The Things that Affectively Live On
The Afterlives of Objects Stolen from Mass Graves
Keywords:grave-robbery, Nazi extermination camps, ‘Aktion Reinhardt’, mass graves, material afterlives, Bełżec
The problem of grave-robbery at the sites of the former Nazi extermination camps in occupied Poland has received increasing academic interest recently. Rediscovered in historical research and brought to public attention by the publication of Jan Tomasz Gross’s and Irena Grudzińska-Gross’s Golden Harvest (2012), this practice, undertaken by local villagers searching for gold and other valuables allegedly hidden among and in the human remains of the camps’ victims, has since been engulfed in controversy around its meaning and social causes. At the same time, the objects stolen from the mass graves at the sites of the extermination camps have begun to resurface – sometimes they are even brought back to the sites from which they were taken. Focussing specifically on the ‘Aktion Reinhardt’ extermination camp at Bełżec, this paper traces the material afterlives of the stolen objects and the transformations of the affective, political and symbolic economies structuring their handling. Providing an interpretative gaze on the circumstances of their theft, their integration into the daily lives of the inhabitants of Bełżec, and finally their return, this paper brings to the fore the affective afterlives of those objects, and investigates their potential to challenge the cultural economies of science surrounding practices of grave-robbery at the sites of the former Nazi camps in post-war Poland.
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