Portraying the exhumation and reburial of Polish Jewish Holocaust victims in the pages of yizkor books
Gabriel N. Finder
In the immediate aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, Poland was quite literally a vast Jewish cemetery. In fields, forests, by the side of roads, and in Jewish cemeteries throughout the country, the corpses of dead Jews were buried helter-skelter in mass graves, partially buried in an apparent rush, or even left unburied. Even Jews who had no intentions of remaining in postwar Poland returned to their home towns resolved to fulfill a solemn duty to give the dead a proper burial, if possible in a Jewish cemetery. Using several yizkor books, this chapter will examine the efforts of Polish Jewish survivors to exhume the corpses of their dead and then rebury them with dignity in accordance with Jewish ritual and the role of memory in depiction of this act.
The status of bodies in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide
Anne Yvonne Guillou
This chapter considers the corpses of mass violence in Cambodia. Cambodia's soil is made from the bodies of its children who have died throughout its history. Human remains have been variously defined and treated as corpses, dead people, ghosts, ancestors, bones-as-evidence and bones-as-memorials. There are similarities, at a village level, between the natural abodes of the land's tutelary spirits, such as groves, certain trees, termite hills or other mounds, and certain mass graves. The chapter explores how the question of observation schedules and temporality seems to be fundamental to our understanding of post-genocide Cambodian society, and in rural Khmer society. Following the 1991 peace accords, which were signed by all parties, including the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, and the placing of Cambodia under United Nations supervision, any reference to the genocide was not allowed in official documents.
This chapter demonstrates that the destruction of the human body is the proof of the perpetration of mass violence. The human body and the fate inflicted on it are absent from the definition of the crime of persecution, which directly concerns the treatment of the body before death, the victimized individual being expelled from both the social and the living spheres. The definition of a crime against humanity protects 'any civilian population', while that of genocide refers to the victim 'group'. The contemporary definition of crimes against humanity, as enshrined in the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court mentions neither human dignity nor the human body as such. If 'physical integrity' and 'body' reflect the reality, the legal norm does not go much further in the perception of the human body, thus neglecting both the significance of the body in the criminal modus operandi and its evidentiary value.
Human remains and identification presents a pioneering investigation into the practices and methodologies used in the search for and exhumation of dead bodies resulting from mass violence. Previously absent from forensic debate, social scientists and historians here confront historical and contemporary exhumations with the application of social context to create an innovative and interdisciplinary dialogue, enlightening the political, social and legal aspects of mass crime and its aftermaths. Through a ground-breaking selection of international case studies, Human remains and identification argues that the emergence of new technologies to facilitate the identification of dead bodies has led to a “forensic turn”, normalising exhumations as a method of dealing with human remains en masse. However, are these exhumations always made for legitimate reasons? Multidisciplinary in scope, the book will appeal to readers interested in understanding this crucial phase of mass violence’s aftermath, including researchers in history, anthropology, sociology, forensic science, law, politics and modern warfare.
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.
Missing persons and colonial skeletons in South Africa
The location, exhumation and identification of human remains associated with mass violence and genocide has come to occupy an important place in the panoply of transitional justice measures over the past two decades. Yet the issues that accompany this work - and that cut across the ‘politics of dead bodies’ as well as the politics of knowledge and the ‘disciplines of the dead’ - may well exceed the bounds of transitional justice. These issues are explored here via the work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The article also looks at the practice of reburial, with a specific interest in how it came to be figured, and how it featured in debates on the colonial dead as well as in subsequent work of the Missing Persons Task Team (MPTT), a unit established in the TRC’s wake. The focus on practice seeks to bring to view, not only the body of exhumation, but a range of other agencies or ‘mediating interpretants’ who do, interpret and study the work of exhumation – exhumation teams, families, the media, scholars - and to think these together.
Corpses and mass violence: an inventory of the unthinkable
Élisabeth Anstett and Jean-Marc Dreyfus
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book shows the undeniable contribution and the limits of the biopower theory in the understanding of dead bodies en masse. It talks about the fact that criminology has for so long ignored mass crime, even though the link between the corpse and the criminal is one of the fundamentals of the discipline. The book addresses the issue of the practical and symbolic treatment of corpses by societies affected by mass violence. It shows how working ideologies along with historical legacy and geographical landscapes determined the disposal of the bodies. The book examines the simultaneously diplomatic and medicolegal nature of the activities of the French Search Commission for Corpses of Deportees in Germany. It also draws on German archives to describe the various modalities of treatment of corpses in Croatia.
Madeleine Hurd, Hastings Donnan and Carolin Leutloff-Grandits
This chapter introduces the relationship between borders and time, exploring this relationship through three interrelated themes: the time-spaces generated by polity borders, which construct notions of ‘us’ and ‘them’; the ways in which time features in the cross-border networks of migrants; and time in relation to the body itself as borders are shaped, felt, experienced and embodied. Outlining the arguments of the contributors, the chapter highlights how the spatial-temporal representations of borders generate hierarchies between ‘East’ and ‘West’, which change with time as borders are redrawn. Border crossing may lead to a temporal synchrony and disjuncture both within and beyond the borders, which shape the practical as well as the moral and emotional contexts in which cross-border migrants live their daily lives. The affective networks which migrants build up across borders may link, fragment or rupture ties between spouses, neighbours, friends and families. The chapter also shows how border crossing is a very bodily experience, as borders slow, impede or advance the traffic of bodies according to prevailing constellations of power and opportunities for individual agency.
The introduction outlines the book’s interrogation of the treatment of corpses and human remains following mass violence and genocide, focusing specifically on their possible discovery and identification. The study of these two separate enterprises – the search for bodies and their identification – has traditionally remained in the hands of forensic science and has so far only marginally attracted the interest of history, social anthropology or law despite the magnitude of their respective fields of application. In this context, one of the primary contributions of this book is to connect the social and forensic sciences, for the first time, in a joint and comparative analysis of how societies engage in the process of searching for and identifying the corpses produced by mass violence, and thereby to initiate a truly interdisciplinary dialogue.
The introduction will detail how the different disciplines (history - anthropology - sociology - law) approach the question of dead bodies during the killing processes. Corpses can be systematically desecrated, hidden, dismantled, reused, and exchanged. Ultimately, by examining the contexts within which these atrocities have taken place, the detailed case studies described show how the very methods of cadavers' destruction and manipulation reflect and inform the ideology of the perpetrators themselves. It will describe how the book will be split into three sections; 1) Who were the perpetrators and why were they chosen? It will be explored whether a division of labour created social hierarchies or criminal careers, or whether in some cases this division existed at all. 2) How did the perpetrators kill and dispose of the bodies? What techniques and technologies were employed, and how does this differ between contrasting and evolving circumstances? 3) Why did the perpetrators implement such methods and what does this say about their motivations and ideologies?