Handling the Remains of Holocaust Victims
Researcher name:
Jean-Marc Dreyfus (Professor of History, University of Manchester, United Kingdom)
2018-2019 Center Research Fellow
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Professor Dreyfus was curious to explore what the testimonies housed in the Visual History Archive reveal about the treatment of human remains in genocide, with a particular emphasis on exhumations of corpses during and after the Holocaust. He was interested in how, by whom, and when the bodies were destroyed. During his four-month residency at the Center, he studied 63 testimonies in the archive that detail exhumations during and after the Holocaust, including 10 testimonies given by liberators who encountered corpses at the concentration camps they liberated.

Much scholarship about mass violence and genocide has focused on trauma and memory as being products of genocide. However, there is another direct product of genocide that has not received so much scholarly attention: the remains of those who were killed.

While Professor Dreyfus expected to find elaborate discussions about corpses in the testimonies, he encountered difficulty in locating such material. However, he was astounded to find (as part of the interviews) numerous photographs of post-World War II exhumations and reburials that he was not aware even existed. These photographs provided him with additional insights related to survivors organizing exhumations of their friends, the significance of religious rituals, and the transfer of bodies decades after their burial.

During his residency, Professor Dreyfus gave two public lectures about his research at universities in Southern California and the Bay Area, and he presented his research with testimonies at the Lessons and Legacies conference in St. Louis, Missouri.

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