BUENOS AIRES (Jul. 13)
It’s been 10 years since 21-year-old Cristian Degtiar lost his life in the devastating bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center here, but the profound loss suffered by Degtiar’s family remains as raw today as it was a decade ago. “Nothing can be as pitifully noisy as silence,” Olga Degtiar, Cristian’s still-grieving mother, says about life since her son’s untimely death. “Cristian is still 21, and I won’t see his children or his law diploma.”
Grasping her head in her hands near the sunny dining area in the family’s home on the northern outskirts of Buenos Aires, Olga remembers the day of the fateful attack that claimed 85 lives — July 18, 1994 — as if no time at all has passed.
When he was killed, Cristian was on winter break from law school. Under normal circumstances, he spent mornings in class, but he had taken on additional hours at his job at the DAIA Jewish community umbrella group during the school vacation to e! arn some extra money.
Not wanting to wake other members of his family, Olga says, Cristian silently waved goodbye to his mother and headed out to the AMIA center, where the DAIA was located.
About three hours later, Olga, already hard at work alongside her husband, Juan, at the family’s hardware store, received an anxious phone call from her daughter asking where Cristian was.
“Where is Cristian?” Marina Degtiar asked. “There was a bomb at AMIA.”
Immediately, Olga and Juan leapt into action, speeding down to the AMIA in their car in a desperate effort to determine their son’s fate.
When they arrived, the parking lot was full and the fearful couple simply abandoned their car with the engine still running as they rushed off to search for Cristian.
It took two days to locate Cristian’s body, which was pulled intact from the rubble. When Olga received the news, she was resting at home with the aid of prescription sedatives, surrounded by her sons, in-laws a! nd grandchildren, who moved into her house for two months following th e attack.
Cristian was, by his mother’s account, “a boy with a brilliant mind and love for knowledge.”
He enjoyed writing and won a trip to Israel for an essay he wrote on discrimination. He was an avid soccer fan, competing in tournaments sponsored by the local Jewish sports league. He was fascinated by the unique situation of immigrants and by all things military.
For the first five months after Cristian’s death, Olga could not bring herself to enter his bedroom. For five years, Juan Degtiar was unable even to utter his dead son’s name.
Initially, the Degtiars decided to leave the house they had lived in since Cristian was four. But instead, they enlisted their nephew, an architect, to completely redesign the house’s interior layout so that it would no longer resemble the home they had shared with Cristian.
Today, Olga sleeps in the same spot that was once Cristian’s bedroom.
“Of all his belongings, all I have now is a box this small,” she says, outlini! ng a small square into the air with her hand.
Time has not dimmed the anguish over the loss of her son, the youngest of three children. What should be life’s most joyous moments — births, graduations, marriages — have become the most painful, Olga says.
Her grief makes it difficult even to attend synagogue regularly, despite the encouragement from her son-in-law, who is a rabbi.
“The synagogue is the place where I can see most clearly how my life has been changed,” Olga says. “Inside the synagogue I feel the strong mark of what my life was and what it is.”
She finds more frequent solace in the meetings of the Familiares de las Victimas, a group representing relatives of 40 victims of the bombing, which she attends with her daughter, Marina. This way, she is able to ensure that Cristian’s memory does not fade with the passing years.
“Cristian’s absence is so strong that he remains a presence among our grandchildren,” Olga said. “Even the 4-year-old grandch! ildren play with his photos.”