In 1985, a grave in a small-town cemetery in Brazil was reported to be that of Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi physician who had managed to evade capture all his life. This short documentary collects archive footage of the high-profile forensic investigation to identify the body, from the exhumation of the remains to the assembly of the international team of experts.
The skull, eventually confirmed to be Mengele’s, became the key object of analysis. This constituted the birth of a forensic approach to war crimes and crimes against humanity, and set the standards for the technical and legal procedures that have since been used to identify the missing and murdered worldwide. But it also marked a transition in which human testimony and trauma were replaced by objects and bodily remains to act as witnesses to past events.
A project of Forensic Architecture, an international research team dedicated to using the techniques of architecture to address human rights abuses, Mengele’s Skull marks the moment when objects began to tell their own stories. It asks to us to consider this shift and its broader political implications.