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Arts & Culture Brother of Lost Argentine Jew Turns His Experiences into Art

November 13, 2001
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That sentence, in capital letters, is on Fernando Ruben Brodsky’s file. And it is part of a secret group of documents collected by the forces behind Argentina’s 1970s-era “dirty war” that recently were delivered anonymously to human rights organizations and given to a federal court on Nov. 6.

These files containing material from naval intelligence services — such as individuals’ photographs, addresses, interests, meeting places and their relatives’ occupations — will be added to the investigation of illegal repression at ESMA, the Navy School of Mechanics.

According to survivors’ testimonies to the Federal Chamber of Justice, about 4,500 men and women were tortured at an ESMA camp and then thrown — alive but sedated — into the Rio de la Plata River between 1976 and 1983.

Fernando Brodsky was a 22-year-old psychology student when he disappeared in August 1979. But it was his political contacts, including a few meetings of “a socialist nature,” that aroused the suspicion of Argentine security forces — and was enough to mark him as a target.

His younger brother’s disappearance had a powerful impact on the work of Marcelo Brodsky, the internationally known photographer.

Marcelo Brodsky’s art work utilizes memories and motifs of an Argentine Jewish family of the past decades. Emptiness — from a disappeared brother, disappeared friends, people who fled Argentina and the 1994 bombing of AMIA, Buenos Aires’ main Jewish community center — is an essential element of his work.

The white-haired Brodsky, 47, recently met with JTA at his bright Buenos Aires office, filled with red leather armchairs.

He is still reeling from the experience of giving his brother’s file to federal court.

At the same time, though, Brodsky is preparing an art exhibit that will open on Nov. 15 at the Recoleta cultural center, the most prominent art center in Buenos Aires.

In addition to photos, Brodsky will show a one-and-a-half ton piece of granite that was part of the old AMIA building, as well as exploded, illuminated and half Stars of David that Brodsky created with rubble from the AMIA bombing.

There also will be pictures of Fernando, who had thick lips and a deep, dark look.

“My work has always been composed with personal elements,” the artist said.

After security forces tried to arrest him for several articles he had written for a left-wing newspaper, Marcelo Brodsky fled Argentina. He settled in Spain for seven years, and his exhibition will show a picture with a full key ring that Brodsky carried there.

“As the Jews who, expelled from Spain” in 1492, “took with them the keys to their homes and kept them for 500 years, our keys came with us too, in suitcases and in pockets,” Brodsky said. “Keys to houses that had been searched, destroyed, violated” share the same ring “with new keys that opened other doors and allowed us to construct once again a home, maybe forever, maybe just for a time.”

The main speaker at Brodsky’s exhibition will be Daniel Goldman, the rabbi of the Beit El community center and synagogue in Buenos Aires and vice president of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights of Argentina.

Brodsky’s childhood memories are happier ones, full of images of rowing at the Jewish Hacoaj Nautical Club in Buenos Aires province. Yet the family’s subsequent history has been less happy.

Brodsky’s father, Mauricio, is a member of the Association of Relatives of Disappeared Jews.

His mother, Sara, has built a small altar in her dinning room around a bust of Fernando that she sculpted. The altar has a menorah and little dolls of Jewish immigrants with Torahs under their arms.

These objects “tell how, in the worst years of fear, my parents found refuge in community traditions and in a certain seclusion in the Jewish community,” Brodsky said. “Familiar with other tragedies that we Jews suffered, they sought the key to continue living in the reaffirmation of their identity.”

Over Brodsky’s black office desk, a blue paperweight with a golden menorah is piled among two telephones, a mobile telephone and an assortment of disks, books, papers and photo albums. He is such a bundle of activity during the interview that every paper seems to be alive, in constant movement.

“The tradition of working to recover memory has to do with Jewish culture,” Brodsky said — and it is something he does a lot of.

Brodsky has just arrived from Mexico, where he was part of the jury of the International Press Photography Prize organized by the Foundation for New Latin American Journalism, whose president is Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Currently, Brodsky is a member of Buenos Aires’ Commission for a Monument for the Victims of State Terrorism, and is one of the organizers of the Park of Memory, located near the same Rio de la Plata river were bodies were thrown during the last military government.

He also belongs to the board of directors of Buena Memoria, an NGO dedicated to working for human rights in Argentina.

Also scheduled is an upcoming exhibit the San Francisco Jewish Museum called “Faces of Memory: Found Photographs and Memory Albums.” Brodsky will share that exhibition with the French photographer Christian Boltanski, who often uses Holocaust memory in his work.

Brodsky also has been invited to a congress on global justice be held in January in Haifa.

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