Pictures don't Lie? Dead Bodies and the Politics of Holocaust Representation

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Entering the territories of the Third Reich, the Allied 'liberators' were facing incredible deathscapes along the routes of the death marches from the Nazi concentration campsin Poland to German camps like Bergen-Belsen or 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 Katyń and other NKVD massacre sites. This may seem self-evident, as archaeologists are digging for truth and traces, but archaeology has never been an innocent discipline. Stones and bones played a pivotal role in Nazi propaganda as well as in truth finding and presenting evidence for war crime committees. In addition many of these sites have recently become musealized as trauma site museums in which photos and findings are used for visitor
Interestingly, photography, archaeology and forensics play a prominent role in this dynamic of memory. 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 interpretations of the ethics of representation in Holocaust crime scene investigations and museum exhibitions.
Thus transformed from evidence into the material testimonies of the Age of Terror in our current Age of Memory, the confrontation with dead bodies and human remains might have become tabooed in museum contexts, while dark tourism exploits the same atrocities as commodified experiences which as signs of trauma might easily fuel new hatred stirred by media and memory events. This conflicted heritaging of violent pasts asks for a transnational rethinking of Holocaust archaeologies and the politics of display.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2017
EventEuropean Association of Archaeologists: Annual Meeting 2017 Maastricht - Maastricht, Netherlands
Duration: 30 Aug 20172 Sept 2017


ConferenceEuropean Association of Archaeologists
Abbreviated titleEAA 2017


  • Terrorscapes
  • Holocaust
  • Campscapes
  • Bergen-Belsen
  • Heritage of War and Conflict


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