East Central European Cemeteries

Ethnic, Linguistic, and Narrative Aspects of Sepulchral Culture and the Commemoration of the Dead in Borderlands

by Ferdinand Kühnel (Volume editor) Soňa Mikulová (Volume editor) Snežana Stanković (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection 154 Pages


This edited volume asks what earlier and contemporary cemeteries and memorials can tell us about manifestations of past times. How do they testify of contradictory dimensions of memorial behavior: from commemoration or celebration to forgetting? The chapters in this volume address the work of cultural remembrance connected mostly to various minority groups in East Central Europe while enquiring into tangible and intangible intertwining spheres―visible and hidden signs, traces and lifeworlds of memories, emotions, stories, and historical interpretations.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Editorial
  • The (Newly) Negotiated Remembrance of the Bleiburška Tragedija: Parallels and Discontinuities (Martina Mirković)
  • World War II Monuments and Graves in the Hlučín Region: Fallen Hlučín Soldiers as a Contested Realm of Memory in the Czech Culture of Remembrance (Anežka Brožová)
  • “Bien Mantaakn”: The Manifestation of Identity in Cemeteries in the Eastern Slovak Town of Medzev (Tereza Juhászová)
  • Narrating Boundaries: The Cartographical Approach to Upper Lusatian Cemeteries (Michał Piasek)
  • “A Threatened Majority”: From Unwanted to Welcome Members of the Community—The Danube Swabians in the Southeastern Banat, Serbia (Snežana Stanković)
  • About the Authors
  • Series Index

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Today more than ever, with the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, we may say that one dies alone and distant from the eyes of surrounding society. Moreover, the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine reminds us how cultures of commemoration and remembrance work. Although lived out differently, grief has befallen both countries, collectively and individually. Those who died in war— known and unknown—shape burial practices on battlefields. War-related deaths bring family members and various communities together. Thus, grief, memories, commemoration and remembrance work in manifold ways: privately, socially, politically and historically.

With this in mind, what can earlier, contemporary, and future cemeteries and memorials tell us in general? Their boundaries are mostly explicit, but there are cases where military dead are laid to rest amongst civilian graves. These delineations and nets refer to past events, while the inscribed names may divulge life circumstances: family relations, marital status, profession, waves of migration or (even) changing state structures. The cemetery lays open both strategies of social bordering and implicit mutual acceptance. But in a sense, it is a visible mark of a borderless world: Although the names of the deceased may refer to people with different cultural backgrounds, their memory can be kept alive within the same space and cherished by the same community. However, some persons and communities may be subjected to gradual self-evolving or forced oblivion, as was the case with some German minorities in post-war East Central Europe. Here, we encounter contradictory dimensions of memorial behavior: from commemoration or celebration to forgetting.

The material work of memory and honoring is an appropriate departure point to enquire into sepulchral culture—its forms, roles and changes over time. While some graves, memorials and whole cemeteries can become pilgrimage sites, conveying specific cultural or historical value, others simply reflect individual or communal lifeworlds.

The edited volume East Central European Cemeteries: Ethnic, Linguistic, and Narrative Aspects of Sepulchral Culture and the Commemoration of the Dead in Borderlands engages with various forms of cemetery landscapes. It originated from two CENTRAL-Kollegs projects based at the Humboldt University of Berlin in 2016 and 2017. Both Kollegs were organized by the editors who at that time were early career researchers based at three Central European universities: Ferdinand Kühnel, University of Vienna; Soňa Mikulová, Charles University ←7 | 8→(Prague); and Snežana Stanković, Humboldt University of Berlin. Although the scholars were from different disciplines—social sciences, history, literary studies and anthropology—they shared research interest in the two-fold function of cemeteries as artifacts and lieux de mémoire [realms of memory] within individual and social mourning, often embedded respectively in the collective national past and history.

Generous financial support from the Central European Network for Teaching and Research in Academic Liaison (CENTRAL) enabled us to develop a project in collaboration with our students. Our shared learning, based on field research and theoretical discussions, has evolved into this publication. We had the good fortune to enjoy the long-term supervision of Professor Christian Voß (Humboldt University of Berlin). Christian Voß and Stefan Karsch (International Department, Humboldt University of Berlin) facilitated financial support and publishing with the Peter Lang series Studies on Language and Culture in Central and Eastern Europe.

All individual projects focused on cemeteries, gravestones, and other artifacts featuring remembrance of the dead, on the one hand, and conveying the dynamics of borderland multi-ethnic and multilingual areas, on the other. Studying these manifestations of past times allowed us to deconstruct how narratives and specific cultures of remembrance connected to various minority groups evolve. In this vein, we may speak of private and public realms of memory that translocally synchronize different pasts.

Therefore, lieux de mémoire imply two main intertwining structures: the tangible, i. e., the materiality, and the intangible residing in the system of visible signs (semiotics) tied to hidden lifeworlds of memories, emotions, stories, and various interpretations of history. The book follows these entanglements in a way that each chapter attempts to reveal a particular layer within the various regional “palimpsests.” Each author adopted a unique methodological and conceptual language to convey their own approach.

The regions examined in this book are southern Carinthia in Austria, Croatia, Czech Silesia, Eastern Slovakia, Upper Lusatia in Germany, and Southeastern Banat in Serbia. All these areas share similar experiences: From the second half of the nineteenth century, particularly after both world wars, they were affected by various assimilation processes, homogenization, and mass violence that would erupt into deportation, expulsion, and murder. Twentieth-century East Central Europe bears dramatic scars of forced displacement and ethnic homogenization. Our reading and telling of the past based on East Central European cemetery, therefore, involved two aspects: On one level, it considers gravestone design and language, while, on the other, it studies past events, practices and collective awareness developed around the sites.

Martina Mirković (University of Vienna) deals with the so-called Bleiburška tragedija/Pliberška tragedija [Bleiburg tragedy] and seeks to find indications of ←8 | 9→historical revisionism which glorifies the fascist past in today’s Croatia by analyzing specific manifestations of the culture of remembrance since Yugoslavia’s disintegration. The chapter focuses on symbols and inscriptions of three plaques commemorating victims of the mass killings, installed at the cemetery in Unterloibach/Spodnje Libuče, the Loibacher Feld/Libuško polje in Austrian Carinthia, and the Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb. Furthermore, she analyzes the speeches the highest Croatian political and clerical representatives gave at the annually held commemoration in Austrian Carinthia and symbols that appeared at the event— used either by official representatives or the numerous visitors.

Anežka Brožová (Charles University) writes about World War II monuments and graves in the Hlučín Region (Hlučínsko/Hultschiner Ländchen) and their contested importance within the Czech culture of remembrance. World War II plays a significant role in the collective memory of inhabitants of the Hlučín Region who identify with former Prussian inhabitants. Due to different historical experiences, their interpretation departs from the dominant narrative constructed in the postwar period in communist Czechoslovakia and adopted by the successor state, the Czech Republic, as Hlučín soldiers, i. e., inhabitants of the Hlučín Region, fought in the German Wehrmacht and either survived or fell in the war. This chapter analyzes the alternative Hlučín narrative manifested on graves and monuments dedicated to the fallen World War II Hlučín soldiers.

Tereza Juhászová (Charles University) examines different manifestations of identity in cemeteries in the eastern Slovak town of Medzev, where until today, the German minority, so-called Mantaks, descendants of German immigrants from the thirteenth century, live and still use a specific German dialect (Mantakisch). Her contribution asks if and how the identity of the Germans/Mantaks in Medzev manifests via inscriptions on gravestones. She argues that categories based on language or nationality are not always relevant in a multilingual space and that gravestones represent only one level of the multilayered identities of the German minority members.

Michał Piasek (Humboldt University of Berlin) explores how shifting borders and religion in German Upper Lusatia are entangled with the current use of the Sorbian language on gravestones. Throughout history, the different areas of Upper Lusatia have undergone specific historical and religious changes, which the chapter aims to make visible through a cartographic approach combined with the phantom borders theory. The author has designed a map as a narrative tool that helps read how different states, their language policies and extensive coal mining impacted the use of Sorbian in the explored areas over time. This approach enables the author to track down continually evolving phantom borders.

Snežana Stanković (Friedrich Schiller University of Jena) explores the preserved, abandoned, vandalized, destroyed, and vanished German cemeteries as a source of memories of the absent German/Danubian Swabian minority in Southeastern Banat in Serbia. How the absence of the Germans/Danubian Swabians ←9 | 10→was both silenced and transposed onto public knowledge during the years after World War II, and today, forms the central question of this chapter.

We would especially like to thank the Humboldt University of Berlin for hosting our workshops and helping develop the project; especially Aleksandra Laski, Lucy Häntschl, Nenad Stefanov, Christian Voß, and Stefan Karsch; Konrad Petrovszky (Austrian Academy of Sciences, ÖAW), the Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies at the University of Vienna; the Austrian and Central European Center (Wiener Österreich und Ostmitteleuropa Zentrum) at the University of Vienna and its director Marija Wakounig; Alojz Ivanišević; the Institute of East European History at the University of Vienna; Kateřina Králová, the Faculty for Social Sciences at Charles University; the CENTRAL-Network, the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, DAAD); Gisela Lindeque for English proofreading; the reviewers for their thorough work. Last but not least, we are grateful to our colleagues, the then students, many of whom have become early career researchers. Thank you for your inspiring enthusiasm, hard work, patience and endurance, without which this volume would not have been possible.

This publication has undergone the process of anonymous peer review.

Ferdinand Kühnel, Soňa Mikulová, and Snežana Stanković


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2023 (March)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 154 pp., 2 fig. col., 42 fig. b/w, 1 tables.

Biographical notes

Ferdinand Kühnel (Volume editor) Soňa Mikulová (Volume editor) Snežana Stanković (Volume editor)

Ferdinand Kühnel is an affiliated researcher at the Austrian and Central European Center (Österreich und Ostmitteleuropa Zentrum) at the Institute of East European History at the University of Vienna. He currently works as a publication coordinator of the Austrian-Slovene History Book at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften). Soňa Mikulová is a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Center for the History of Emotions in Berlin. Her research interests range from memory studies to the history of emotions, focusing on the twentieth Century in Central Europe. Snežana Stanković is a postdoctoral researcher at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany. Her research concerns aging in environments battered by post-war precarity. She brings medical humanities, environmental studies, literary theories of narration, and the history of emotions into dialogue while following aging, forced (im-)mobilities and trans-local care networks.


Title: East Central European Cemeteries
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156 pages