My parents are alive – by Juan M.S.

Based on historical facts

1999, Rosario, Argentina.

Elba was a happy 20 year old girl. She lived in a nice flat near the University where she studied economics and she visited her parents almost every weekend. They lived in a big house in a rich neighborhood of Rosario. People say that money doesn’t buy happiness, but Elba had good parents who provided for her physical and intellectual needs. Being well-off meant not only never having to worry about money or the future; it also meant a good education and an environment that allowed her to cultivate her interests and find her vocation. She wasn’t a bad person; she was simply a member of the higher class. She was what is called: a decent person, and everything indicated that she was to become a very respectable citizen. She was responsible and conscientious in everything she did, and she was very polite and well-mannered, besides having nice features and being always well-dressed. All of it made her a more than agreeable person and a desirable friend. Of course she looked down on lower class people, not because they were poor but because they weren’t cultured. There were some middle class people in her circle of friends, but those were exceptional cases. The first time she made acquaintance with people who didn’t have house servants and didn’t vacation in Europe was at University. Before that she’d been shielded from the country’s reality; so protected was she that she would deny fervently, whenever she talked to people abroad, that Argentina was unsafe or poor. In those situations she would generally say “Of course there are poor people, but that’s because they don’t want to work and, with respect to insecurity in my country, it’s totally exagerated; I mean, I’ve lived there my whole life and nothing ever happened to me or my family.” And it was true; her family managed to circumvent the daily violence and danger which the rest of the society lived in.

So everything was perfect in her life and “there was nothing she could dream of that couldn’t be achieved by consistent effort,” thus her father would always tell her. He was a lieutenant colonel in the army and, although he’d inherited most of his wealth, he’d managed to keep it intact throughout decades of economic and political instability. His dream of marrying a beautiful woman and sailing across the La Plata River in his own yacht were both realized, mostly thanks to his money, but also slightly due to the pleasantness and joviality he’d learned from years of idly socializing at private clubs, majestic parties and other events reserved to the higher class. However, a small annoyance marred his otherwise full happiness: people were upset at the country’s military. He knew very well that the lower class were always jealous of the few people like him, who happened to be born into wealth, but he would have never thought that a nation could be ungrateful to their heroes. And, with all due humility, he considered himself a military hero. He had helped prevent communism from taking over his country and several times he had narrowly escaped being killed by subversive groups. The war against the Marxist guerillas had fortunately finished in 1983, when the Process of National Reorganization came to an end. Many communist supporters claimed that around thirty thousand civilians had been abducted from their homes, tortured and disappeared by what they called “the repressive forces”. He was simply outraged at these people’s total lack of gratitude towards those that had saved their country from sinking into Marxist heresy. For a moment, at the period in which democracy had been reinstalled in Argentina and top military officers were being prosecuted, he had been truly concerned about his freedom, but so had been the majority of the military personnel, who organized a mutiny that forced the Congress to pass the Full Stop Law, which stopped the prosecution of the rest of the people involved in the so-called state terrorism. The next law, the Law of Due Obedience, had been passed a year later simply to appease soldiers’ consciences and restore some of their dignity. The law meant an amnesty for every soldier under the rank of Colonel, because they were supposed to obey orders. Thus, with the exception of two crimes: rape and extensive appropriation of real estate, soldiers had been reprieved from any punishment for their crimes. However, there was a third crime that had been left out of the deal because it was considered a continuing offense, that means a crime that’s committed over and over again, and this was what worried him the most, although he didn’t consider it a crime but an act of humanity. He managed to appease his fears most of the time, but whenever he heard or read news of someone being tried for this crime, his fears were stirred anew. However, the days of power of the military were over, so he could do nothing to tie up loose ends; he could only hope for the best. Everyone in his family knew about this situation, except for Elba. No one would have dared to tell her the truth because they loved her and they feared the truth would tear her heart.

But that day at the University everything changed for Elba. The life she knew was destroyed and she could never again put its peaces together. She was studying for an exam at the library of her faculty. She was alone, as usual when she had an important exam to study for. She was so focused on her book that she didn’t see the old woman who sat beside her and stared at her, convulsed by emotion. When she realized that someone was weeping beside her, she flinched away instinctively, but the fact that the old lady was staring at her startled her even more.

What happened, Mam?” she asked. “What happened?” But the old lady didn’t answer her. She repeated her entreaties “Is something wrong, Mam? What happens?” while she rubbed the lady’s shoulder with her hand.

Nothing’s wrong” said the old lady at last. “ I’m just so happy to see you.”

This startled Elba even more. “Do we know each other?” she asked in a gasp.

Oh my darling,” said the old lady, this time throwing her arms around Elba. But what paralyzed her with terror were the words the lady uttered in her ear, softly but clearly: “I’m your grandmother.”

Now, in normal circumstances these words have no horrific connotation, but Elba was sufficiently informed to be aware of the meaning these words had for a military child. “What are you talking about!?” she shouted in despair. “Get away from me!”

The old lady was dumbfounded; that was the reaction she had least expected. Although she hadn’t been tactful in breaking the news to her granddaughter, she was utterly saddened by her reaction.

I’ve been looking for you for twenty years,” she said, her words muffled by her sobs. “I’m sorry; I couldn’t find a better way to tell you, but you must believe me, you’re my granddaughter. I’m totally sure. My poor son and his wife were murdered, but you’re alive, you’re alive!”

Elba couldn’t stand it any longer. She put on the most composed expression she had and she said “I understand your pain, but it doesn’t allow you to shit on my family,” and she left almost running, not even once turning her head back to see her grandmother’s face covered by tears, her eyes a reflection of the desolation in her heart.”

Identity forgery and forced disappearance of minors were crimes punishable with at least three years of prison. Both her parents were convicted, in spite of her tears and cries at court. She testified that they were the best parents a child could have and she added that, if the crime was committed against her, why couldn’t she release them from their punishment? She never changed her mind, not even when she heard during the trial that her father was present at the moment of the execution of her blood parents and that it was at that moment that he had decided to take her home. How could she blame him or her mother? If they had wronged her in any way, they had already made up for it with twenty years of infinite love and support. But the judges didn’t share her views and found both her parents guilty, condemning them to seven and eleven years of prison.

Elba never reconciled herself with the Argentinean judiciary system and, as soon as she finished her studies, she moved abroad, far away from the country that had robbed her of her parents. She never spoke to her blood grandmother either; she simply hated her for what she had done. She did speak with her father’s mother, her “real grandma”; whenever she could she called her on the phone. She was also in touch with her aunts and specially with a cousin who she was very close with. She went back to Argentina every three or six months, so she could visit her parents in prison until they were let out. She also kept track of the news about other people tried for the same crime as her parents. She was astonished at most of the news. In one case, the convicted father repudiated his child and told him at the end of his trial “This is all your fault. You’ve ruined our lives.” In most cases, the children turned against their parents and sometimes they went so far as to demand the maximum penalty for them. Most of the children of disappeared people were glad to find their grandmothers, who had relentlessly looked for them. It was a great madness she couldn’t understand, a Roman circus she despised with all her being. In Europe, were she was living, the few people who knew about this part of Argentinian history tended to compare the crimes committed by the Argentinean military with the atrocities committed by the Nazis in Europe. They found a real similitude between the abduction of minors in her country and the kidnapping and Germanization of Aryan-looking children by the Nazis in Europe. However, they took care never to stir the subject in front of her. By now she was already happily married with three children; both her parents had already been released from prison and lived in a secluded house in the countryside. She visited them once or twice a year. Whenever some of her European friends or newly acquired relatives were so tactless as to touch the subject of her parents, she would inexorably say: “I’m not a Nazi, but my parents are alive.”

The question is if a person who stole a newborn, who hid the fact that the baby was robbed, who perhaps kidnapped or tortured its parents, who separated it from them and its family, who always lied about its background, who – more frequently than one would like to think – mistreated it, humiliated it, deceived it; if a person who did all, or some, of this, can know and believe that this is parental love. I answer no; that the bond with this type of person will remain determined by cruelty and perversion.”- words of Maria Eugenia Sampallo, illegally adopted daughter of disappeared parents.

“The events depicted in this story are fictitious. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental.”


I'm a writer born in Argentina, but currently living in Poland. I work as an English and French teacher, translator and copywriter.

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