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.”


  1. This blog triggered quite a few comments on Flickr (, that I'd like to shown here too:

    Paul Anca (4 days ago):

    I don't know Martin... all looks like random thoughts about distant past.

  2. This blog triggered quite a few comments on Flickr (, that I'd like to shown here too:

    Martin van Duijn (4 days ago)

    Not a distant past to many. The mothers, now grandmothers, of the Plaza de Mayo are still asking for information and interest for the people who disappeared. And it is a politcal issue in The Netherlands, since our future king is married to an Argentinean woman, a daughter of a deputy minister during the junta years. Will he be allowed to be present at the ceremonies when his daughter will become a queen, probably within the next two years?
    German journalist Andrea Hünniger recently wrote a book about the subject ('Paradise', or 'Das Paradies'), why normal people did not do anything during the GDR regime, and why the generation of her parents refuses to talk about it. The same as what happened in Germany after the demise of the Nazis. I'm sure you somehow can relate to this subject?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This blog triggered quite a few comments on Flickr (, that I'd like to shown here too:

    Beetlebomb Pohutukawa (4 days ago)

    It's all about denial.

    The patterns of denial of massacres and genocide have repeated itself for thousands of years in every part of the world.

    This past century tens of millions of people have been massacred. The bloodiest places were Red China of the middle and upper income people under Mao, the Soviet Union of the kulaks under Stalin, Cambodia, and Nazi Germany of Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies (Roma). (All of those numbers probably exceed 100 million in total.)

    Some would argue that abortion amounts to cumulative genocide, for that matter. I have no idea what those numbers would be.

    Of course, I have more to say about this, but I don't have time at the moment.

    What does this discussion have to do with the man who plundered Cuba's national bank reserves for the purpose of killing countless people in Latin America, Africa, and Asia?

  5. This blog triggered quite a few comments on Flickr (, that I'd like to shown here too:

    Paul Anca (4 days ago)

    Martin, sorry I was too short and perhaps misunderstood. I'm not sure what is your personal relation to Argentine past. I don't remember seeing you commenting about that, but if it is the opposite, then please excuse my ignorance.

    Otherwise, yes, I believe you're 100% right on your questions, as many Romanians still ask about communist and Securitatea guys who did the crime and escape the time, many of them still on power in Romania gov or "clean" candidates.

    I know first hand that one night my father was in the line at a grocery shop, you go to the line at midnight so in the morning at 7 am when shop's open you can get the butter and milk, so worst those '80 were, so my father just had some bad words towards Communism regime, then the next day 2 guys in civil cloths from Securitate were at our door asking for my father, and after a friendly and clear advise, they left, but true fear was in my family for days. Not general speaking fear, but clear and present danger, to say as Americans say. So, we were just lucky that was end of it, other persons were just lift to jail without too much proofs. One well known case, broadcast at that time by BBC and Radio Free Europe (USA station foe Europe) and Voice of America, was the case of a young put 1 year in prison because he had just 1 one dollar bill currency.

    All these happened in the late '80s when even most of Securitate people and communist party members, high ranking, didn't give a damn anymore on communist ideology, all were "all for me, don't care the rest".

    I imagine this was not the same as junta in South America, I don't know much details of it, just general things as of Pinochet and so, but again I think junta was somewhere in between "soft" Communist of late '80s, during perestroika times, and "hard" communist of the 50s Stalin era, the real terror, when people were declared "enemy of the state" for nothing and sent to forced labour camps. BTW, the Transfagarasan, the much appreciated Romanian mountains road was paid with blood of political prisoners.

    Yes, we are still wondering why those people who did the crimes escape any judgement and were never brought to justice.

    The terror, was and is the answer why simple people did nothing. They just cry and survive.

    On the other hand, I'm totally against judging the children for parents crimes. Or, at least not "in corpore" all have to be judged on case by case, by case.

  6. This blog triggered quite a few comments on Flickr (, that I'd like to shown here too:

    Martin van Duijn (3 days ago):

    Brad, I only used Che Guevara's image here, because during the 1970s and 1980s he was the inspiration of many socialist and marxist students opposing the military regimes in many Latin American countries. As the person I talked to told me, even finding anything remotely connected to Karl Marx was enough to be arrested. It was always the excuse of the military regimes, that they were fighting socialist and marxist groups who's only goal was to destabilize the country and its economy to establish a Cuban style 'democracy'.

    Paul, you provide a shocking view on what normal people have to endure under a dictatorship. Thanks for what you share with us here. It is something what we, who grew up in democatric societies where the rights of all, including minorities, are secured and respected, simply can not empathize. Because it must be so unreal. That's what this conversation with a client struck me, which was only triggered when I said that I could not pinpoint her accent.

    I do not have any personal relation with Argentina. It is just that this country is often in the news here because of our Princess Maximá, who comes from that country. She is the most popular person in the royal family and even in the entire country, but we have to deal with the question if her father is allowed to be present at official engagements.

  7. This blog triggered quite a few comments on Flickr (, that I'd like to shown here too:

    The Big Jiggety (3 days ago):

    Los desaparecidos. Tragic indeed. Right now Syria has become one of the worst places, at least the focal point, after Mexico, for very different reasons. Meanwhile, Romney worries about Russia. Thanks for sharing, Martin.
    On another subject, couple of evening ago tranferred a cassette to a CD, such a simple joy, somewhat marred by the fact that it is now considered retro.

  8. This blog triggered quite a few comments on Flickr (, that I'd like to shown here too:

    sixty8panther (28 hours ago)

    Interesting reading.... I was expecting something else.
    Personally I hate the image of Che Guevara being used as a fashionable icon on t-shirts etc.

  9. This blog triggered quite a few comments on Flickr (, that I'd like to shown here too:

    sixty8panther (28 hours ago)

    Just googled Transfagarasan, I would love to take a roadtrip out there!

  10. This blog triggered quite a few comments on Flickr (, that I'd like to shown here too:

    Martin van Duijn (27 hours ago)

    I used Guevara's image to symbolize the inspiration of the Argentinean guerillas and left wing students.

    That Transfagarasan road looks spectacular, too bad about its history.