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Forced Confrontation

During the final weeks of World War II, the American army discovered multiple atrocity sites and mass graves containing the dead bodies of Jews, slave laborers, POWs and other victims of Nazi genocide and mass murder. Instead of simply reburying these victims, American Military Government carried out a series of highly ritualized "forced confrontations" towards German civilians centered on the dead bodies themselves. The Americans forced nearby German townspeople to witness the atrocity site, disinter the bodies, place them in coffins, parade these bodies through the town and lay them to rest in town cemeteries. At the conclusion of the ceremony in the cemetery in the presence of dead bodies, the Americans accused the assembled German civilians and Germany as whole of collective guilt for the crimes of the Nazi regime. This landmark study places American forced confrontations into the emerging field of dead body politics or necropolitics. Drawing on the theoretical work of Katherine Verdery and others, the book argues that forced confrontation represented a politicization of dead bodies aimed at the ideological goals of accusing Germans and Germany of collective guilt for the war, Nazism and Nazi genocide. These were not top-down Allied policy decisions. Instead, they were initiated and carried out at the field command level and by ordinary U.S. field officers and soldiers appalled and angered by the level of violence and killing they discovered in small German towns in April and May 1945. This study of the experience of war and forced confrontations around dead bodies compels readers to rethink the nature of the American soldier fighting in Germany in 1945 and the evolution, practice and purpose of American political and ideological ideas of German collective guilt.
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: A Defeated Enemy Nation Chapter 2: Nazi Killing Fields in Germany Chapter 3: The 48-Hour Ultimatum Chapter 4: The Punishment of Neunburg vorm Wald Chapter 5: The Re-Education of Germans: Regional Forced Confrontation in May 1945 Chapter 6: Human Remains: The Enduring Politics of Dead Bodies in the Postwar Era

About the Author

Christopher E. Mauriello is professor of history and director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Salem State University.


In Forced Confrontation, Christopher E. Mauriello recounts the evolution of American soldiers' efforts to comprehend evidence of Nazi mass murder and to avenge the heinous crimes. His work contributes to debates about collective guilt, early US occupation policies, and the formation of collective memories of the Holocaust. Engagingly written, the book effectively combines US military and local German history to capture the chaos of interregnum Germany in April-May 1945. -- Margarete Feinstein, Loyola Marymount University In his rich, microhistorical study of the complex dynamics shaping encounters between the US military and the native German population in the last months of the Second World War, Christopher E. Mauriello takes the reader on a compelling tour through the Bavarian countryside, a 'zone of death' scattered with mass graves and provisionally buried corpses of the victims of Nazi death marches. By focusing on performative and deeply politically inflected spaces opened by forced exhumations and ritualized reburials, Mauriello dissects the political and affective logic behind blanket accusations of collective guilt, but also brings into the analysis actors far too often excluded from studies on the immediate responses to mass death and destruction arising from the war: dead bodies in their disturbing physical and sensuous presence and the ability to fashion relations among the living. -- Zuzanna Dziuban, University of Amsterdam

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