From 1945 until around 1960, ceremonies of a new kind took place throughout Europe to
commemorate the Holocaust and the deportation of Jews; ashes would be taken from the site
of a concentration camp, an extermination camp, or the site of a massacre and sent back to
the deportees country of origin (or to Israel). In these countries, commemorative
ceremonies were then organised and these ashes (sometimes containing other human remains)
placed within a memorial or reburied in a cemetery. These transfers of ashes have,
however, received little attention from historical researchers. This article sets out to
describe a certain number of them, all differing considerably from one another, before
drawing up a typology of this phenomenon and attempting its analysis. It investigates the
symbolic function of ashes in the aftermath of the Second World War and argues that these
transfers – as well as having a mimetic relationship to transfers of relics – were also
instruments of political legitimisation.
The French search mission for the corpses of deportees in Germany, 1946–58
This chapter illustrates the possibilities for the development of a history of social and political practices related to corpses en masse. It discusses the work of the French search mission in Germany, a body that was active from 1946 to 1958 and that was under the charge of the Ministry of War Veterans, Deportees and War Victims. Towards the end of 1947, the civil servants working for the search mission in Germany lost their military status. To illustrate the potential of research into the role of the body in and after situations of mass violence and genocide, the chapter addresses two specific aspects. First, the diplomatic dimension of the negotiations that led to the French search mission being given authorization to work on German soil. Second, the use of physical anthropology and forensics in identifying the bodies of French deportees buried in individual and mass graves.
This book addresses the practices, treatment and commemoration of victims’ remains in post- genocide and mass violence contexts. Whether reburied, concealed, stored, abandoned or publically displayed, human remains raise a vast number of questions regarding their legal, ethical and social uses. Human Remains in Society will raise these issues by examining when, how and why bodies are hidden or exhibited. Using case studies from multiple continents, each chapter will interrogate their effect on human remains, either desired or unintended, on various political, cultural or religious practices. How, for instance, do issues of confiscation, concealment or the destruction of bodies and body parts in mass crime impact on transitional processes, commemoration or judicial procedures?