We are a family of European Jewish immigrants who arrived in Argentina in the mid-20s. I have one son now, but I used to have another: Jorge Marcelo Dyszel, who disappeared on May 18, 1978.
My son Marcelo was born in 1956. By the early 70s he was in high school and joining in with the many marches and protests that went on in those days, when people were still able to do that. We were not aware of the terrible crimes to come – even if there was some state violence already.
At high school he met the love of his life, a student called Mirtha. He had a job during his last years in school; I was divorced and he wanted to help me, to have responsibilities. He started to study education at the same time as the military coup broke out in 1976. He and Mirtha got married very early, in 1977. It was like he wanted to grow up real fast.
I remember that every morning, as soon as I arrived at my job, he would ring me to say hi – always. Everything was tranquil, it was a calm life. That is the story of the young person I knew.
On the morning of May 18 I was surprised when the phone did not ring at my office. I rang his apartment – nothing; I rang his office – nothing; I rang his wife’s family to see if he was there – nothing. Mirtha’s mother and I went to check their apartment, very concerned because we knew there had been disappearances. It was not widespread then, but we knew; we had heard rumours about concentration camps and torture.
At about 5pm we arrived at the apartment block and asked the doorman if he had seen them. He said to us: “Don’t try to go up to their flat. Come with me, I have to tell you something.” He told us that at around midnight a group of policemen who said they were from the narcotics division arrived to raid one of the apartments. After a few hours he saw them taking Marcelo and Mirtha, hooded and handcuffed, to their car. Apparently, the tortures were going to be very special.
That same day I went to the police, but they had no ideas. Then I went to some lawyers, but they were afraid of getting involved in that kind of case – lawyers had gone missing after dealing with similar cases.
I went to several human rights associations and saw – to my surprise – that the queues at their doors were very long. In the queue, I listened to people’s stories. They were creepy, of disappearances, tortures, killings. That was when I found out what was really going on in our poor Argentina.
Then one day I went back to Marcelo’s apartment and found, hiding in a cupboard, pamphlets from the ERP [People’s Revolutionary Army, an Argentine Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group] and some correspondence. He had been involved with the group as a messenger. It still surprises me.
Yet I do understand it. I do praise those who fought, who defended their ideals. I am aware that in many countries there are armed guerrillas who fought to change things. I know my son did not hold a weapon, but he was supporting the fighting. He never said a word to me.
I went to meet Robert Cox, the then editor of the Buenos Aires Herald [an English-language newspaper published in Argentina] who informed me that the military was throwing people into the River Plate. I had suspected the concentration camps, but not brutal killings. I was never able to know about my son – not a thing. But what I did find out was that the military were extremely rough on Jews; their tortures were terrible, and they were more vindictive to Jews than to non-Jews.
I joined the ranks of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, and spent the many years that passed until the return of democracy in 1983 marching and protesting in the streets, being tear-gassed and run down by policemen with sticks. They were long years of asking, crying and suffering.
I made every effort to meet with the Madres, even if I couldn’t stand the pain: I used to cry a lot during those meetings. They were clandestine as it was still he late 70s and the brutal military junta was still ruling the country. I never stopped marching alongside the Madres, but I was afraid. People were calling us the “crazy ones”. Maybe we were crazy, but hope was the fuel of that. Very few of our sons and daughters have since reappeared.
For a long time it was impossible to talk about the disappeared. And when I did there was always somebody saying the classic “Well, they might have done something wrong”. Yes they might have done something, but what no one ever wanted to admit was the terrorism of the state. General Videla [head of the military junta] once said that there were no disappeared. At some point I told myself the search was a lost cause.
Today, 30 years after Marcelo and Mirtha went missing, people are still afraid to talk about the disappearances. I know my son will never come back, but every time the phone rings and I pick up but cannot recognise the voice, it is like somebody is punching me in the heart. I haven’t seen my boy dead, so it is somehow an unfinished business.
I consider my son to be suspended in some state where he is not alive, as I cannot see him alive, but not dead, as I have not seen him dead. He is among us as long as we keep remembering him, and fighting to find the truth – that way he is alive. He is very much alive in every march, every protest, every defence of human rights, every picture or story of the disappeared, and in every trial against a repressor.
When I talk about my son I’m also talking about the 30,000 other disappeared. For us, the Madres, everything is about three things: truth, justice and memory. Truth to know what really happened to every single one of our children; justice because there has been none yet – it has been too slow and if it is slow it is not justice; memory to keep this fight going on, and to avoid something like this happening again. These three things will keep the disappeared alive.
• Beatriz Lewin was talking to Andrés Schipani in Buenos Aires.