As a child I spent hours sitting still, posing for my mother Raquel, and yearning to see on her canvas a face that resembled mine. Instead, portrayals of huge-eyed sad women blossomed on her easel. I learned patience, and a couple of notions about art.
As a child Ruth dreamt about her parents, free at last and holding her hands through the streets of Bahia Blanca. Instead, she was forced to leave her country to hug them again. She learned about loss, solidarity, and the immeasurable power of memory. Decades later, still in the country that had accepted them as refugees, she wrote,
I am the daughter of doves
That disappeared into dust
I have many friends and thirty thousand
Warrior angels to watch
Over my exiled skin.
You will know me by this.
I am the daughter that never forgets.
The thirty thousand angels that my daughter, Ruth Irupe Sanabria, conjures up in her poem are the disappeared of Argentina. They had been hunted down, tortured, and killed by the military regime for embracing a political credo that challenged the dictatorship. Their bodies were never returned to their families. Christians active in the Liberation Theology movement, Jews who had partaken in the kibutz experience, members of the Peronist Youth, the Revolutionary Workers Party, and other leftist organizations, these victims had in common a strong belief in social justice. They –and their targeted families, belonged to a national group seeking social change.
The disappeared were kidnapped, taken to an unknown location, tortured and eventually killed. Their corpses were forever hidden in the deep ocean, or in unmarked mass graves. Their children were systematically stolen from their families, considered by the regime ideologically unfit to raise them.  Over five hundred children had their identities stolen this way by the dictatorship. In most cases, the military forces denied any knowledge of their whereabouts, but gave those babies away to their own friends, accomplices, and supporters. Some children of the disappeared were killed in captivity or when their parents resisted detention.
My daughter and I are among the very few survivors. My parents recovered Ruth from a neighbor’s house, where the Army had left her after kidnapping my husband and me. We credit our survival –and release as refugees, to international pressure generated by a strong domestic resistance movement that acquired visibility through the struggle of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo.
My own mother, my daughter, and I have embraced art and poetry to tell the world about that genocide that still today, four decades later, is equivocally called “The Dirty War.” These words are an abbreviation of the “dirty war against subversion” that the military government claimed it was heroically fighting. It engraved those words, “Dirty War” in the collective consciousness through propaganda campaigns on the heavily censored media. The fact that even the best intentioned people are still calling the extermination campaign waged by the regime “dirty war” amounts to a small victory for the dictatorship. However, today we –the survivors they demonized and aimed to destroy, have our voices validated in courtrooms. The cultural products born of our suffering are appreciated and respected by the younger generations. They gravitate toward my writings, centered around the ways we resisted annihilation and the destruction of solidarity.
Recently, the theories advanced by Daniel Feirstein in his book Genocide as Social Practice: Reorganizing Society under the Nazis and Argentina’s Military Juntas, have given me important tools to argue that –contrary to what the dictatorship wanted us to believe, what happened in my country was a genocide. Feierstein analyses how the regime sought to stigmatize and destroy solidarity in our society, and reorganize all social relations to mirror its own ideals.
For the past five years, genocide perpetrators who have not been spared due to what we call “biological impunity” –their demise before justice is achieved, sit in rows behind hundreds of witnesses in courts of law across the Argentine territory. Every weekday, for months, sometimes for years, the accused are forced to listen to the testimonies of their crimes against humanity. Civilian accomplices, priests who blessed the extermination weapons, genocide instigators and propagandists –like the director of La Nueva Provincia newspaper in my hometown, are also summoned as defendants.
The trials against the military personnel responsible for the secret detention camp where I was held, the Little School, started uncannily on my daughter’s birthday, June 28 (2011) and ended with a verdict on my granddaughter’s birthday, December 17 (2013).
My attention to these dates and our multigenerational performances might be better understood in the context of Gottfried Bloch’s struggle against what he calls “unfree associations.” Bloch, a psychoanalyst and holocaust survivor, describes how his experiences in a concentration camp have returned to his memory in a painful, overpowering way, “intruding into present joy . . . magnifying (his) anxieties of tomorrow. . .” (3). To recover his strength he has turned to Heinz Kohut’s definition of “the time axis” as the subjective inner sense of continuity of time within a person’s life. Bloch writes,
Reestablishing such continuity after the kind of traumatic fragmentation I experienced was an important part of my return to a fulfilling life. The continuity of the time axis from its roots in the past connects to the future and relates to fulfilling one’s earlier goals. (4)
In our case, the multigenerational testimony is a powerful resistance strategy to confront the trauma of family disintegration due to disappearance, imprisonment, and exile.
When I was in prison –after five months in secret detention, I shared my own poems to Ruth with other mothers who had been separated from their children. As Frieda Aaron observed when studying the works produced in the ghettos and concentration camps, we too were writing “less as a means of self-expression than as succor, a vehicle of mitigating daily disasters.” (3) The immediate role of testimonial poems was then to contribute to our survival in its most basic meaning: To sooth the victim’s pain so she could make it to the next day, the next hour. Frieda Aaron’s analysis in Bearing the Unbearable. Yiddish and Polish Poetry in the Ghettos and Concentration Camps, illuminated my own study of the poetry written by genocide survivors and their relatives in the Southern Cone. Our poems were often born from the impulse of easing the pain of others, which in turn helped mitigate our own sorrows.
Today, four decades after the events, my mother Raquel, my daughter Ruth and I, present our multigenerational testimony, our paintings and poetry, at universities in the U.S. and Argentina. Audiences can see how political persecution, even when it apparently targets one generation, it severely hurts the others. Even when diverse circumstances prevent us from being together at a certain event, Ruth, Raquel, and I share the works of the others. Our readers, our audiences, tend to relate stronger to the experience generationally closer to their own. Therefore, we build credibility through our own work and stories to call attention to other crimes against humanity, and to strengthen a discourse of solidarity.
When we read our poems about Raquel and Ruth visiting me in an Argentine prison, we use the opportunity to denounce the cruel imprisonment of immigrant families in the U.S. today. These performances are emotionally draining, but paradoxically, they are also healing: Our suffering was not in vain if we can educate people and inspire them to act against these crimes.
We usually read the three poems that follow, against a backdrop where my mother’s art is projected. I wrote the first one, “To My Daughter,” in Villa Devoto, a Buenos Aires detention center for women political prisoners. Ruth was about two years old; I could see her through a glass every forty five days, and we talked through a microphone. Although we could occasionally send poems to our relatives, this one was never allowed to leave, it was returned to me stamped with the words: “Censored. Marxist contents.” I share it often to stress the fact that it is finally free. Audiences can also see the dictatorship’s ideological framework at work, and the extent to which solidarity was threatening and deserving of the worst adjective they could conceive: “Marxist.”
To my Daughter: Letter from Prison
My throat befriends the winds
to reach you
dear gentle heart, new eyes.
place your ear to a sea shell,
or to this infamous prison phone,
The reason is so simple,
like a drop of water
or a seed
that fits in the palm of your hand.
The reason is so very simple:
I could not
stop fighting for the happiness
of those who are our brothers our sisters. 
In 2011, the three of us presented our work at American University in Washington DC. After my reading, my mother read the following poem she had written about her experience visiting that prison, an experience she was able to denounce when testifying via Skype in the trials against the perpetrators.
Behind the High Façade
At 1 p.m.
Thieves to the right ! Subversives to the left!
We –subversives, comfortably line up
on the sidewalk along the high cement façade
washed by the falling rain.
The guard at the prison’s gate, after
such a friendly welcome,
gesticulates to emphasize the necessity
of putting order in that exemplary place
while letting the line on the right side in,
because, he claims, it had arrived on time.
At 3 p.m.
We gently are invited to enter the building
and are sent to the inspection rooms.
Woman warden, with delicate fingers, touches us
everywhere to check if we brought dangerous items.
That’s a very important thing to do.
My three year old granddaughter
could have forgotten to leave at home the razor
blades and little knives she usually plays with
and bring them beneath her underwear
or maybe hidden in her body.
At 4 p.m.
Surely the line on the right side came on time.
It is sent directly to visit the prisoners.
Our line is sent to the prison’s chapel, to wait,
and enjoy the place for hours.
When we tell the guard who passes by
we are thirsty he, with a big smile
and very friendly, answers:
“Go and ask God for water!”
At 6 p.m.
Two guards come and ask us to follow them.
While walking through open gates
we smell the aroma of fresh meat a cook carries
in a cart, to prepare the prisoners’ dinner.
I look around to see if a bathroom is available.
When I ask the guards about that . . . we’re told
We’ve just arrived at the visiting room.
He lets us go in first and shuts the door
from outside, with a pad-lock.
While her grandmother read these stanzas, Ruth stood in awe: The poem she had chosen to share (an excerpt from her “O Infamous Window”) was about her own experience as a child visiting me in prison. From the many ordeals they went through all those years, they, perhaps by no coincidence, chose to write about that very same moment.
O Infamous Window
there were no water fountains or coke machines
in the courtyard waiting area
and most prisoners were called los comunes
because they were common thieves and murderers.
bottom line, sister, their relatives were allowed chairs and shade.
and “courtyard waiting area”is a bit generous
to describe where we waited.
we were not there for los comunes.
we stood against the endless prison wall,
on the outside, for all the better eyes to watch
our good clothes turn rank,
our clean faces salt.
we hated the eye back.
ask God for water! a guard spat
at a daughter of los subversivos
and there is nothing infantile or hollywood
about why. The longest finger of the crusades.
and so when the hour came, we marched
family per family into the church
that sanctified the prison, and then, out
and straight into the box
where all the demons were kept
and when we were in, we were in
and they closed the door. (13)
These poems have resonated with many audiences. However, the most powerful and immediate response came from a poetry workshop I offered to CIVIC activists last year. The organization (Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement) had invited me to join several dozen community activists, former immigration detainees, and their relatives at its annual retreat in California. After my reading, I encouraged participants to work in groups, to reflect and to write about solidarity, and their prison visits. The results of that workshop are in the forthcoming collection Call Me Libertad.  This e-book presents an urgent denunciation of these human rights abuses, and will hopefully encourage more writings and submissions from the victims, their relatives, and their advocates. I hope to find other multigenerational testimonies among these new artistic responses.
Unfortunately, my research at the Holocaust Memorial Museum back in 2014, was not very successful in term of finding multigenerational artistic responses to the Holocaust and other genocides. I am convinced of the existence of multiple examples, even when they are not readily available due to language barriers, the shyness of survivors and their relatives, or the different approaches taken by scholars.
Other Dialogues, Other Families
Other survivors recreate in their writings a multigenerational perspective. Such is the case of María del Carmen Sillato in her book Diálogos de amor contra el silencio: Memorias de prisión, sueños de libertad (Love Dialogues Against Silence: Memories of Imprisonment, Dreams of Freedom). Sillato had given birth in captivity before I met her in the late 70’s in a Buenos Aires prison for political detainees. Her son, Gabriel, had been returned to her family. Her book –a collage with letters from prison and two personal journals, was published in Argentina three decades after the events. The first journal in the text is a literary device for the author to narrate her life back then, and the second diary, written in the 70’s by her sister Chary, takes the baby’s voice and persona. The child tells his mother about his new life away from her. Even when Gabriel’s voice is fictionalized in this book, his encouragement to have it published was a decisive factor to write it. This dialogue between the actual letters written by the mother to Gabriel back then and Chary’s “Gabriel’s Diary” exemplifies what Chilean scholar Rene Jara, had stated in his pioneer book on Latin American testimonial texts. For him testimonial texts, “go beyond [offering] an interpretation of reality. . . [they] are traces of the real, of that story that cannot be expressed as such. The image inscribed in the testimonio is the material vestige of the victimized subject.”(2)
The victimized family’s initiative to publish this work amounts to reclaiming the events despite their traumatic nature. In Dori Laub’s words, “The event must be reclaimed because even if successfully repressed, it nevertheless invariably plays a decisive formative role in who one comes to be, and in how one comes to live one’s life. (86)
Laub furthermore analyses the socio-semiotic elements at play in these texts, “The testimony is, therefore, the process by which the narrator (the survivor) reclaims his position as a witness: reconstitutes the internal “thou”, and thus the possibility of a witness or a listener inside himself.”(85) In Sillato’s book we can see the construction of that inner listener,
You want to wake up; you want a hand to touch you, a voice to call you by name. But you know it’s impossible, that there is no easy way to slip away from the reality of nightmare. You, the other one, you watch yourself from the depths of yourself to figure out how and when all this began. But the effort exhausts you, your past and your present evaporate and you bury yourself little by little in the narcotic of sleep.
Unfortunately, this book is not available in English. Most of the rich testimonial production published in Argentina in the past ten years has yet to be translated, as is the case of the two books I will discuss next.
Collective Testimonial Texts
Those material vestiges that Rene Jara sees in testimonial texts, gain strength when the testimony is conveyed from the perspectives of generations of witnesses. Letters from prison serve as evidence of those connections, as bridges to reconstruct memories, and as material vestiges of that past that needs to be remembered so Never Again becomes a reality. Letters sent from that Villa Devoto prison mentioned in our poems, are the most important feature of the book Nosotras, presas políticas. 1974-1983 [We, Women Political Prisoners].With introductory essays contextualizing historically and politically each chapter, and additional documentation in a CD, the work provides a deep insight into the lives and beliefs of the over 1200 women who spent years in detention. This unique book, the collective work of 112 former Villa Devoto political prisoners, includes writings and illustrations produced in captivity, and personal narratives written afterwards. This project had been initiated by Mariana Crespo, a former political prisoner with active participation in the Liberation Theology movement.  Crespo had in turn been motivated by her encounter with a Holocaust survivor, as reported by co-editor Viviana Beguán,
Around the year 1998, Darío Olmo, the anthropologist, invited some of us . . to tell him about our prison experiences, since from the testimonials his group had heard, they could detect a very important collective experience. . .Mariana had just returned from Europe, where she had interviewed a concentration camp survivor who had spoken to her about the importance of memory, of writing, of telling… She took the proposal into her own hands and called a meeting to write the book. . . 
Three years earlier, another polyphonic testimonial text similar in its editorial dynamics, but radically different in its tone and content, had been published. Embracing the need to produce a collective account, and inspired by the writings of Holocaust survivor Jorge Semprún, a hundred and fifty Argentine genocide survivors, socialized, remembered, and wrote. They had all shared years in isolation at the Coronda penitentiary, a high security facility in the North Eastern province of Santa Fe. In 2003, they published Del otro lado de la mirilla. Olvidos y Memorias de ex Presos Políticos de Coronda. 1974-1979 (The Other Side of the Peephole. Things Forgotten and Remembered by Coronda Former Political Prisoners). Their narratives are seamlessly assembled in a volume that reads like a novel. Del otro lado de la mirilla, was conceived as a literary endeavor as José Luis Hisi Paez, from the editorial team, reports,
In Buenos Aires, compañero Bas y Mansilla found a book that was almost the inspiring totem for the editors: Literature or Life, by the great Spanish writer Jorge Semprún. That book helped us understand why we got together so many years after the facts to write the Coronda book! And it reassured us on the path of a literary version. 
In Literature or Life, Semprún had written that after his liberation from Buchenwald he had questioned the “possibility of telling the story,” to finally realize that,
The only ones who will manage to reach this substance, this transparent density, will be those able to shape their evidence into an artistic object, a space of creation. Or of re-creation. Only the artifice of a masterly narrative will prove capable of conveying some of the truth of such testimony. But there’s nothing exceptional about this: it’s the same with all great historical experiences.” (13)
Those of us who produce and study testimonial texts might differ in our definitions of art, creation, or literature. However, I propose that the building of a discourse of solidarity with the victims is what ultimately empowers those who chose to tell. In the case of “The Other Side of the Peephole,” the authors wanted to convey their experiences to their own children, and their generation, to make them participate in that discourse of solidarity.
After Justice, Silence, and a Musical Memorial
The perpetrators connected to the Little School in my hometown of Bahia Blanca have finally been tried and imprisoned for their crimes. My voice and work were validated not only during their trial, where my book The Little School: Tales of Disappearance and Survival was presented as evidence, but by high level elected officials in my country. After these events, I decided to take a year of silence from public lecturing. My silence was broken only for two presentations at Bard College, with my mother and my daughter. At the first one, on International Women’s Week, and in the framework of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, I performed this excerpt from a work in process. “Lidia. An Argentine Opera” is a tribute to Lidia Confeggi de Izurieta, the mother of Zulma and Graciela, who did not survive the Little School. Both active in the resistance movement, Zulma was my best friend from college, and Graciela, also a very dear friend, was pregnant when abducted from her home by the Army. Lidia lives in the town where her daughters were born, about a hundred miles from Buenos Aires City. I make a point of paying her a visit whenever I travel to my country. My agenda is always packed in Argentina, therefore, I usually pay a remise (a low budget alternative to taxis) to take me to her house. The “remisero” waits until the visit is over and drives me back to the city.
Lidia. An Argentine Opera (excerpt)
Let me embroider a ring around my silence
like a halo for Lidia, Santa Lidia,
with her old brown skinny dog
and her fat white and black cat
who eats from her kitchen table.
“Why did Dios let me live so long was it perhaps
to find Graciela’s child, mi nieto?”
Let me rather embroider a ring around my words
A woven hat to give her warmth
amidst her solitude.
“Estoy tan sola,” she tells me on the phone,
“vos nunca me llamás, venime a ver.”
But when and how to call her
without making her cry,
or feigning laughter.
“You are like a daughter,” she explains,
“porque vos fuiste
amiga de las chicas.
They never made me cry,
we were so happy,
my girls and I were always like three sisters,
Then I remember
her voice back
in nineteen seventy three:
Zulma and Graciela’s voices
return to be.
“You are like a daughter for me.”
“A terribly bad daughter don’t you agree?
“It’s not so,” she replays
“look what you did today!”
It’s true I paid that remisero dearly
to drive me for two hours
into the country side and back
so I could have maté con facturas
and bring Lidia poster size pics of her daughters
commissioned by the Mayor of the little county of Villarino
a bunch of towns lost somewhere in this province.
It is true I paid that taxi driver dearly
to bring me here and back in a few hours
so I could tell Lidia of all the tributes
people have been paying to her daughters
thirty seven years after their kidnapping
after the terror
after they kept so silent.
It is true I paid that remisero dearly
to bring me here –now that is rush hour
in these highways surrounding Buenos Aires,
and back before midnight so I can tell her
of those posters of her daughters decorating
the high school they attended before college,
before the seventies, before the time I met them
when social change, an apple in our hands,
deliciously was luring us.
Let me embroider a ring around my silence
like a halo for Lidia, Santa Lidia,
with her old brown skinny dog
and her fat white and black cat
who eats from her kitchen table.
“Why did Dios let me live so long was it perhaps
to find Graciela’s child, mi nieto?
Why did He leave me alone on this Earth
will there be Justice?
will there be Justice?
Decime Alicia, ¿vos crees que habrá Justicia?
Decime Alicia, ¿vos crees que habrá Justicia?
Justice, albeit late, very late, has taken place in the case of those who killed Lidia’s daughters. Her grandchild has still to be found, as well as Graciela’s remains. Closure is impossible and that is the overwhelming cruelty of disappearances: Forty years later, Lidia still harbors the hope of finding Graciela alive.
When I visited her last year, the new University Center in her town, General Belgrano, had payed tribute to her daughters: It had given its two classrooms their names. University Centers are small branches of universities, where short careers can be pursued. The majority of the people graduating there are first generation college students. Standing in the room that bears the name of my best college friend, I asked the center coordinator what careers were offered there. “Music” she replied, “the people in this town decide what professions they need, and they asked us to graduate music teachers.” Moved to tears, I told her I would be back to finish this opera, and perform it with her students. As we keep looking for Graciela’s child, and paying tribute to my friends — even if any possibility of a multigenerational testimony from the Izurieta family was destroyed by the dictatorship, we will continue nurturing generations of witnesses.
 Participation in the 2014 Summer Research Workshop, Literary Responses to Genocide in the Post-Holocaust Era, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies contributed significantly to the development of the research presented in this article.
 Argentina’s most recent dictatorship (1976-1983) disappeared about 30,000 people, mostly political dissidents, their families, and friends. After our time in secret detention centers, the regime sent the few survivors to maximum security prisons. Secret detention camp torturers and prison authorities drew their “inspiration” from the Nazis and from the training camps at the US sponsored School of the Americas, based, back then, in the Panama Canal Zone. National Security and Regional Security doctrines gelled in the criminal Condor Plan, sought to install a U.S. supported economic and political system in our region. The supremacy of capitalism was at stake. Therefore, to safeguard that system, dictatorships called for the extermination of every individual and organization suspicious of political opposition. Children were treated as spoils of war.
 For a brilliant, yet brief presentation of Feierstein’s theories, please watch “What is Genocide?,” his 2014 intervention at the London Conference on Decades of Persecution and Destruction on Myanmar’s Rohingya,
 To see my mother’s work, please visit her site https://raquelpartnoy2.wordpress.com/ or watch this video she prepared with some of her paintings about the disappeared https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dg7XYtg3ycA
 Published in Revenge of the Apple/Venganza de la manzana (23).
 Event organized by professor Elizabeth Cohen, who had put together our first multigenerational presentations at Goucher College in Baltimore, in 2001. We were invited as Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Visiting Professors, and she published the booklet titled Art, Memory, and Politics. Three Generations Survive State Terrorism in Argentina.
 Written initially in English, to add emotional distance to her process of remembering the trauma, the poem has been recently translated and published in Spanish in my hometown and it is included in my mother’s first poetry collection: Ciudad de rojos horizontes, published when she was 81 years old.
 For more information on the organization and the workshop, please see
 Personal communication with María del Carmen Sillato July 12, 2014.
 My translation.
 Unpublished translation by Joan Lindgren.
 “Generations of Witnesses” are words borrowed from the title of a class I taught at Loyola Marymount University with Holy Levitsky and Kitty Dukakis, on the Holocaust, the Armenian and the Latin American genocides.
 For an extensive analysis of Nosotras, please see my article “Concealing God: How Argentine Women Political Prisoners Performed a Collective Identity.”
 For an extended discussion of the role Liberation Theology, the Movement of Third World Priests, and the Base Communities played in fighting for social justice and resisting dictatorships in Argentina, see Michael Burdick’s For God and Fatherland.
 Personal communication, August 10, 2012.
 Beverly’s term to allude to a testimonio “made up of accounts by different participants in the same event.”(28).
 Personal communication. June 19, 2010.
 I learned the concept of Musical Memorial in the archives of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, where I conducted research on operas written about the Holocaust and other genocides.
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