Pictures don’t lie? Dead bodies and the politics of Holocaust representation

Activity: Lecture / PresentationAcademic


(Opening lecture and discussion by Rob van der Laarse, Sunday afternoon)

Entering the territories of the Third Reich, the Allied armies were facing incredible deathscapes along the routes of the death marches from the Nazi concentration camps in Poland to German camps like Bergen-Belsen and Dachau. Photography and film convinced the outside world of Germany’s collective guilt of war crimes, much like the Nazi’s themselves had used photography to convince the world of Soviet war crimes in NKVD massacre sites. Thus visual and archaeological evidence played a pivotal role in Nazi propaganda as well as in truth finding for war crime committees and trials. In addition many of these sites have recently become musealized as trauma site museums in which the same photos and findings are often used as sources for storytelling and visitor identification.
Transformed from traces of the Age of Terror into testimonies in our current Age of Memory, the confrontation with dead bodies and human remains has, however, become contested in trauma site museums. Outside such in situ contexts though, the same atrocities might be commodified as dark tourism experiences, or misused for identity politics fuel indifference or new hatred stirred by media and memory events.
This poses the question how big the impact of former war propaganda and the early visualisation of the camps by means of photography and investigations actually was, and how it shaped our image of the ‘death camps’. It may also ask for new rethinking’s of the ethics of representation in Holocaust crime scene investigations and museum exhibitions. Considering such conflicted heritagizations of violent pasts, we may thus discuss new transnational scenario’s for the politics of display.
Period29 Jul 2018
Event titleBergen-Belsen International Summer School 2018 "Perspectives on the Holocaust": Dealing with mass atrocities and their global relevance
Event typeConference
Conference number5
LocationHermannsburg, GermanyShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational