Josef Mengele’s Skull
In 1985, the body of Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele, who had drowned in Brazil in 1979, was exhumed in a suburb of São Paulo. The ensuing process of identification became a legal and technological turning point.
Whereas the Jerusalem trial of Eichmann introduced the victims as legal and historical agents and gave birth to what has been called the “era of the witness,” the process by which Mengele’s remains were identified inaugurated a new forensic sensibility in which it was not the human subject, but rather objects in other words, bodily remains that took center stage.
Ironically, it was the Mengele investigation that helped consolidate the process for the identification of missing people, a set of techniques and operations that has since identified thousands of bodies in South America and beyond.