Argentina’s Jewish “Desaparecidos”

The “Report on the situation of the Jewish detainees-disappeared during the genocide perpetrated in Argentina” was for the first time published in print in Argentina to make it widely available to the public, by the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations’ (DAIA) Social Studies Centre (CES), with the backing of the government Human Rights Secretariat.

“The book forms part of DAIA’s commitment to the families of the victims,” CES director Marisa Braylán told IPS. She was alluding to complaints by families of victims, who have accused DAIA of keeping a low profile during the de facto regime despite the disappearance of members of the community.

“The families were asking for help, and the current leadership assumed the responsibility of reviewing past actions and acknowledging that several errors had been made,” said Aldo Donzis, president of DAIA.

The report does not specifically refer to these “errors,” but reflects the commitment “to recognise omissions and mistakes,” said Braylán.

Human Rights Secretary Eduardo Luis Duhalde remarked at the presentation of the book Wednesday that “confronting the dictatorship at that time required a heroic stance, and that is not something that can be asked of all citizens alike.”

Two aspects stand out in the report. One is that Jewish people formed a disproportionately large part of the dictatorship’s victims of forced disappearance. The other is that although “they did not suffer specifically anti-Semitic persecution, Jewish victims suffered especially brutal treatment, and Nazi symbols were used” by the torturers, said Duhalde.

The introduction to the book explains that DAIA emerged in 1935 to confront the threat of the Nazi regime in Germany and the activities of its agents and supporters in Argentina.

It then goes on to describe the challenges and anti-Semitic harassment and attacks suffered by members of the Jewish community in Argentina prior to the March 1976 coup d’etat that ushered in the dictatorship.

The two most serious attacks suffered by the Jewish community in Argentina actually occurred after the return to democracy: a 1992 bomb blast that killed 29 people in and around the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in the capital, in which 86 people were killed. But the report does not dwell on either incident.

DAIA notes that the military regime’s persecution of leftists, trade unionists and others deemed “subversive” included abductions, torture, forced disappearance and the theft of the babies and young children of political prisoners, while it remarks that the Jewish victims received treatment that was even more cruel and brutal than other prisoners.

The report is based on the testimonies of a number of people, some of which were collected by the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP), created in 1984 by then president Raúl Alfonsín. Other statements were taken from court records, in Argentina and abroad, or from the personal accounts of survivors gathered by local or international human rights groups.

Many survivors said there were Nazi symbols, like the swastika or pictures of Adolf Hitler, on the walls in the clandestine detention centres were they were held, and that they were subjected to anti-Semitic insults during the torture sessions. In addition, Hitler’s speeches were often played over loudspeakers, during torture sessions or at night.

The book includes a provisional list of Jewish victims of forced disappearance, which was first presented in court in Spain in the late 1990s. It also provides a list of names drawn up by the Barcelona-based Commission of Solidarity with the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Argentina.

The book says that in the 1970s there were between 230,000 and 290,000 Jewish people in Argentina, representing between 0.8 and 1.2 percent of the population at the time, while they made up an estimated five to 12 percent of the “disappeared”.

CONADEP’s 1984 report “Nunca Mas” (Never Again) documented 8,956 cases of forced disappearance, including 1,117 members of the Jewish community — a proportion of 12.4 percent. And if the outright killings documented by CONADEP are taken into account as well, the proportion climbs to more than 15 percent.

The book published by DAIA lists 1,300 Jewish victims of forced disappearance, but the Association said it would leave the registry open because it presumes there were more. (Human rights groups put the total number of “disappeared” at around 30,000.)

DAIA points out that, just as in the Nazi concentration camps, political prisoners in Argentina were assigned numbers, stripped of their names and humiliated, and that after they were killed, their bodies were hidden. Jewish political prisoners were also subjected to “added suffering,” it says.

In his testimony to CONADEP, survivor Daniel Fernández said Jews were subjected to an especially cruel and sadistic form of torture: “the ‘rectoscope’, which consisted of inserting a tube into the victim’s anus, or into a woman’s vagina, then letting a rat into the tube. The rodent would try to get out by gnawing at the victim’s internal organs.”

A man who testified anonymously before CONADEP said the torturers laughed at Jewish prisoners and painted swastikas on their bodies. Cristina Navarro, another survivor, said one guard took special pleasure in beating detainees with Jewish last names.

DAIA also quotes journalist and writer Jacobo Timerman, who died in 1999. In his book “Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number”, the former newspaper publisher said Jewish detainees were forced to get down on all fours and bark like a dog.

“It is clear, then, that this was not a particular ‘excess’ committed by some repressors, but rather an institutionalised conception and practice within the security forces in power during those years,” says the report.

Other witnesses said torturers questioned detainees in detail about Jewish organisations and drew up maps of synagogues and sports clubs, as well as lists of names. Some of them even knew words in Hebrew or Yiddish, and were “truly obsessed” with Zionism and Israel, said Timerman.

Writer Nora Strejilevich said one of her interrogators “assured me that the ‘problem of subversion’ was the one with which they were most concerned, but that the ‘Jewish problem’ followed it in order of importance and that they were filing information.”

Braylán said the documents and testimonies that served as the basis for the DAIA report will form part of the archives in the “Museum of Memory” that is being created in the Navy School of Mechanics, which was the dictatorship’s most notorious torture centre and has been handed over to human rights groups.

December 1983 — a confrontation remembered among old-timers as the New Year’s Eve massacre. The massacre was a real bean-spiller, and it was followed by the testimony of Eddie’s first cousin (and partner and C.F.O.) Sam E. Antar on how the illegal schemes had been carried out. This gave the United States Attorney prosecuting the case, Michael Chertoff (now the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security), more than enough to work with. Eddie went away for six years.

Unlike the late Toussie, however, Eddie Antar was not expelled.


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