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October 27, 1989 - Image 45

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-10-27

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Mad re de Os Desaparecidos



Special to The Jewish News


uis Epelbaum sat
across from his
mother, Renee,
and lamented the
anguish around

He couldn't bear seeing
another person walk out of
the Buenos Aires hospital
where he worked. "We cure
people, but after two months
they're back. They can't af-
ford food or medicine."
Luis always was that kind
of a boy, his mother says. He
was bright and sympathetic
and concerned about others.
Today, Luis probably lies
buried somewhere in a mass
grave. Perhaps he is near his
younger brother and sister.
All three, aged 25, 23 and
20, were kidnapped in 1976.
Taken along with thousands
of other "subversives"
—mostly students and in-
tellectuals — by Argentinian
authorities, they vanished
like shadows in the night.
Renee Epelbaum lives
with those shadows. They
wake up with her in the
morning and lie beside her
at night. They will not leave.
One of the original 14
Mothers of the Disappeared
— women who marched in
the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos
Aires, demanding to know
the whereabouts of their
children — Epelbaum con-
tinues to speak out for her
sons and daughter. She was
in Detroit last week, the
guest of the Birmingham
Temple, Temple Israel and
Wayne State University's
Center for Peace and Con-
flict Studies.

One of the 14 original Mothers of Plaza de Mayo,
Renee Epelbaum still hopes she will find her
three missing children.

The daughter of Russian
immigrants, Epelbaum tried
every avenue to learn her
children's fate after they
disappeared. Lawyers
wouldn't help her because it
was too dangerous. "Not the
police, not the armed forces
—nobody knew. That's why
we say they vanished into
thin air."
Then in 1977, five months
after her last child became
part of the desaparecidos,
the missing ones, Epelba.um
heard from a friend that
several women were gather-
ing at the. Plaza de Mayo to
protest their children's kid-
napping. Located in the
heart of Argentina's capital,
Buenos Aires, the plaza
stood directly below the
palace from which Eva
Peron made her frequent
speeches about helping the
Epelbaum remembers her
first meeting with the
Mothers, who carried large
signs with pictures of their
missing children. She ap-
proached slowly, anxious
about the policemen who
wore fatigues and helmets,
but determined to do
anything that might reunite
her with her children.
"You know those people in

Viet Nam who set fire to
themselves? HI knew I could
bring my children back, I
would have set fire to my-
Epelbaum soon became a
regular at the Plaza de
Mayo, where she met
visitors from abroad who ex-
pressed astonishment at her
"At first, I said, 'No, we're
not courageous,"' she says.
"Later, I realized they were
right. But we never thought

Her son, Claudio,
beat rhythms with
the chains on his
arms and sang on
the weekends
when the guards
were drunk.

about that or about being
afraid. We just knew we had
to be there."
What started as a small
group increased to a crowd
as more women learned of
the Mothers. "And, of
course, as the missing in-
creased, the mothers in-
creased, too."
In 1979, Epelbaum

chanced to hear news of two
of her children.
An international fact-
finding committee had come
to Buenos Aires to study the
situation of the
desaparecidos. Epelbaum
went to speak of her
children. She stood in line
behind a young man whom
Argentinian authorities had
just released from one of
their camps.
"Apparently, they had
taken the wrong person,"
Epelbaum say's. "But they
kept this boy for three mon-
ths anyway."
A woman nearby asked,
"Was my son there?"
The man said he didn't no.
"Then I turned my head
just a bit (to face him),
though I didn't think it
would do anything,"
Epelbaum says. "I had asked
so many people; they all said
they knew nothing. So I
spoke to him without much
Yes, the man replied. He
had met Epelbaum's two
younger children in the
camp. "And considering the
circumstances, they are
well," he said.
Her daughter had been left
alone, he told Epelbaum.
Claudio, her son, had been

tortured. But he made music
even_ in the depths of
desp'air. Claudio beat
rhythms with the chains on
his arms and sang on the
weekends when the guards
were drunk, the man said.
Epelbaum remembered
how much Claudio had
always loved music. He used
to sing at his school on na-
tional holidays. Luis also
liked music and played the
clarinet. Their sister enjoyed
All were "very sweet, very
tender children," Epelbaum
says. She speculates they
were kidnapped because
they were students. An
aspiring lawyer, Claudio
studied music and litera-
ture; her daughter was in-
terested in psychology.
"People studying liberal
arts were, for the military,
very dangerous people."
Epelbaum's . children also
were Jewish. While this in
itself was not enough to
precipitate their arrest, the
Argentinian military dic-
tatorship feared intellec-
tuals, and most Jews were
well educated, Epelbaum
• Her brief meeting with the
man in line was the only in-
formation Epelbaum ever
received of her children.
"Maybe they were killed. I
think that because they
haven't appeared until now.
But I still wait for a
Epelbaum also is seeking
justice. Argentina's leaders
have barely dealt with the
desaparecidos, she says.
"With the echo abroad, the
government has tried to pre-



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