Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Jacobo Timerman: Prisoner without a Name, Cell Without a Number

What it is: Jacobo Timerman was a journalist in Argentina during the Dirty Wars. I know very little about Argentina's history, although it sounds very familiar to me- like something I knew and forgot and should still know. You can read a very short version of what happened, especially to Argentinian Jews here: https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/1999/mar/24/guardianweekly.guardianweekly1

Timerman was imprisoned for years and wrote a memoir of his time in prison that also includes the backstory of the country, the political situation, and the lives of those around him. He was in secret prisons, along with thousands of others. Black sites- no one knew where he was, and he writes of specific cruelty by guards who singled out Jews for the fact of being Jewish.

Why you should read itJournalists, outspoken people and Jews were targeted during the Dirty Wars. If this is sounding familiar, like Nazi Germany, you're not alone: Timerman makes this connection throughout his memoir. But if it's sounding a little too close to home in this new Trump era, you might also not be alone. I'm not falling into the "Jews are victims" cohort yet (I'm Jewish, I get to say that!), but I think you can substitute Muslims and see where this country might be going. Being Muslim may not be an official crime (yet), but it certainly singles folks out for special (bad) treatment. And I don't think it's far fetched to say that hate crimes against Jews are up- even USA Today is reporting on it.

My "aha" moment: Near the end of the book, Timerman writes that he believes "that all this could have been prevented. By the Jews themselves, by the Christians. But it was not. But it was not. And remembering what happened in Europe, uniting the two experiences, the German one of the 1930s and the Argentine one of the 1970s, it is difficult to find consolation. There is no possible consolation." 

World War II was less than 40 years before the Argentinian Dirty Wars, and yet history was allowed to repeat in Argentina because people forgot. We are now 80 years away, and very few survivors are left: there is little living memory. Instead we have people who want to revive the hatred, and people who deny the Holocaust altogether. Do millenials even know what the Holocaust was? If we forget, it makes it that much easier for the Dirty Wars can happen here- whether to Jews or to Muslims. Maybe the wars have already started- by means of the prison industrial complex and the travel bans. We have an obligation to remember (especially the Jews- Timerman is particularly hard on his own people who are acquiescent out of fear).

Rating: I'm not sure I can recommend this book. It was really hard to read, but also really powerful. The writing is stilted, probably partly because of the translation.