Corpses of the Holocaust

Tuesday, November 13, 2018 - 4:00pm
(Pacific Time)

Social Sciences Building (SOS) 250

United States

A public lecture by Jean-Marc Dreyfus (University of Manchester, United Kingdom)                                                            2018-2019 Center Research Fellow











The presence of corpses is often neglected in academic research on the Holocaust, which is more commonly concerned with the study of the structures of persecution, the responses of victims, and the politics of memory and trauma. Changing the angle of research towards the understudied question of dead bodies has proven fruitful and raises new questions, from the treatment of corpses during the massacres to the many efforts by survivors to recover them. For example, in Poland, survivors returning from the Soviet Union often opened the graves and transfered the corpses of their relatives to the local Jewish cemetery. In this lecture, Professor Jean-Marc Dreyfus (University of Manchester, UK) will present the first results of his research in the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive regarding the treatment of corpses in the Holocaust. 8,000 videos among the archive's 52,000 on the Holocaust mention one or several corpses. He will first develop the theoretical framework of his study, in which the recovery of corpses after mass violence is increasingly considered to be a seminal part in the transition towards an appeased, democratic society. Professor Dreyfus will then focus his presentation on the 222 VHA testimonies describing exhumations, both during the Holocaust and after 1945. The materiality of those exhumations but also the powerplay over those corpses and human remains will be considered. The religious dimension will be described, when the Jewish law (Halakha) proves very restrictive as far as exhumations are concerned.

Jean-Marc Dreyfus is a reader in Holocaust Studies at the University of Manchester and at Sciences-Po Paris and the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research's 2018-2019 Center Research Fellow. He is a specialist of the economic and diplomatic aspects of the Holocaust and post-war reparations. His research considers other genocides, Jewish history in Europe and post-mass violence exhumations of corpses. He also works on looted art in the Holocaust and the unfinished restitution process. His last book is, in collaboration with Alexandra Garbarini, an edition of Lucien Dreyfus’ Holocaust diary (Paris: Le Manuscrit, 2018), forthcoming in English in 2019. He is the author of six monographs, including L’impossible réparation. Déportés, biens spoliés, or nazi, comptes bloqués, criminels de guerre (The impossible réparation. Deportees, looted properties, Nazi gold, war criminals), Paris, Flammarion, January 2015. He has recently edited a special issue of the European Review of History, on “Traces, memory and the Holocaust in the writings of W.G. Sebald”. He is the co-organizer (with Elisabeth Anstett) of the ERC research program ‘Corpses of mass violence and genocide.’ 


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