Photographs capture moments in life that make you want to remember, make you want to forget, to cry, to laugh and everything in between. Photographs are to remember. During the state terror in Argentina, when many people went missing, photographs were used to remember them and to find them even if the military knew they wouldn’t be found, that they would be erased. In Julia Reinman’s journal entry “Between the Imaginary and the Real: Photographic portraits of mourning and of melancholia in Argentina”, she states that “In Argentina, the photograph of the dead/missing has an even more profound significance; it stands in defiance, contradicting the attempted erasure of the Desaparecidos by the military government”. Pictures that the military took while torturing and kidnapping these poeple are a prime example of remembering and documenting what happened. They are examples that these people may have disappeared but they aren’t erased. During the trials that took place for all of the crimes committed during this time, many families and friends held up pictured of those that were “erased” that back up Reinman’s point that these types of photographs contradict the idea of erasing people. This picture that you see is a reminder to those that committed these crimes that they were in the wrong and this is what they did, this is who they tortured and killed. An image such as this filled with many different images is one that should be engrained in their minds forever.
This quote by Nora Strejilevech in her poem “Una Sola Muerte Numerosa” is the perfect representation of what we have witnessed at all of these detention centers. As we learned about the torture from each and every center and had the opportunity to speak to some, we learn about the lack of humanization. Losing their name is apart of that. This week we went to La Esma, AKA the Auschwitz of Argentina. This place was known for killing thousands of people. Only 200 or so survived from this center. As we walked on the sight, we see that this place was directly in front of the main road. Visible enough for people to see what was going on there. As we continue to walk we were informed about the numbers they were given. Their names were completely erased for the time being. That number to them was life or death. If they were called, the probably wouldn’t return. Not being called meant more time in their lives. As I think about this I also think about what it must have been like for my ancestors during slavery. Given new names, or maybe even numbers. I also think about what it was like for jews and them having numbers and not their original names. What is it like once you’re freed? This dehumanization is the reason the people felt the power to continue to do what they were doing. With this, they wipe away/try to erase who they were and where they come from. Whether it be temporary or permanent their numbers are not their names.
Above is the grave site of the late Eva Peron.
We visited the Eva Peron museum in Buenos Aires. Her time was before the dictatorship of 1976 yet for some she is considered a revolutionary Argentinean for her role in women’s suffrage and her contribution to the lower middle class. A quote from the museum deemed her a “Spiritual leader of the nation… and a bridge of love between Peron and the people”.
I personally think Eva was ahead of her time. She began Law 13010 (also known as Evita’s Law) in Argentina so women could vote. Her ballot was the first one cast. Although she didn’t have an official title she is revered as “Evita” because of how she loved her people. That is why decades after her death there are still flowers on her grave site.
Others depict her in more unfavoring light due to her bond with Peron. Nunca Mas describes Peron as a corrupted leader who turned Argentina’s developing trade union movement into “an instrument of personal power” (xi, Dworkin). Altogether the book reflects on how Peron began abducting citizens after his return from exile in the 1970s. However, the question remains was Eva a patron for the people or naive to matrimony.
Argentina, like many other countries in South America, deems abortion to be illegal. Last year when abortion was presented to congress, the proposed legalization was struck down. This year abortion is again on the table to be legalized.
Yesterday, I was looking at my favorite Argentine tattoo artist’s instagram, and she had posted about a pro-choice protest outside of the capital. I, being a huge activist, felt that I didn’t have a choice of whether or not to protest. The timing worked out, so I had to go.
The sun sun was setting on Buenos Aires, and feminists were making their was to the capital to protest. I have never seen a protest as amazing as this one. The protesters were chanting; drums were beating, and green flags flew all around us. I didn’t see any anti-choice blue, and I could not have been happier for it.
There were feminist signs posted all around the protest: from mensuration-positivity to anti-femicide. The crowd was full of Argentine feminists, and I was in a political activist’s heaven.
Seeing support from radical groups made my radical heart soar.
We may have missed the pro-choice protest back home in Atlanta, but Argentina sure knows how to protest.
While visiting the farm in Cordoba, it felt like we were experiencing what a typical Arginetinaia would do over the weekend. We got to talk to the people working on the farm and they were all so kind, accommodating and welcoming despite the fact that there was a language barrier. They made us all fee included, showed us how to ride horses through rough terrain and taught us how to make the best empanadas! We all relaxed afterwords just discussing our lives, likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams and enjoyed a relaxing day getting to know one another in the beautiful outdoors. Everyone was being silly and carefree not worrying about the hard struggles we had seen in the past few days. We all took something different from that experience but overall it was something happy and positive that left us all wanting more. When we left we were still so energized that we kept the high spirited atmosphere in the bus going by singing along to good old songs. Shortly after we all passed out of sheer exhaustion from the fun adventurous day we had, feeling just a little lighter inside after the long perfect day!
Because I was raised Jewish, I have been learning about the Holocaust all my life. Whenever I learn about a history of genocide in the country, I automatically compare it to the Holocaust. Learning about the Argentine history is no exception to this.
One of the most memorable parts of the Holocaust was always the dehumanization of Europeans Jews. When they were taken to a camp, they were tattooed with numbers to replace their name. This is similar to the actions of the Argentine dictatorship as people’s names were erased. In the poem, A Single Numberless Death, the author speaks of losing her name. It is easier for torturers and murderers to end someone’s life when they do not see them as fully human.
Another striking fact of the Argentine dictatorship is that the torturers’ training included watching Nazi propaganda to prepare for the atrocities they were to inflict on their fellow humans. Any people that use the murderers of over 6 million people as a model for their own actions are sickening at best.
Another important parallel is how the country decided to handle the state terror after it wasn’t over. Both in Europe and Argentina, the war criminals were tried for their immoral actions. While there was one overarching trial to rectify the atrocities of the holocaust, Argentina decided to try each individual person for each individual crime they committed. The trials are still going on to this day.
Remembrance of these events can lead to making sure it does not happen again. When the remembrance turns to idolizing the terrorizes, the cycle of human violence can be repeated.
So here’s to mourning the dead and cursing the aggressors.
Thursday, May 23rd, 2019, we went to La Perla, a detention center in Colectora, Malagueño, Córdoba and there we witnessed the remnants of a detention center which was seemingly cleansed of the secrecy of the abuse and violence against the people who were kidnapped and disappeared in a regime that did not tolerate their defiance.
Upon walking around the memorial I caught a glimpse of the top quote that is translated as:
“I do not find monsters, but officials, officials who acted like monsters”
–Primo Levi, Holocaust survivor
According to Staub, there was a strong sense of corporate identity with army officers in Argentina. The behavior of the army officials was also due to admiration for the “German military and strong fascist sentiments” (Staub, 1992) . Because Argentina praised their European heritage as well as sympathized with Nazi Germany in World War II, most of the people in positions of power held superiority complexes, believing themselves to be above the law and having power over those who are not at their same level. This was especially true for Army officials. The political instability due to the few wars with other countries and lack of progress in conquering other countries yielded terrorism by the military with the scapegoats as those against the regime of the time.
1975 was the earliest that the military had established secret detention centers in army barracks where they terrorized, tortured, and killed anyone suspected of being leftist, left-leaning, or politically liberal. The victims who disappeared at the hands of the Argentine military were more than likely subjected to disorientation by means of blindfolding, starvation to supply confessions of corroborators, beatings by fist, rubber or metal, and countless other traumatic experiences that many died at the hands of, especially Jews who were made to shout that they loved Hitler and endure other means of cruel and unusual punishment.
This raises the question of whether obedience to authority is the main/ most legitimate reason for the casual torture and terrorism of the same citizens you were supposed to protect. It is baffling how an army official could be on the clock beating people to death, torturing people for the fun of it while walking around their stationed area, consistently humiliating people all in the name of following orders and yet get off the clock and go home to a loving and secure family dynamic that was deprived of those they abused.
Staub, E. (1992). The roots of evil: The origins of genocide and other group violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thursday, May 23rd, 2019, we went to La Perla, a detention center in Colectora, Malagueño, Córdoba and there we witnessed the remnants of a detention center which was seemingly cleansed of the secrecy of the abuse and violence against the people who were kidnapped and disappeared in a regime that did not tolerate their defiance. Upon walking around the memorial I fell upon a poem by a woman who survived the horrors of the center.
The poem translates as such:
“Because remembering was full of thorns and in the hardness of my skin cracks opened. Because they told me that to begin with I had to forget and oblivion is not my nature. Because the light was only the reflection of a great shadow and my pain was blind, deaf and mute. Because the impulse was sudden and liberating but my brush marked the familiar paths. Because returning was the unthinkable word and only by returning could I think. Because they told me that to begin with I had to remember and remember I could find me. Because the thorns bloomed and my skin softened, blurring the cracks. Because my pain took a distance to see the shadow diminish and the glare grow. Because that flower redeemed the impulse releasing the legacy of those ALWAYS ALIVE souls. ”
Here Victoria shows the duality and paradoxes of remembering her experience at La Perla. She stated that she was told to forget which implies effort and in the same sentence had oblivion as not of her nature. Oblivion is a state of unawareness or unconsciousness– even if there was an intentional action to get to said state, once in the state there is lack of conscious effort. To forget is deliberately trying to delete or blur an event from your memory. This sentence is ironic in that forgetting can result in oblivion because of refusing to face the problem head-on.
Other paradoxes/ contrasts are as follows:
- light as a reflection…..great shadow (also coexistent as you can see light in the dark and see the dark beyond the touch of the light)
- sudden, liberating impulse….. marking of familiar paths (shows that even in the moments of unpredictability there is still gravitation towards the known)
- unthinkable return….. thinking upon return (though the wounds would reopen, they would also heal more organically)
- I had to remember….. remember I could find me (she knew herself but also remembered she had to find herself)
- remembering was full of thorns….. the thorns bloomed (similar to 3)
- the hardness of my skin cracks opened…..my skin softened, blurring the cracks (shows continuity because the cracks are still there but the experience with them changed)
- see the shadow diminish….. see the glare grow (similar to 1)
Victoria beautifully created this poem to portray her constant battle with accepting what happened to her and others as well as picking up the pieces of herself that was left behind in that trauma. She also used the poem as a means to immortalize those who did not make it out and the ones who still had pieces of their own souls left behind in the center.
Dr. Reati asked “Do you feel anything about this room?” I stared blankly into the room and imagined a blindfolded person who is helpless and confused. This person is profusely sweating, rapidly trembling, and unknowingly waiting for consequences that can end their last breath at any second. The life of a person is put into the torturer’s hands. Is it wounds or is it death today? The torture room does not reveal any hints. This empty room pictured above is full of mixed emotions and pure bloodshed.
All of these thoughts stormed my mind in a matter of seconds, and I shivered. La Perla showed its true meaning when I got there. The idea of people killing their own baffled me. Throughout history, humans have always went against each other. We often found ways to dissociate from another group of people and lessen their worth which made us find an excuse to abuse one another. However, in Argentina’s dictatorship, soldiers were killing citizens who were similar to them; they looked like each other, they were in the same economic class level, and they lived similar lives. Personally, I do not believe humans should ever kill each other based on differences. We may not look the same, or have similar lives, but we are the same species. Argentina was a unique case of people killing their own, despite no apparent odds between them.
Overall, when I left the torture room, I continued to ponder over my uncanny thoughts. I am grateful to hear Hector talk about his experience in La Perla. Despite everything he went through, he said that he has “no odio” against anything. This was his first time visiting La Perla since he was released many years ago, and he stated that it felt like “he closed a chapter.” Just like Hector has ended his chapter, I, too, shall end the continuos thoughts that run through the empty room.