Monday, February 21, 2011

Prisoner without a name, Cell without a number by Jacobo Timerman 1981

"Not just autobiography, or political analysis, or a victim's cry in the night, it is all these things. Timerman describes what he suffered in prison and what he thought, and how he and Argentina got to where they were."  from a review in the New York Times by Anthony Lewis, May 10, 1981

Jacobo Timerman emigrated to Buenos Aires, Argentina from Ukraine with his family in 1928 when he was five years old. A respected intellectual, television commentator and founding editor of the newspaper La Opinion, he was kidnapped in April of 1977 and was not released until thirty months later. He was never officially charged with a crime.

Timerman wrote this memoir in Israel after he had been released, stripped of his citizenship, and expelled from Argentina. The memoir is a narration of what happened to him as well as a discussion of the state of Argentinian politics and the parallels between what was happening in Argentina under the military junta in the 1970’s and what had happened in the 1930’s in Germany. He includes a fascinating analysis of the psychology of the fascist mentality that fashions Jews into perennial scapegoats.

Timerman tells us about his time in prison. He writes about electric shock torture, beatings, and solitary confinement. But what bothered him the most emotionally was when the guards and his inquisitors taunted him because he was Jewish. He remembered when he was quite young asking his mother after some local anti-Semitic incidents, “Why do they hate us?” Her answer, that they just don’t understand “us” stayed with him. He writes that the German Jews thought that if they explained themselves - for example they had lists of German Jewish decorated World War I veterans published in the newspaper - then the Nazis would see that vilifying them as a group did not make sense. Likewise, he questioned the tactics of his fellow Argentinian Jews for expecting that reasonable negotiations with his captors would lead to his release.

Logic and evidence didn’t work in Germany, and Timerman says it did not work forty years later in Argentina. He was tortured for not coming up with names of those involved in a Jewish Zionist conspiracy to rule the world, a charge presented as fact that no one could refute because the torturers, like fascists in totalitarian regimes everywhere, were not interested in refutations.

To read about Jews amongst the "disappeared" in Argentina, click here.

Jacob Timerman
    Nathan Timerman – Jacob’s son
        Yosel Timerman – son of Nathan
        Jacob (Jacobo) Timerman – Nathan’s son; married to Risha; author
            Nathan Timerman – Jacobo’s son
                Nahum Timerman – son of Nathan
Nehemias Reznitsky

Bar, Ukraine
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Plaza Hotel, Buenos, Aires, Argentina
Magdalena Prison, Argentina
Puesto Vaco Prison, Argentina
The One District, Buenos Aires, Argentina
House of Troy, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Tel Aviv, Israel


  1. Timerman also met indifferance if not rejection when he went to talk with some US Jewish leaders. Since Argentina was on the "right" side in the Cold War there was no campaign of solidarity with Argentine Jews like that for Jews in the Soviet Union, and Timerman was regarded as a troublemaker. Israel too developed good relatons with the junta.

  2. I'm not a historian so really can't comment intelligently on your post, but it certainly makes sense. Geopolitics really complicate what seems so obvious to us now, and if we look back at World War II we see equally strange alliances. And we've certainly seen them since. Thanks for contributing. Toby Bird