The introduction to this collection sets out the key debates to which the chapters speak. It situates both digital data analysis and ethnography as methods which have their own ‘social lives’ and uses this approach to explore the work that methods do within particular projects of description and transformation.
The chapter will show how both the Soviet authorities and the leaders of independent Ukraine attempted to block real investigation and commemoration at the hamlet of Bykivnia, where the NKVD buried murdered bodies from 1939-1941. The chapter will look into how their attempts failed due to pressure from within—grave robbers and activists—and, especially, without—Germany and Poland. Following this account, details about the little-known Nazi and Soviet exhumations at the site will be examined.
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 chapter will examine how forensic scientists, including anthropologists, have been exploring the potential of new methods and processes in the resolution of mass grave contexts. The introduction of DNA to contexts where these challenges exist has had some success in the Balkans and in Guatemala, two areas that have experienced brutal civil wars for a number of years. More recently, the analysis of elemental and osteometric measures on the body have demonstrated potential in attempts to re-associate remains. Ultimately however, technological developments complement extensive ante-mortem investigation and the two cannot be utilised independently if the required end result is to successfully identify victims.