
Editor: Finn Stepputat

This book looks at sovereignty as a particular form of power and politics. It shows that the fate of bodies in the transition from life to death can provide a key to understanding fundamental ways in which sovereignty is claimed and performed. The contributions analyse (post-)conflict as well as non-conflict contexts, which too often are studied in isolation from one another. Focusing on contemporary issues rather than the equally important historical dimensions, they all grapple with the questions of who governs the dead bodies, how, why and with what effects. The book analyses how dead bodies are placed and dealt with in spaces between competing, overlapping and nested sovereign orders, under normal as well as exceptional conditions. It looks at contributions that draw on psychoanalysis, critical theory, the structuralist-functionalist anthropology of burial rituals and recent ideas of agency and materiality. The book first explains the efforts of states to contain and separate out dead bodies in particular sites. It explores the ways in which such efforts of containment are negotiated and contested in struggles between different entities that claim the dead bodies. The book then shows how entities that claim sovereignty produce effects of sovereignty by challenging and transgressing the laws regarding the legitimate use of violence and how dead bodies should be treated with dignity.