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- Author: Zuzanna Dziuban x
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This chapter will focus on three extermination camps – Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka – to understand the cultural and social importance of burial for the processes of mourning performed in post-catastrophic contexts. Often referred to as the most deadly and, at the same time, most forgotten camps, these sites in many respects differ from the other National Socialist camps erected in Nazi-occupied Poland due to their ceasing to operate and being dismantled as early as autumn 1943. They thus left a relatively small number of camp survivors and the absence of any material traces, as well as a lack of press coverage at the time of liberation.
The chapter will analyse the transformation of former camp sites into landscapes of memory and focus on the ethical and political motivations for and implications of the archaeological research and its role for reshaping the commemorative activities at the camp locations. It will be argued that the new commemorative idioms developed at and for the sites of former extermination camps not only reflect important changes in the approach to the Holocaust in post-1989 Poland, but can also be interpreted in terms of ‘commemorative reburial’: a politically and ethically charged effort aimed at performing the ‘buriability’ of the victims of the camps.
This article focuses on ongoing contestations around burned human remains originating from the Holocaust, their changing meanings and dynamics, and their presence/absence in Holocaust-related debates, museums and memorial sites. It argues that ashes challenge but also expand the notion of what constitutes human remains, rendering them irreducible to merely bones and fleshed bodies, and proposes that incinerated remains need to be seen not as a ‘second rate’ corporeality of the dead but as a different one, equally important to engage with – analytically, ethically and politically. Challenging the perception of ashes as unable to carry traces of the personhood of the of the dead, and as not capable of yielding evidence, I posit that, regardless of their fragile corporality, incinerated human remains should be considered abjectual and evidential, as testifying to the violence from which they originated and to which they were subjected. Moreover, in this article I consider incinerated human remains through the prism of the notion of vulnerability, meant to convey their susceptibility to violence – violence through misuse, destruction, objectification, instrumentalisation and/or museum display. I argue that the consequences of the constantly negotiated status of ashes as a ‘second rate’ corporeality of human remains include their very presence in museum exhibitions – where they, as human remains, do not necessarily belong.