Susan Pollock and Reinhard Bernbeck (Freie Universität Berlin)

Materiality of Modernity: An Archaeology of World War II Forced Labor Camps in Berlin

What insights do material remains – and thereby archaeology – offer about contexts of forced labor in the 20th century? We explore this question through archaeological work we conducted at the former Tempelhof Airfield in Berlin, where from 2012-2014 we excavated portions of forced labor camps erected during the Nazi period. As in any archaeology of modernity, we were confronted with an amount and diversity of material remains that far exceed anything we were trained as archaeologists to deal with. We focus in particular on the variable contributions of the personalized and unique objects as opposed to the mass, industrially produced and unspectacular finds that can nonetheless offer important insights into the conditions of forced labor. We frame these discussions in terms of how this thingly world helps – or hinders – us to understand the extreme suffering experienced by victims of the Nazis.