Thursday, October 25, 2012

Perfectly normal people

“How I came to Holland? Well, just on a plane, I always say. There was not a real specific reason. But no, I did not come here as a fugitive from the Argentinean junta, as you suggest. Mind you, I was a student in those years, and the university was the most dangerous environment to be back then. But you know, we really, really did not know everything that happened.”

“I usually do not talk about those years. I keep it to myself. But I can tell you are genuinely interested, so I do not mind now. Actually, what we were confronted with were the riots on the street, outside the college buildings. Several times we walked out of the door and we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a riot, we had to cover our eyes and nose to protect us from tear gas, or we had to walk with our arms up in the air, at gunpoint, until we left the action and the riot police lost interest in us.”

“It was not until I flew back to Buenos Aires one day, after visiting Europe, and when Argentina was a democracy again. It must have been on an Iberia plane, because I was reading El Pais, and there was that item on the horrible things that happened under the junta regime. I did not know, I was dumbstruck, did this all happen in my country? Because, how could we know? It was not that the military put an ad in the newspaper, telling “we arrested so and so much persons yesterday, and we killed so and so many of them.” And people who were arrested, usually did not come back to inform other people. They simply never returned. It was so devastating when we finally heard about it.”

“And then you start to see the things you did not understand back then. I was good at making notes and excerpts of college classes, and one day a fellow student asked me if he could borrow my notes, because he had missed a class. Sure, no problem, I said. I'll put my phone number on it, so that you can call me when you are done with them. But he said, no, no, don’t write your phone number down on it, I'll find a way to contact you. I did not understand. Why was that such a big deal for him? Later I understood. He was most likely a member of a socialist group. If he would be arrested, they would find my number, and arrest me too. Not many people who were arrested lived to tell about it. And it was not that the military arrested their opponents like a surgical operation. They would pick up 100 people just to get the ten persons with socialist or marxist sympathies. And even finding anything remotely related to Karl Marx or whatever that appeared socialist, would be enough for you to be arrested and disappear.”

“I do not know why this junta virus spread over Latin America like it did. Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, they all suffered from this bad karma. But we should not forget that next to these horrible regimes, there were completely normal people, living completely normal lives, as if there were two levels of reality side by side. You say that you can understand that people, living in the beautiful mountain areas, far away from the capital, hardly noticed anything about what was going on. But I lived in Buenos Aires, and I did not know either.”

“We never talked about it later in our family. But my mother told me not so long ago, how she was briefly held up by the police, because they suspected she belongend to the grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. You know why? She was cold, and she had a scarf around her head to keep her ears warm. Just that.”
“I once asked my brother about those years, and he only told me how he had to run through tear gas to catch the bus to get home. I don’t know why this is. I don't talk about it with my children either. I will answer their questions when they will ask me, but I will not bring it up myself. And you know, it is not only this dark history we carry with us. Being from Jewish descent we also carry the burden of the Holocaust. All of my family in Europe was murdered by the Nazis. And you know what? We do not talk about that either.”