From BRIDGES Volume 1 Number 1, Spring 1990
by Rita Falbel and Irena Klepfisz
Introduction and postscript by Rita Arditti
From 1979 to 1983 Argentina was ruled by the military. During this period a succession of military "juntas" engaged in one of the most brutal and bloody campaigns of repression ever witnessed in the western hemisphere. The military presented itself as the defender of "Tradition, Family and Property" and adhered to an ideology of National Security that was succinctly expressed by General Videla (President of one of the juntas): "A terrorist is not just someone with a gun or a bomb -- he can also be someone who spreads ideas that are contrary to western and Christian civilization."
The specific technique of repression used by the military was to create a veritable "culture of fear," where people "disappeared" without a trace. Unofficial death squads and paramilitary right-wing groups terrorized the population, abducting people from their homes, in the streets and in their workplaces -- thereby effectively instilling terror and preventing the creation of martyrs. The absence of bodies made it very difficult to prove torture and murder and to organize protests. There is general consensus that the actual number of "disappeared" is around 30,000. Few voices were raised to protest the abuses that were taking place.
Argentina has a large Jewish community and a history of blatant anti-Semitism among the military. As reported in Nunca Mas [Never Again] - The Report of the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared, particular brutality was used in the treatment of Jewish prisoners. One prisoner states: "One of the military personnel who called himself 'The Great Fuehrer' made the prisoners shout `Heil Hitler,' and at night they could frequently hear recordings of [Hitler's] speeches." 1 Another remembers the case of a Jew nicknamed "Chango," whom the guard would take out of his cell and force into the yard. He testifies: "[The guard] would make him wag his tail, bark like a dog, lick his boots. It was impressive how well he did it, he imitated a dog as if he really were one, because if he didn't satisfy the guard, he would carry on beating him..."2
During this period, Nazi literature circulated openly in Argentina while a conspiracy of silence prevented any discussion or dissemination of information about the "disappeared."
One of the strongest groups to challenge the lies of the regime was the "Madres de la Plaza de Mayo" -- a group of mothers who marched in front of the presidential palace in Buenos Aires carrying placards and photographs of their "disappeared" sons and daughters. Initially, Madres consisted of 14 women who started to demonstrate in April 1977 and became the most vocal and visible group opposing the dictatorship. Though the Madres were mocked by the authorities and ignored by the media, their membership grew to thousands. By 1980, two or three hundred women turned out every Thursday afternoon at 3:30 in the Plaza de Mayo to demand that the government respond to their inquiries about their "disappeared" children.
Renee D. Epelbaum, a Jew and the mother of three "disappeared" young people, two sons and a daughter, was one of the founding members of the Madres. Her oldest son Luis, 25, was kidnapped in August 1977 in Buenos Aires and her other children Claudio, 25 and Lila, 20 "disappeared" in Uruguay where Renee had sent them to safety. They were abducted three months afterwards by an Argentine commando with the cooperation of the government of Uruguay.
In 1983, Argentina returned to democracy and Raul Alfonsin was elected President for six years. In the summer of 1989, Saul Menem became President. During Alfonin's Presidency, three military uprisings took place and with each uprising, the military tried to legitimize the crimes committed between 1976 and 1983. Two laws passed in 1986 and 1987 reflect victories for the military and its supporters by effectively prohibiting prosecution of persons who had not already been charged with involvement in the atrocities.
In 1986, a number of Madres, (among them Renee Epelbaum) most of whom
had belonged to the group from its inception, formed an alternative organization:
"Madres de Plaza de Mayo/Linea Fundadora." Some of the disagreement
between the two groups involve the issue of the exhumation of unidentified
bodies, position on reparations offered by the government and establishment
of a foundation to help the children of those who "disappeared."
In spite of these differences, the two groups continue to march in the Plaza
every week. They are united in their demand to learn what happened to their
children and to pressure the government for further investigations and punishment
of those responsible.
The following interview of Renee Epelbaum by Rita Falbel and Irena Klepfisz was conducted in English and took place in New York City in July 1989. Renee was in the United States to receive Hadassah's highly prestigious Henrietta Szold Award for her work on human rights at its 75th Hadassah National Convention in Atlanta. Saul Menem had recently been elected President of Argentina. At the time of the interview, he was already considering amnesty for those found guilty of crimes during the reign of terror.
Were you born in Argentina?
Yes. My parents were immigrants. My mother was 14 or 15 when she came to Argentina from Russia. My father came when he was less than one. My husband's parents were Polish -- they came from Warsaw. We are descendants from Eastern European Jews.
Did you speak Spanish at home?
Yes, I don't know how to speak Yiddish or Russian. My father only spoke Spanish.
Were your parents religious?
Not at all. They were not traditional in that sense. They were Jewish, of course. My father was not a traditionalist. My mother was a bit more. I remember because she would fast on the "Dia del Perdon" [Day of Atonement]. My father respected it, but did not pay too much attention to those things himself. We all knew that we belonged to the Jewish community and had many friends, but my parents were not active, though my mother somewhat. She belonged to women's groups like WIZO. 3
On the other hand, my husband's family was quite traditional. What I know about Jewish religion, I learned from them. My husband and I did not keep very carefully. We were quite open and in some ways very integrated in the Argentine society. In general most Jews in Argentina are very integrated, even those who keep traditions alive.
You know, until I was almost 20, we lived in a city in the interior of the country called Parana, the capital of the province of Entre Rios. Most of the Russian immigrants went there because Baron Hirsch had funded colonies there. In Argentina, we speak about the "gauchos Judios," the Jewish cowboys, because many of the Jews who came to Argentina became farmers. They had pieces of land that had been bought for them by the Hirsch Foundation, and they became small landowners and grew grains, especially wheat.4
That was not the case of my family. My family came because they were fleeing persecution in Russia, not because of the fund. They came on their own. It seemed they didn't need economic help. That was why they didn't settle in the country -- in the "campo," as we say. So they went to Parana, the capital of Entre Rios. It's not a big city, medium sized, very nice place. Well, you know, we all remember the city where we grew up like a beautiful one. But this is a nice city because it is on top of a ravine, overlooking a river. It's very nice.
How long did you live there?
In Parana? I lived there for almost 20 years. I had two brothers and I was the youngest, the only daughter. My father died when he was 43. I was 19. One of my brothers was living in Buenos Aires, working there. So in order to be all together, we decided to move to Buenos Aires. Today, I'm the only one left. Like my father, my brothers died very young. They were in their 40's. So was my husband. In some ways I have been surrounded by these graves. My husband died in 1961 -- 20 years ago. At that time I thought nothing worse could happen to me. It seems that there is always something worse ahead. I care nothing about my future. Now nothing worse can happen.
I'm a sort of survivor because I'm the only one left in the family. Like after the Holocaust -- by chance -- only one person in a family remains alive. This is my case. Today I have only one niece and one nephew from one of my late brothers. There are also two nieces on my husband's side. These girls are the only ones left in his family. My husband's family was even smaller than mine. There were two children, my husband and his sister. She too died very young during heart surgery. She left two daughters. Good girls. Good girls. That is all my family. Not much, you see.
Let's talk about the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. Was it a feminist movement?
You know the story about the Madres , how we gathered and organized in different places to gain strength. We, the Madres , were born with a common bond: to find out what had happened to our children. In that sense we have been successful because the military dictatorship fell. I will not say we were the only cause for that, but we contributed a lot.
The military people were criminals, the worst criminals in the world because they did what the Nazis did, the same thing, the same horror. The only difference is the number of victims. If Argentina had the same number of citizens, the numbers would have been the same. I mean, think about it -- 30,000 people disappeared -- babies, everything. They were not just uncivilized, they were beasts.
The Madres was not in fact a feminist movement. It was a women's movement. Our aim was to recover our children, to know about their fate, where they were, how they were treated. We wanted to know, of course, what their situation was. But in some ways, sometimes "feminist" and "woman" are terms that get together very sideways. It depends on what people think about feminism, what its aims are. Today we are linked with the feminist groups in Argentina, and they are linked with us. Because they look at the Madres as an example of how to get to things done and be a force and power. During the dictatorship we were an example, not just for women. It seems perhaps arrogant to say it -- but I'm not arrogant because I know the limits of everything, so I can say it. The Madres were the ones who kept decency alive in Argentina during the dictatorship. In this sense wewere an example for the Argentine society. Women in feminist groups appreciate that and support our claims and we support theirs.
My group [Linea Fundadora] believes that the aims and demands of the feminists groups are correct, so we support them. For instance, we participated together with feminists and women's groups in the march to celebrate International Women's Day. We marched with them, sang all of the same songs and spoke out for the same things. They support us because they believe that we are right in demanding to know the truth about our children, and demanding that the criminals be brought to trial. We support them because we believe that they are right in demanding rights for women.
We supported them very fervently when they demanded the right to divorce. Maybe you don't know, but the divorce law was just passed not long ago by the past constitutional [Alfonsin] government. It must have been 3 years ago, no more. Until then, we had no divorce laws. The Catholic Church is very powerful in our country and is violently opposed to divorce, abortion, all those things. So we worked with those groups when they rallied to get the law approved in parliament.
What is the Linea Fundadora's attitude towards Alfonsin's government?
We were very critical in many ways. We concentrated on human rights. That was and is our main focus -- the injustice. The Alfonsin government and the new one were elected by the people. The dictatorship elected themselves -- a de facto government. Those serving during the past six years are not the ones who kidnapped our children, tortured our children. So there is a lot of difference between the past dictatorship and Alfonsin's and this new government. Although our expectations may not have been met by these governments, they can't be compared to the dictatorship.
Still, criticism is dangerous in some ways. I would say that the worst democracy is better than the best military dictatorship. So we are cautious. We have the right -- in fact, it is compulsory for us -- to criticize when the government does something that we do not agree with or think is fair. But we try to be careful. We try not to be insulting. It's hard to explain, we try -- not exactly to keep a low profile -- we're just careful. They still have the weapons. So we criticize, but don't attack the government. And I say we, because in the Madres we are all the same. We decided to work by consensus and not to appoint a president of the group.
How did the Madres operate?
Since we began in 1977, we have worked in the same way. There were no posts, no positions. Some well meaning friends in Argentina who were also working for human rights thought we could be more effective if we created a commission. So, we did. And this commission addressed the Organization of American States (OAS on human rights in Argentina. Still, the commission was just a formality, because we all kept on doing what we did before, gave whatever time we could spare. Elida Galletti and I wrote everything for Madres . Two other women were in charge of taking whatever we wrote to the press or to the embassies. It was nothing special. We did what we knew best, each of us, and it had nothing to do with posts or positions. The Linea Fundadora is and has to be -- as the Madres always was -- a collective movement.
Were you or your family politically active? When you joined the Madres was that the first time you'd become political in a public way?
I was always concerned about politics because I think everybody has to be. Something I criticize here in the States. Here many people are so completely indifferent to politics. Don't you think so¿ I've been visiting different universities here and I tell young people: you must become interested in politics. I mean, you don't have to be involved in a political party. But you must be concerned because it's in your own interest to know whom you're voting for. The next president, for instance -- because the next president will form the destiny of the whole nation, including your own.
I have always been interested in politics, but had not been actively committed until the Madres . Still, the Madres were not political in terms of belonging to a party. But we were a political force. All that we do is political. One of the definitions of human beings is that they are political animals.
Yes. Political activism and concern are critical. Argentina has had many military governments. How was the '76 government different?
No military dictatorship before '76 was just as bloodthirsty.
Why do you think it was so bloodthirsty?
That's difficult to say. Maybe the participants were more brutal than the others. Also, the resistance was more active. There were some guerrilla groups like the Montoneros operating in a limited way in Tucuman, a northern province. The guerrillas attacked some military garrisons. But that's no justification for the brutal reaction.
In fact, the military said publicly that the Montoneros and the other resistance groups had been completely crushed by September 1977. They said it publicly so there's no justification, because imagine, at most, the Montoneros and the People's Revolutionary Army were perhaps one hundred people against a whole army. Ridiculous.
Besides, let's assume my son was even a terrorist -- it was not the case. But even if we assume he was, he should have been tried. He had a right to an honest trial. You can't justify torture, kidnapping and killing. You can't justify clandestine methods. Because if you do something clandestine, it means you don't dare do it publicly. Something is wrong there. I can't accept this methodology. It's the core of the problem. Because if you accept that you're giving way to lawlessness, everybody can do whatever they like and you can't lead a normal life.
Can you talk about what's happened since the fall of the dictatorship, the trials -- a bit of history and your own work now.
Again I have to say that concerning justice, the legal aspects -- everything is very sad. We have to recognize that after recovering democracy, some in the government did something that almost no government did before -- that is to prosecute those who were part of the dictatorship. Only in Greece they tried the colonels. But in no other part of the world has there been such a trial. In Uruguay, for instance, they would have liked to bring the members of the Uruguayan dictatorship to trial, but they couldn't get that. In Argentina, President Alfonsin ordered that members of the first three juntas (and we had four juntas) be tried. And they were tried. We think that the verdict was very mild. Only two people have been condemned to prison for life. The former president, General Jorge Rafael Jan Videla and the Navy representative, Admiral Emilio Massera. The third man of the junta who represented the Air Force -- Brigadier Orlando Agosti -- was condemned to only four and a half years. Nothing. He's free now after serving only two-thirds of his term. Members of the second junta were also condemned, not for life, but for lesser periods of time. Members of the third junta were acquitted. They were detained, not for crimes against humanity, but for losing the Falklands/Malvinas war to the British. It was the third junta that ordered the invasion of the islands.
Thank God the Argentines lost that war. If we hadn't, the military would still be in power. Besides, even if the Falklands/Malvinas do belong to Argentina (I think we have historical rights)¬ war is not the way to get them back. We have to negotiate and get them back by peaceful means. Imagine so many young Argentine boys and British boys died there. It was a stupid war, completely stupid. Our generals tried to cover up what they had done.
Do you know, the Madres were the only group who criticized the Falklands/Malvinas invasion openly because we didn't want our children to be sacrificed. We're against all wars. I think in general there's never been a war that's been initiated by women.
Well, anyway, we were talking about -- oh yes, the trials. Only the few people I named are in prison. The rest, those who kidnapped, tortured and killed are walking freely in the street. You know, the military and their civilian friends, those linked not only by ideology but also by economic interest, they say they're anti-communist. This is a cover up. In fact, they are just greedy, ambitious people. Greedy for money, greedy for power. And they have no scruples about how they get what they want. They tried to portray all the Madres as though we were trying to get revenge. But if we were seeking revenge we would ask that those who kidnapped be kidnapped, those who tortured be tortured, those who murdered be murdered. That's not the case. We've said they must be tried, something they didn't offer to those they kidnapped. If it's proven that they were kidnappers, torturers, and murderers, then they must be punished. This is not revenge, only justice.
Is there a statute of limitations?
Yes, and we're critical of it. You know that Alfonsin's government had survived three intensive military coup attempts. But after each, it seems like some sort of agreement was made and concessions given to the military. When Alfonsin took his oath of office, he ordered that the first three juntas be tried, but not the fourth. It's obvious to me that he may have made some sort of agreement with the fourth and last junta. Military people are not brave. They didn't want to commit suicide just to allow Mr. Alfonsin to be president. They wanted to be sure they wouldn't be tried. It was, of course, impossible for him not to try those of the first three juntas.
Alfonsin came to power because he promised democratic government. We have a democratic government. We recognize that. Civil liberties are allowed completely. But he was also elected as an advocate of human rights and had to do something to fulfill that promise. So he said he would prosecute the first three juntas. As a consequence of the big trial and the numerous cases that have been presented before the courts, many many other people in the armed forces and the police were called to testify. Some were indicted, some not. But the military became very upset and demanded protection. As a result, Alfonsin passed a law, what you call a statute of limitations. It is popularly known as a _punto final_ [full stop] law and established a time after which people couldn't be tried. That law was not ethical and there is no need to explain that.
It was also unconstitutional and unnecessary and stupid. Unconstitutional because our constitution is egalitarian, democratic. All people are the same before the law. There is no special treatment for anybody. But this _punto final_ law gave special treatment to the military and the police. The law was also unnecessary to protect those responsible for the crimes because the Federal Chamber that tried the military juntas interpreted the forced disappearances as "illegal deprivation of freedom," a crime that cannot be prosecuted after six years. So when the punto final law was passed, all disappearances fell under this statute of limitations.
The military is so arrogant. The military men don't want to be called to court to testify. In some cases they were indicted and they went to court and others were called to testify and also went to court. And finally, finally just when they were found guilty, they couldn't be punished because of the statute of limitations. So the trials were only a sort of moral condemnation. But the military didn't even want that.
What year was the law passed?
I think in 1986. As if that was not enough, in 1987 another law was passed -- the Due Obedience Law which in effect allowed only the superiors to be tried. Before then, all those who said they had just followed orders could also be tried. The Nuremberg trials established this law. Somebody killed my daughter because he was obeying orders. He knew he was committing a crime, so he is guilty. It is not legitimate to obey orders that are criminal. The Linea Fundadora criticizes those laws very severely and we challenge and reject them because they are unconstitutional.
What is the current situation in relation to those who are in prison now and accused?
At this moment you know we have a new president. We'd like public opinion to insist that justice not be faked. In addition to the two laws which let most of the criminals go free, there is now talk in Argentina about a sort of amnesty for those who are still in prison -- very few. They're also looking for some way out for the few officers who are still on trial. They're looking for some trick. Maybe not call it amnesty, but something. I say they must be punished. Those people must serve as an example that these kinds of crimes won't go unpunished.
Have most of the disappeared been accounted for?
I don't know what you mean by accounted for. Very soon after Alfonsin's assumed power, a special commission was established to investigate the disappeared and was headed by the writer Eduardo Sabato. That commission did good work, even though it hadn't been intended that it do it so well. But some of the members wanted a real investigation. They produced a list of almost 9,000 people who had been kidnapped including habeas corpuswrits and all the details that their relatives and friends had supplied. The commission had a short time to do that. It also proved the existence of 340 concentration camps -- even more than the Nazis had. The Nazis had bigger camps. Can you imagine that? Nobody could imagine that happening in Argentina, not even us. But we wanted to find out. It was interesting, that commission was official. Some people were ready to denounce it. The commission produced a list of military people, police and some civilians who were involved in those crimes. That list was not made public -- it was given to the President.
The list of the missing is easily available because the commission issued a book called Nunca Mas [Never Again]. You can get a copy here in English.5 It contains descriptions of the crimes and an appendix of people identified in concentration camps: names and ages. They also tried to consolidate details and information on each camp. The list of those responsible for the kidnappings, the names of those who ran the camps -- the President has to decide whether it should be made public. Up to now, he has not. But there are always some leaks. So the names are known. There were officers, policemen, clergymen. Some members of the church were connected too.
What was the response of the Jewish Community?
That's a long story. The DAIA [Delegation of Argentine Jewish Organizations] 6 did not want to meddle, maybe because of fear. Everybody was fearful in those times. Everybody. There may have been the fear that the military would persecute the Jews collectively. But they were much smarter than that. The military in Argentina has been anti-Semitic by tradition. They tried to hide their anti-Semitism. They did not want Jews here in the States, whom they consider to be very powerful, to become critical. So they did not interfere in Jewish community life or in the schools or anything like that. Instead, they persecuted Jews individually. In fact, the percentage of Jews kidnapped is higher than non-Jews. As a Jew, I have criticized the behavior of the Argentinian Jewish Congress. But I criticize the church more. The DAIA had some power, but the church isreally powerful. It could have stopped the bloodshed if it really wanted to. It did not and so became an accomplice.
In those days the DAIA said that life was normal in Argentina. I guess it depends on what you consider normal. Imagine every day people are being kidnapped. Every day we learned -- everyone -- not just someone special -- everyone -- that her neighbor had been kidnapped or somebody had been found shot in the street or that there were violations, rapes. Still some say this is normal. Sometimes things were stolen because after they kidnapped somebody, they took almost everything from their houses. They stole everything. Sometimes they brought a van, belonging to the army and took even the furniture. Afterwards, they'd sell it. Sometimes they also stole the kids -- that you know. Despite all this -- some said life was normal. That's why I say: it depends on what you consider normal. Maybe it's normal until it's your own property, until they come for you.
One film showed a protest march and there was a big banner with a Mogen Dovid. What was that about?
During the last general dictatorship, members of the Jewish community also created a movement for human rights and protested. It was similar to other human rights groups. Today, most of the people have joined together, including me, and we have formed a foundation -- the Foundation for Social and Historic Memory.7 I believe it is necessary to leave a legacy so that younger people can take it into the future to new generations. The Foundation consists of members of the Jewish human rights organization and other human rights organizations. Most of us had children who were kidnapped or killed. Not all of us, but most of us. We were invited to France to participate in the bicentennial in some of the sessions regarding human rights.
People ask me about our aims. Of course, we still demand truth and justice. But our aim must be to leave a legacy, because biologically we don't have a very far horizon. Because of all this sacrifice, this holocaust must be remembered just like the Jewish holocaust in Europe. We must not forgive, we must not forget. A thing like that should never happen again. Nunca Mas must be a kind of banner for the future. We see the foundation as a way of keeping alive the social and historical memory.
Linea Fundadora is trying to do the same thing?
Of course, of course. But different in some way. The Foundation is preoccupied more with preserving this memory. Linea Fundadora also wants to keep the memory alive, but at the same time, we are still struggling to get the truth and to obtain justice. The Foundation is only dedicated to keeping the memory alive because the main concern of the human rights groups is the future. In order to have a future, we have to have a memory of the past.
Has there been any success in tracing the disappeared or their children?
We do not know which of the disappeared is still alive because nobody has told us. Even to this moment, we don't know their fate, except in a few cases. Even though we know that most of them have been killed in the most horrible ways, we still hope. But after so many years, it's not reasonable.
As far as we know, babies and small children were taken alive -- most of them. Finding them is the work of the Abuelas [Grandmothers].8 As far as I know about 50 children have been found and returned to their families. Actually, not all of them -- but the majority were returned. A few were left with their adoptive parents. In a very few cases, the adoptive parents didn't know the children had been stolen. That was the case of a boy and a girl who were kidnapped in Buenos Aires from Uruguayan parents and were taken to Chile. A couple found them in a plaza, so they took them and treated them like their own. They were finally traced thanks to a Ô=¿W0ÒÊP who had theÎ}pldren's' photos. It's a long story. The grandmother still lives in Uruguay. She went to Chile, saw the children and left them with the adoptive parents because they were good people. They have good relations with the grandmother. She does not have very much money. The adoptive parents are a bit more affluent. They pay for the grandmother to come to Chile once or twice a year and for the children to go to Uruguay to spend time with her -- just like a real family.
But that's not a typical case. In most cases, the children were taken by or given to military or police couples who could not have children of their own. Maybe these were even the same people who killed their parents. Maybe. Now there's a data bank so that the genetic links can be traced exactly and tested. It's working well.
You travel a lot to inform people about your work. In 1988 you attended the Israeli Jewish Women's Empowerment Conference. How was that?
The first time I was in Israel was in 1986 just for a visit. This second time I was there especially for the conference. I thought it was wonderful. We had the opportunity to listen to the problems of Jewish women in many countries. These are not just the problems of Jewish women because the problems of all women are the same. So it was interesting to hear about the situations of women in different countries and to discover the common links and purposes. The first thing we did as soon as we arrived was to hold a demonstration at Shamir's office about the question who is a Jew. We came united. We said to him: do not divide us.
A lot of the women at the conference who heard you speak said they were very moved.
I never prepare. I speak from the heart. I sort of feel what is going on around me. I thought of my children. They were older. The children in Israel wearing uniforms were younger. When I saw them smiling and thought that tomorrow they might not be and their mothers will be in tears... There is no justification for war. You cannot replace a life. People think only think in terms of numbers: a hundred, a thousand. But each is a life. We love them even when they are no longer living -- it is a tragedy. Be it a son or a daughter. Anyone we love. That is what I told them.
I think there's a need for Israel to establish more of a dialogue. I think for the sake of both peoples -- the Israelis and Palestinians -- it's necessary to establish a dialogue, to accept each other's existence -- the only way to find peace and prosperity for both.
You know there's a poem by Felix Grande, a Spanish poet. The poem is called "Nostalgia of the present" 9 -- if I could translate it for you. I think he's a Jew, but I'm not completely sure because it is a Spanish name, but it could be Jewish too. He recently went to Israel for the first time and in the poem he tells about sitting with Jews and Palestinians. He asked them how long it would take them to make peace if the powerful of the world would let them try. The Palestinians said, half an hour -- the Jews answered, half an hour. It would be enough. You understand what he means. And you know he kept on repeating: "I wish Anna was here" -- Anna Frank. He kept repeating things like that -- about young Jewish people, young Palestinian people who are suffering, who were perhaps being shot or stoned. He kept on repeating: "I wish Anna was here."
And you know at the conference, I told the women to use their voices because they are half of the country and to ask the Israeli government to give peace a chance because it's the only way to assure a future -- peace.
Do you know anything about the women's peace movement in Israel?
Somebody told me that there were women who were inspired by the Madres-- Women in Black -- who protest every Friday. But I had my ticket already, so I couldn't go see them. It was a pity. I would have liked to go because they are very courageous women. They suffer harassment, so they need courage. I would have liked to be there to give them my support, of course, especially when horrible things like the bus violence happen. People like Rabbi Kahane, the so-called fundamentalists -- Jews, Muslims, Catholics -- they're all the same. They're intolerant. Still, I accept them. If Jews want to live like they're still in the shtetl well let them do it. But it doesn't mean that they can make me live that way. I accept them, but they must accept me. But they don't. And the Muslims are as intolerant -- like with Salman Rushdie. And intolerance is the source of all evil in the world. It's the source also of all wars.
I will show you a photo that I carry with me that appeared last year in many newspapers. It's of some women crying. You can see their faces. So much pain. Because their children were killed. I think this was in India. And I always say we all have the same pain. All human beings. All mothers have the same pain, suffer the same sorrows. So what we need is tolerance, acceptance of each others' ways of living. I'll show you the photo. Look at this. I always carry it with me. Full of pain. It has no color, no religious faith, no race. As we say -- blood is always red.
In October 1989, Renee Epelbaum received the 1989 "Distinguished Award" of the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights at the University of Cincinnati, College of Law. That same month, the government of President Menem pardoned many of the military that had already been tried and were serving sentences» the government maintained that "national reconciliation" demanded it. Denouncing this action, Argentinian human rights organizations warned that "the wounds will remain open" and that the pardon reinforces the power of the military and the impunity to which it has become accustomed.
Linea Fundadora Renee Epelbaum's organization, is currently fundraising for a number of projects: the publication of a newsletter and reports» the purchase and installation of an office» and the development of a film and video library with supporting technical equipment. There are many excellent films made in Argentina and abroad which deal with the topic of military repression. Though it has very limited resources, Madres de la Plaza de Mayo/Linea Fundadora" visits neighborhoods, schools and community centers in various parts of the country, shows these films and holds discussions afterwards. The response of the population has been overwhelmingly positive.
Financial contributions to support Linea Fundadora can be sent
Argentine Information Service Center Victor Penchaszadeh, 32 West 82nd Street, Suite 7B, New York, NY 10024.
Checks should be made payable to Argentine Information Service Center. This organization is tax-exempt and is devoted exclusively to the promotion of human rights and democracy in Argentina.
1. Nunca Mas[Never Again]: The Report of the Argentine National
Commission on the Disappeared" (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986),
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2. Ibid, p.72.
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3. Women's International Zionist Organization
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4. The Bavarian-born Baron Maurice de Hirsch believed that Argentina
was a most promising site for Russian Jews to achieve freedom and security.
He was one of the world's richest men and invested his fortune in creating
for Jews "the possibility of finding a new existence, primarily as
farmers and also in handicrafts. In those lands where the laws and religious
tolerance permit them to carry on the struggle for existence as noble and
responsible subjects of a human government" (from Maurice de Hirsch,
"My Views on Philanthropy," _North American Review_, 153m No.
416 (July 1891):2.
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5. See Endnote 1.
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6. The DAIA was founded in the 1930s to defend Jewish culture and the
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7. For more information, write to the Fundacion Memoria Historica y Social
Argentina at Pte. J.D. Peron 1143, 6th, 85, Buenos Aires, 1038, Argentina.
Supporting members are welcomed.
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8. The Abuelos de Plaza de Mayo is another human rights group
that emerged in 1977. These women are women who not only lost their children
but also their grandchildren. The grandchildren had been either kidnapped
with their parents or were born in one of the 340 clandestine camps. The
Abuelas believe that the number of missing children is around 400.
For more on this see "Genetics and Justice," by Rita Arditti in
Woman of Power: Magazine of Feminism, Spirituality and Politics,
Issue 11 (Fall, 1988) and "The Missing Children of Argentina,"
by Arditti and M. Brinton Lykes in Sojourner (Jan. 1989).
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9. "Nostalgia of the Present" by Felix Grande. Published in
_Nueva Zion_ [New Zion], June 16, 1989, Argentina. It will also appear in
a forthcoming issue of _Raices_ [Roots], a Jewish publication edited in
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10. Sixteen died on July 6th, 1989, in a bus crash on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway when a Palestinian grabbed the steering wheel of the bus and forced it off the read into a ravine.
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