BUENOS AIRES, Oct. 17 (JTA) — For three straight weeks, Olga Degtiar has not worked at her clothing store 50 miles from here.
Instead, the thin, blond Degtiar, 58, has taken a train to downtown Buenos Aires and spent the afternoon inside a courtroom.
In the basement of the court building, 20 people are on trial for their alleged role in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in which 85 people, including Degtiar’s son Cristian, were killed, and some 300 wounded.
Behind reinforced glass, Degtiar and others who lost family members in the attack sit in one of the 22 available seats for victims’ relatives.
For several hours, they watch the backs of the 20 defendants — some of whom are accused of supplying the stolen van used in the attack; others with offenses discovered during the investigation process.
Seven years ago, Cristian Degtiar was 21, a law student and an employee at the AMIA center, the central address for Argentine Jewry that housed communal and social activities and a jobs center.
“I didn’t think the trial was going to impact me so much,” Olga Degtiar told JTA. “Facing the people accused and listening to the whole process of the bombing makes me sick.”
Pain relievers can’t alleviate her headaches, and tranquilizers can’t help her sleep.
Attending the trial has brought back memories of the July 18, 1994, bombing.
“I recall my daughter’s call. I was at my shop,” Degtiar says. “My husband started to drive. He had convulsions. When we got to the building, I realized that was the end for me.”
Since the attack, Degtiar no longer goes to synagogue — even though her son-in-law is studying to become a rabbi.
“The support comes from my family. But it is not easy,” she said. “Inside the family, everyone is living through their own pain, and it makes it hard to hold others.”
Some of the victims’ relatives — and others in the Jewish community — are skeptical about the trial. After seven years, they say, those who masterminded the attack have yet to be apprehended.
Jorge Lew lost his son, Agustin, who was 21 and working for the AMIA department that handled Jewish burials.
Lew belongs to Memoria Activa, a group of relatives that is critical to the investigation process and asked for the suspension of the trial.
“I was not ready to listen about how Agustin was found,” he told JTA.
“My everyday life has not changed with the beginning of this trial. I will attend the trial on and off,” Lew said. “It is only that I feel more anger, unfairness.”
As the trial continues, many of the victims’ relatives will be seated behind the reinforced glass, pain etched on their faces.
Sofía Guterman generally sits next to Degtiar and shares the same empty look of exhaustion.
Guterman lost her only daughter, Andrea, who was 28 and at AMIA’s employment office looking for a job teaching kindergarten when the bomb went off.
Sofia Guterman’s husband, Alberto, is not emotionally prepared for the trial, so Sofia goes everyday.
“I don’t want an empty chair for Andrea,” she said. “Sometimes I do not even hear what is being said. I only keep looking through the reinforced glass to the defendants. I look for a detail that could be different from other humans. I cannot find it.”
Guterman has been active in discussing the attack with local schoolchildren. A month ago, she spoke to a class of 12-year-olds, reciting poems she wrote to her daughter.
“I cannot stay crying at home. I come here to ask you not to forget the AMIA attack,” she said to an audience transfixed by her words.
But that was before the trial.
“I don’t feel like standing in front of any students now,” she said during a break in the court proceedings.
ARGENTINE JEWS HOPE AMIA CASE WILL BE TAKEN MORE SERIOUSLY
Jewish representatives attending the trial of 20 people implicated in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center here are hoping that last month’s terrorist attacks in the United States will help focus attention on this unsolved crime.
“The terrorist episodes in the United States made it even more important to follow the AMIA trial. And the Argentine government knows it, and the court knows it, too,” said Jacob Kovadloff, Latin American affairs consultant for the American Jewish Committee.
Kovadloff is attending the trial’s first two weeks along with Kara Stein, assistant legal director for the AJCommittee.
Samuel Kaplan, representing B’nai B’rith International, also has been attending the trial for the bombing, which killed 85 people and wounded 300. Leonard Cole and Martin Raffel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs attended the first two days.
Israel’s ambassador to Argentina, Benjamin Oron, attended the trial’s opening as well.
Jewish observers agree that this trial — which focuses on the “local connection” in the attack — is just a first step.
“As long as the people responsible for the attack are not found, there is always the chance that it will happen again, like in September in the United States,” Kaplan told JTA.
In addition to the AMIA attack, the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people also remains unsolved.