With the Latin American Studies Travel grant I spent five weeks in Buenos Aires conducting interviews and doing archival research on the internal politics of the Jewish community during Argentina’s military dictatorship (1976-1983). My investigation began to shed light on the legacy of those politics and their role in the community today. I began by reviewing the archives at the AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina), the principal Jewish cultural institution in Buenos Aires. While the AMIA had limited resources, it led me to two invaluable sources: the Asociación de Familiares de Desaparecidos Judíos, a small association of Jewish parents whose children disappeared during the dictatorship, and the DAIA (Delegación de Asociaciónes Israelitas Argentinas), the larger umbrella organization behind the AMIA.
I began by interviewing Marcos Weinstein, the man that convened the Asociación de Familiares de Desaparecidos Judíos. In 1976 police stormed the Weinsteins’ home during a dinner party, held everyone at gunpoint, and kidnapped their son. The Weinsteins received several calls from their son from prison, but never saw him again. It was not until years later that they learned the story of his death.
Señor Weinstein is also the president of a human rights organization called Fundación Memoria Historia y Social Argentina. However, in 1998 he convened a group of Jewish parents whose children had disappeared. He felt that the Jews needed their own representation within the myriad of human rights organizations that have sprung up as a result of the atrocities committed by the military junta. Weinstein felt that the AMIA and the DAIA, the Israeli embassy in Argentina, and the state of Israel had not come to the aid of Jews begging for their help and that they needed to be held accountable for their lack of action. His son, Mauricio, was a dual Argentine-Israeli citizen, and he felt that Israel abandoned one of its own citizens. He thus aimed his efforts at memorial in Israel.
In eight short years this small group (about twenty members) has traveled to Israel for the inauguration of a forest dedicated to the approximately 1,850 Argentine Jews who disappeared. Members have also spoken in front the Knesset, and their words spearheaded the formation of a parliamentary commission in Israel headed by Historian Efraim Zadoff. This commission strives to teach future diplomats to Argentina about the dictatorship so that they can better understand their role as ambassadors and protectorates of Jews in the Diaspora. As a result of the group’s actions and successes in Israel, the AMIA recognized and honored the disappeared Jews with a plaque in their central courtyard designed by a member of Weinstein’s group, artist, Sara Brodsky. The group has yet to reconcile with the DAIA, but continues its efforts to educate the local Jewish community by speaking at schools and advocating the dedication of a forest in Buenos Aires to the disappeared Jews.
Señor Weinstein put me in contact with many members of his group. Each member I interviewed had a similar story. After their child disappeared, the families went to the DAIA and to the Israeli embassy seeking help, or at the very least solidarity and support, but rarely found it. Families named Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer as the only source of support and solace within the Jewish leadership. Meyer provided support to families, visited kidnapped Jews in prison, and wrote international governments on behalf of imprisoned or released Jews seeking refuge. However, everyone I spoke with made sure that I understood that while a large number of Jews disappeared in relation to their percentage of the general population as a whole, the dictatorship did not specifically target Jews. However, once imprisoned Jews were subjected to anti-Semitic slurs and more excruciating tortures.
The Jews in the Asociación have forged a community for themselves that spans the Atlantic. They want to convey that forgetting is also a crime. Through their efforts they have ensured that their children will be inscribed into history, into the international memory of the Dirty War as both Jews and as Argentines. For them, this commemoration of the past and commitment to a better future makes both the present more livable and the future a possibility worth imagining.
This past fall I completed an independent study with Visiting History Professor Blacker-Hanson that examined the way that the Asociación used the veins of international human rights and their dual Argentine-Jewish identity to gain Israel’s recognition.