If the Dead Could Return: The Politics of World War II Era Human Remains in Eastern Europe

Author(s): Katharine Kolpan

Year: 2017


Although World War II (WWII) hostilities ended in 1945, still today the graves and remains of both combatants and civilians continue to be unearthed, especially in Eastern Europe. These discoveries of graves become entwined with the dynamic physical and geopolitical landscapes, whereby the post-human remains take on new, contested identities. Their unique identifications to name or nationality are sublimated, as their collective national or ethnic identities become prioritized. Combatants tentatively identified as German are typically interred near where they fell, in foreign lands, as a gesture of reconciliation. However, the Second World War exacerbated ethnic hostilities in the former Yugoslavia. There the uncertain identification of WWII combatants allows bioarchaeological materials to take on new meaning as they become representations of continuing feelings of loss and animosity that have been manipulated for contemporary ideological purposes. The indexicality of these enduring remains keeps the memories of the war salient in current political agendas, such that the past is not really past.

Cite this Record

If the Dead Could Return: The Politics of World War II Era Human Remains in Eastern Europe. Katharine Kolpan. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430588)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 16450