SYLVIA HORWITZ photography

DESAPARECIDOS: Mothers of the Disappeared


Thousands of dissidents and suspected leftists were kidnapped, held without record, tortured, and killed. Twelve clandestine detention centers operated like concentration camps: ESMA, La Perla, El Vesubio, El Club Atletico, El Olimpo, Pozo de Quilmes, Mansion Sere, El Banco, La Escuela, Automotores Orletti, El Campito, and El Silencio.

Human rights groups say that out of an estimated 5,000 people held at The Naval Mechanics School in Buenos Aires (ESMA), between 1977 and 1981, perhaps 200 prisoners survived. The government plan called for the "physical elimination by means of airplanes which, in flight, would throw live and drugged bodies into the void." Others were executed by firing squad and cremated in a nearby sports field.

My first encounter with ESMA and El Club Atl├ętico was on Mothers' Day in 2007. This was particularly poignant as I was aware that one specific characteristics of Argentina's state terrorism was the appropriation of abducted children, and the keeping of pregnant women in captivity until the birth of their babies. After delivery the mothers were murdered; their newborns were illegally adopted.

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