State secrets and concealed bodies
Exhumations of Soviet-era victims in contemporary Russia
in Human remains and identification

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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Human remains and identification

Mass violence, genocide, and the ‘forensic turn’

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