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When death is not the end

Towards atypology of the treatment of corpses of ‘disappeared detainees’ in Argentinafrom 1975 to 1983

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Mario Ranalletti

This chapter links the moral training received by soldiers and security forces in Argentina to the treatment applied to the bodies and corpses of prisoners during clandestine state terrorism (1976-1983). Between 1955 and 1976, future perpetrators of mass crimes were indoctrinated on the necessity and feasibility of applying extreme violence against a section of the Argentine population, which became responsible for the exacerbation of political violence. This indoctrination built an imaginary destruction, in which the slaughter was first performed specifically imagined before. From oral sources, judicial and journalistic, this work establishes a preliminary typology that accounts for the main methodologies used by the groups responsible for clandestine repression of different social actors (armed or unarmed) to destroy and / or hide their bodies.

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The Tutsi body in the 1994 genocide

Ideology, physical destruction, and memory

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Rémi Korman

From 1994 onwards, bodies have been at the centre of the politics of memory surrounding the genocide of the Tutsi. As well as constituting evidence in forensic investigations, bodies are on display in the memorials to the genocide. This exhibiting of bodies aims principally to remind visitors of the historical facts of the genocide: the sites of the massacres and the methods used during them. The research carried out by Rwandan institutions with a view to memorialising the genocide is uniformly insistent on the "practices of cruelty" employed during it. Inventories of weapons used during the massacres are accompanied by descriptions of different methods of killing. These methods are also represented in many memorials. This paper will examine how these constructed ideologies of the twentieth century affected the treatment of Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide and the alarming consequences this created for the destruction of dehumanised bodies.

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Travelling genealogies

Tracing relatedness and diversity in the Albanian–Montenegrin borderland

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Jelena Tošić

The chapter shows how the ‘moving’ post-socialist border between Albania and Montenegro inspired new ways of narrating families’ border-crossing past. This border, sealed for fifty years, was suddenly penetrable. Today, goods and people can travel across; families can be reunited. Energy has been invested in rediscovering and acknowledging old family ties. The chapter describes how locals are busy mapping – often, ex post facto – elaborate family genealogies, extending far into the past, in which forefathers who migrated across borders are enthusiastically included. This re-working of ancestral memory creates a (new) multi-layered past which, in turn, facilitates concrete future strategies. The kinship ties thus discovered (or invented) are invested with affect; any kin is welcome. This provides an excellent tool in the maintenance and extension of cross-border contact and patronage networks, an essential step towards future welfare. Recovered pasts through elaborated genealogies of border-crossing kin challenge and subvert polity borders and ethnic, national and religious divides.

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Chowra Makaremi

In post-revolutionary Iran, the most important factor in the construction of the state apparatus has been a war waged against twin enemies: the war of "sacred defence" against Iraq (1980-1988), and the elimination of political opponents through a post-revolutionary penal system encompassing prisons, revolutionary courts and Islamic militias. In the context of this repression, based on judicial, para-judicial and extra-judicial structures, several massacres of prisoners have been carried out since 1981, along with routine executions, disappearances and murders. The mass execution of several thousand prisoners in 1988 marked its apogee. The precise number of prisoners executed in the 1980s, and in 1988 in particular, remains unknown to this day, although the testimony of families and survivors, tend towards a figure of several tens of thousands. This article will draw on oral and written testimony, along with digital archive sources to examine how confiscating the bodies of victims of massacres, denying them a proper burial, and forbidding relatives from mourning, all fit into what one could term a "politics of death" covering the range of practices through which the manipulation of the dead has come to constitute a means of social control in post-revolutionary Iran.

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State secrets and concealed bodies

Exhumations of Soviet-era victims in contemporary Russia

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Viacheslav Bitiutckii

This paper discusses the search for, exhumation and identification of the remains of victims of mass political repression during the Stalinist Great Terror (1937-1938) in the USSR, concentrating on those who were subjected to the severest form of repression, that is, those who were shot following sentencing during judicial or extrajudicial processes.

Even if historians now agree on the number of victims of Stalin's Great Terror (1937-1938) during which nearly 800,000 people were executed by gunshot, we still know little about the ultimate course these victims took as the full trial procedures, executions and burials were marked with the seal of state secrets.

By restoring the history of exhumations undertaken from 1989 - quite exceptionally for Russia - in the Voronezh region 500 kilometres south of Moscow, and in focussing more specifically on the discovery of a site where 62 graves were discovered containing the remains of 2,889 individuals, this text lifts the veil on the Soviet logistics of the production of mass death. It sheds light on the human and material resources mobilized by the NKVD for these executions and illegal burials, utilising the repetitive tasks of dozens of individuals.

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A specialist

The daily work of Erich Muhsfeldt, chief of the crematorium at Majdanek concentration and extermination camp, 1942–44

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Elissa Mailänder

Any study of the routine activities of the SS in an extermination camp must consist above all of an analysis of the whole process of day-to-day extermination and its implementation by human beings. This article deals with the example of Majdanek, a combined concentration and extermination camp situated in the General Government area of Nazi-occupied south-east Poland. In studying the work of SS personnel at Majdanek, this paper seeks to develop our understanding of how destruction constituted the underlying principle of day-to-day work in the camp, and how, in material terms, this work achieved this destruction a process that was highly professionalised, involved a large number of different actors, and was divided into a series of discrete tasks.

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Sinnreich erdacht

Machines of mass incineration in fact, fiction, and forensics

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Robert Jan van Pelt

In 1942 engineers of the German crematory oven builder Topf and Sons in Erfurt developed a design for an oven that could incinerate up to 7,000 corpses per day with a minimal use of fuel. This design was based on their experiences in Auschwitz. Was the design viable, and who would have been the likely customer? This chapter investigates the motivations behind such an architectural project and the intentions of the Nazis towards the bodies of those they sought to eradicate. It will explore the technologies used and sought, as well as the difficulties created by attempting to commit atrocities on such a large scale.

Open Access (free)

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Nataša Gregorič Bon

Chapter seven examines the material exchanges between migrant Greek women in Albania and their husbands back in Greece, focusing on the recalibration of everyday and long-term temporalities between the two settings. Wives remit money, food, furniture and other goods, which gives a concrete dimension to the couple’s relationship, dynamically materialising a migrant wife’s presence at home despite her physical absence. It also affects temporality. First, the rhythmic circulation of things sent and received complements electronic communication in creating a common, cross-border time-space between absent wives and at-home husbands. Second, the woman’s remittances are inalienable in the sense that they are simultaneously both investment and insurance. Managed by the husband, remittances underwrite house-building, which when completed provides tangible testimony both to his wife’s role as care-giver and to the couple’s anticipated future together. In both cases, however, the new, transnational time-space is shown to leave traditional female-male power relations intact. Seen in context of the migrant women’s life-cycle, the liminality of their sojourn abroad is underscored by their reincorporation into local patriarchal structures that, paradoxically, their remittances had helped to sustain.

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Seeking the dead among the living

Embodying the disappeared of the Argentinian dictatorship through law

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Sévane Garibian

The state policy of enforced disappearances in Argentina, planned and implemented during the military dictatorship of 1976-1983, still has a striking effect: in the absence of any corpses of the disappeared, the families seek the dead among the living. Their quest through the law embodies the victims who were 'disappeared' and thereby placed outside of the law. Argentina is an extraordinary laboratory in the domain of struggle against impunity and of 'restoration of the truth', and constitutes a useful paradigm in the context of reflection on the corpses of mass violence. At Argentina's initiative, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted on 20 April 2005 the first resolution on the right to the truth. The state duty is precisely expressed in the truth hearings and the procedures for mandatory recovery of the identity of stolen children.

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Renationalizing bodies?

The French search mission for the corpses of deportees in Germany, 1946–58

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Jean-Marc Dreyfus

This chapter illustrates the possibilities for the development of a history of social and political practices related to corpses en masse. It discusses the work of the French search mission in Germany, a body that was active from 1946 to 1958 and that was under the charge of the Ministry of War Veterans, Deportees and War Victims. Towards the end of 1947, the civil servants working for the search mission in Germany lost their military status. To illustrate the potential of research into the role of the body in and after situations of mass violence and genocide, the chapter addresses two specific aspects. First, the diplomatic dimension of the negotiations that led to the French search mission being given authorization to work on German soil. Second, the use of physical anthropology and forensics in identifying the bodies of French deportees buried in individual and mass graves.