Dead bodies, evidence and the death march from Buchenwald to Dachau, April–May 1945
Christopher E. Mauriello
This article utilises the theoretical perspectives of the forensic turn to further expand our historical understandings and interpretations of the events of the Holocaust. More specifically, it applies a theory of the materialities of dead bodies to historically reconstruct and reinterpret the death march from Buchenwald to Dachau from 7 to 28 April 1945. It focuses on dead bodies as ‘evidence’, but explores how the evidential meanings of corpses along the death-march route evolved and changed during the march itself and in the aftermath of discovery by approaching American military forces. While drawing on theories of the evidential use of dead bodies, it remains firmly grounded in empirical historical research based on archival sources. The archives at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp contain eyewitness accounts and post-war trial testimony that enable a deeply contextualised ‘microhistory’ of the geography, movements, perpetrators, victims and events along this specific death march in April and May 1945. This ‘thick description’ provides the necessary context for a theoretical reading of the changing evidential meanings of dead bodies as the death march wove its way from Buchenwald to Dachau and the war and the Holocaust drew to an end.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Cairo collages, the large-scale political, economic, and social changes in
Egypt brought on by the 2011 revolution are set against the declining fortunes
of a single apartment building in a specific Cairo neighbourhood. The violence
in Tahrir Square and Mohamed Mahmud Street; the post-January euphoric moment;
the increasing militarisation of urban life; the flourishing of dystopian novels
set in Cairo; the neo-liberal imaginaries of Dubai and Singapore as global
models; gentrification and evictions in poor neighbourhoods; the forthcoming new
administrative capital for Egypt – all are narrated in parallel to the ‘little’
story of the adventures and misfortunes of everyday interactions in a
middle-class building in the neighbourhood of Doqi.
Contested narratives of the independence struggle in postconfl ict Timor-Leste
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.
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.
Pollution, contamination and the neglected dead in post-war Saigon
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.