Outlining the Victims of the Holocaust and the Argentinian Dictatorship: Jerzy Skąpski’s Każdy Dzień Oświęcimia and Rodolfo Aguerreberry, Julio Flores, and Guillermo Kexel’s “El Siluetazo”
Rothberg’s theorization particularly speaks to the reciprocal encounters and effects between memories of diverse historical traumas and the Holocaust, and in this case, the Argentinian dictatorship.6 Following this perspective, multidirectional memory not only furthers our understanding of “El Siluetazo” and the Holocaust memory aesthetic derived from Skąpski’s poster, which the Argentinian artists adopted, it also prompts us to re-interpret Każdy Dzień Oświęcimia from a decentered or non-Eurocentric perspective, and allows us to re-envision the impactful piece of this Polish Christian artist.far from blocking other historical memories from view in a competitive struggle for recognition, the emergence of Holocaust memory on a global scale has contributed to the articulation of other histories—some of them predated the Nazi genocide, such as slavery, and others taking place later, such as the Algerian war of independence (1954–62) or the genocide in Bosnia during the 1990s.
What Sanyal emphasizes in her examination of complicity and the migrations of Holocaust memory, specifically in French and francophone literature and film, but which can be applied across the globe, is how these connections between different historical traumas can have positive impacts (as transcultural and multidirectional memory conceive), but can also lead to “dangerous intersections”, where one historical trauma appropriates elements of another and discourages constructive dialogues of commemoration. This is not to say that Sanyal does not agree with Rothberg’s concept, as she does use it as a point of reference in her text and is open to the “‘multidirectional traffic of memory’” (Sanyal 2015, p. 7). However, she makes us aware of the problems intrinsic to such cross-cultural approaches. As she contends: “If memories travel around our global cultural landscape, I see their confluence as a dangerous intersection as well as a productive multidirectional site” (p. 7). Sanyal reminds us that these dialogues can also lead to negative outcomes, with “collisions and conflations” and tensions between ethical representations and appropriations (p. 7). With the two case studies examined in this article, I argue that there is a multidirectional and dialogical encounter between these two memory cultures as a result of the organic connection between the Argentinian artists’ action and the Polish artist’s depiction of the victims of the Holocaust; however, I also aim to highlight their distinctions and unique characteristics to avoid unintentional appropriations and tensions between the two historical traumas that these artistic and activist works represent and reflect on.Memory’s entanglement of distinctive and asymmetrical sites of trauma (slavery, the Holocaust, colonialism, or terror) can shake up established traditions of remembrance and belonging, allowing new ones to emerge. Yet it can also drive us to dangerous intersections, where difference is eclipsed into sameness, where identification leads to appropriation, or where political uses of memory collide with the ethical obligations of testimony. The recognition of proximity and connection between different histories can function as both a structure of engagement and an alibi for abdication.(p. 2)
2. Każdy Dzień Oświęcimia: Spatial Representation of Absence through Silhouettes
What Amishai-Maisels highlights is how the use of spectral images, ghosts, figures, and relics to represent those who were murdered during the Holocaust evokes their absent presence. This is a presence which is no longer visual or tangible (except in material remnants) but can still be felt as it remains in the memory of those who survived (p. 123). In particular, Amishai-Maisels focuses on the use of ghosts, which can be distinctive from silhouettes, not only in their form but also in their role. Ghosts can connote a haunting, or an ever-lingering spirit. They are often times represented as floating, disembodied, and in white or human form (pp. 125–40); the author explains that while silhouettes can evoke a haunting (p. 131), they do not always do so and are mostly depicted as outlined figures (p. 128–29). I will also add that silhouettes distinctly portray the physical form of the human body and do not necessarily evoke a spiritual presence, but rather the reminder that someone was once there. Moreover, Amishai-Maisels also notes that “[a] different manner of expressing the same type of unreal presence [aside from using ghosts or figures in the human form] while adding to it a heightened sense of loss and absence is to negate the image or call it into question” (p. 128). By “negating the image”, the artists remind the viewers of the irretrievable loss experienced as a result of this atrocity and differentiate in their work the living from the dead (p. 128). For instance, the author describes silhouettes that outline the figure but leave “an inner void” (p. 128) as a method of portraying this aspect. This allows the artist to also represent the loss experienced through the Holocaust with “suggested but not always present images” (p. 150) and commemorate its victims.One of the more complex new strategies for remembering the Holocaust is the evocation of “ghosts” to suggest that its victims remain with us, shadowing our existence with their own. Artists first used Holocaust “ghosts” to express a sense of loss: the victim’s disappearance left behind only a spectral image, relics, smoke, or holes in the collective memory. Building on this early approach, contemporary artists attempt instead to represent continuing memory.(p. 123)
As an artist who often times includes himself in his paintings, see for instance Autoportret Mistyczny Łeb 69 (2003), Skąpski’s depiction of this memory of Strosberg shows a vulnerable moment of his childhood, a haunting memory he has returned to in the later years of his life, with a fuller understanding of what happened during the war and to the Strosberg family, in particular.20Eight-year-old Jurek noticed that the latch closing the door to the garden shed was not closed, so he looked inside curiously, and from inside many pairs of eyes looked at the boy with horror. One of the individuals that Jurek recognized was Szulim Strosberg, who approached him and said in a gentle voice: ‘Jureczek, tell daddy that we are here—just don’t say anything to the Germans.’ Jurek complied. Then, Jurek’s father issued an outright ban on going to the attic for the next few months...
As viewers, we can observe these details in the poster as we scan each of the 24 rows, which feature linked white lines forming the shapes of silhouettes against a black background (which we now know was painted black by Skąpski). From a distance, these might seem like a heart rhythm line detected by an electrocardiogram (EKG), or “twenty-four rows of seams or scars”, as Liam Machado describes it (Machado 2019, p. 48). However, upon closer inspection, the silhouettes become clearly distinct, each not quite the same as the other, and some varying in size in order to resemble the figures of women and children. This is how the poster evokes the absent presence of the victims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and the Holocaust in general.The poster was created during the communism era in Poland; hyperinflation caused the total breakdown of the economy—it was very hard to get anything from the material goods. Being an artist in such time was challenging. There was no art materials in the shops or it was so expensive that not everyone could afford it. For example when creating the poster Jerzy was lacking the black paper. He painted the paper with a black paint before he started to paint the silhouettes of people with the white paint.(Agnieszka Skąpska, pers. comm., 26 December 2022)
3. A Multidirectional and Transcultural Remembrance: Każdy Dzień Oświęcimia and “El Siluetazo”
For the artists, Skąpski’s piece depicted the spatial and temporal dimensions of absence as the silhouettes evoked the absent presence of the victims. As Vincent Druliolle (2009) notes in “Silhouettes of the Disappeared:” “What Aguerreberry, Flores and Kexel learned from this work [Skąpski’s] is the idea of representing visually and in space the overwhelming scale of the repression” (p. 87). According to Flores, then came the idea to further add the physical dimension by reproducing 30,000 life-size paper silhouettes (Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos: Ex ESMA 2020, 4:10–4:22; my translation and transcription). The question of “¿Cuánto espacio ocupan 30.000 cuerpos humanos?” (“How much space do 30,000 human bodies take up?”) thus became the driving principle behind the project (1:22–1:25; my translation and transcription). In responding to this question, the artists realized the spatial dimension of such a project, along with the necessity of carrying out the endeavour. As Flores explains in his chapter for Longoni and Bruzzone’s (2008a) edited volume, El Siluetazo:We started looking for a way to represent it. And so, we concluded that not only is the sign important, but also the quantity, and the real physical dimension occupied by 30,000 bodies. Searching, trying to build that imaginary, among other things we found, and I brought to one of our meetings, a poster made by the Polish designer Jerzy Skąpski, which represented the disappeared in a day in the Auschwitz concentration camp. And the poster said that there was a certain number of copies of that poster that represented the days in which the concentration camp was operational. That showed us the idea of the dimension. That was the temporal dimension, we lacked the physical dimension. And that’s where the idea appeared of representing [the detained-disappeared] with bodies, with life-size human silhouettes. This was the key to the idea.(Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos: Ex ESMA 2020, 3:10–4:22; my translation and transcription)22
Aguerreberry, Flores, and Kexel then adopt from Skąpski’s work the aesthetic of the silhouette to represent each of the victims and magnify it so that the absence of the detained-disappeared is depicted on a 1:1 scale. This allows them and the Argentinian public to emphasize the number of disappearances while also making the absence of those people visually present in the urban landscape of Buenos Aires.Then we began another reasoning: if an adult person measures on average an area of 1.75 × 0.60 m 30,000 people, what area do they occupy? Positioned one next to the other it would be 18 km (from the National Congress to the city of Ramos Mejía) and positioned lying in a row—head to toe—52.5 km (Congress-Luján). The idea then began to be formalized: we would make all of the disappeared. Conceptually, it would be a spatial dimensioning that would help understand the magnitude of the event.
This already marks a stark difference between the Holocaust memory and commemoration depicted in Każdy Dzień Oświęcima, which does not have the same activist component. Although its publication in The Unesco Courier makes the art piece publicly accessible, and as Jennings argues, changes the “political capacity” of the work, I contend that Skąpski’s poster did not have the same activist intention as “El Siluetazo” did at its conception. As Flores emphasizes in the statement above: “empezamos […] a explicar que no era una obra de arte, que es una herramienta de lucha” (we began […] to explain that it was not a work of art, that it is a tool to fight”), further adding that “la silueteada era una acción que trataba de llamar la atención sobre el que no está” (“the silueteada (the silhouetted) was an action that tried to draw attention to the one who is not there” (Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos: Ex ESMA 2020, 7:06–7:15, 7:38–7:45; my translation and transcription; emphasis added). According to Martín Zícari (2018), “El Siluetazo” can be read as a “remediation” of Skąpski’s work, as “[f]irst, the object of grievance changed from representing the dead of Auschwitz to the disappeared of Argentina, and second, it evolved from a poster reproduced in a magazine to a graphic action in the street” (p. 4). However, adding to my point above, I argue that this project does not only “remediate” Skąpski’s memory form, but most importantly transforms it into an even more powerful visual aesthetic action that has itself become iconic in Latin America. As Ana Longoni (2017) argues in her workshop for MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona):We say silueteada (silhouetted) because we believe that the act of making the silhouette is more important than the silhouette object. Although the object is later installed, at the time we understood that it was to be anonymous, that it was not to be known who had made it. But later to affirm continuity and ensure that it continues to be done in that way in the future, in making the silhouettes, we began to announce, to tell the story behind it and to explain that it was not a work of art, it is a tool to fight. And as such, it was taken in each place, in each country, in each region, on each continent where there are disappeared. This sign and the way of doing it have been taken up again. A partner lays down and occupies the place that a body would occupy and another outlines it. At that time the silueteada was an action that tried to draw attention to the one who is not there.(Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos: Ex ESMA 2020, 6:41–7:45; my translation and transcription)30
Today, silhouettes and photographs of missing persons continue to be used in different contexts to fight against forced disappearances and human rights violations across the continent.31The creative strategies of the human rights movement during the last dictatorships in Argentina (1976–83) and in Chile (1973–90) may be recognised and contrasted by two great matrixes of visual representation of the disappeared: photographs and silhouettes. Both arose (almost) in parallel and have a long history that has turned them into signs referring unequivocally to the disappeared, even outside Latin America.
The way in which Argentinians looked back to the Holocaust to reflect on their current circumstances, mainly through the use of aesthetics, imagery, and cultural sources, hints at the significant role this historical trauma played for both the Jewish and non-Jewish population of the country. Scholars observe that both in the dictatorial and post-dictatorial periods “the prism of the Shoah brought in by Jewish survivors and writers also conditioned the perspective of non-Jewish survivors and relatives in their retelling and retrospective making sense of the events” (Baer and Sznaider 2017, p. 55). This was the case, for instance, with Jacobo Timerman’s ( 2004,  1982) famous written testimony Preso sin nombre, celda sin número (Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number). As a well-known Jewish journalist, Timerman was imprisoned from 1977–1979. His testimony directly compares Nazi Germany with fascist Argentina and had a cultural impact on the national understanding of the dictatorship.37 Thus, the resonance of Nazi crimes in the Argentinian collective and cultural landscapes highlights another significant aspect to consider when placing in dialogue Każdy Dzień Oświęcimia and “El Siluetazo.” It helps us understand how the creators of “El Siluetazo”, Aguerreberry, Flores, and Kexel, found inspiration in an artwork such as Jerzy Skąpski’s, which depicted the victims of the Holocaust, and why they would adopt the presence of absence trope and the silhouette aesthetic associated with Holocaust commemoration as a conscious choice to protest against the atrocities occurring in their own country.The number of this regime’s victims cannot, of course, compare with its role model, Nazi Germany. But Nazi crimes became an important source of the images, symbols, and representational models that were used to shape and understand state terror in Argentina in the 1970s. Human rights activists, writers, artists, filmmakers, scholars and victims themselves portrayed the crimes of the Juntas as analogous to the crimes committed against the Jews by the Nazis. Similarities and equivalences were drawn between the comparable characteristics of the two historical periods of terror … Even the term ‘Holocausto’ came to symbolize an Argentine national catastrophe.
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During the 1980s, we see what scholars call a “memory boom” in relation to the Holocaust and the study of memory in western culture. For details see, for example, Jay Winter’s (2001) article “The Memory Boom in Contemporary Historical Studies.” In the 1990s, we begin to see the global reaches of Holocaust memory and its reference in relation to other historical traumas and contemporary atrocities throughout the world. See for example, Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider’s (2002, 2006) “Memory Unbound: The Holocaust and the Formation of Cosmopolitan Memory” and The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age, as well as Andreas Huyssen’s (2003) Present Pasts.
This article was first presented as a conference paper at the online conference Space in Holocaust Memory and Representation, hosted by the Institute of Humanities, Northumbria University, UK, 19–21 November 2021. The presentation was titled “Palimpsests of Memory and the Space of Death: Representing the Holocaust through Jerzy Skapski’s Every Day at Auschwitz.” (Marino 2021). This article also forms part of the author’s Chapter 2 of her doctoral dissertation, “Holocaust Memory and the Dictatorships of the Southern Cone of Latin America: Interconnecting Memories and Traumas” (Marino, forthcoming).
Emilio Crenzel (2011) explains in his introductory chapter of The Memory of State Terrorism in the Southern Cone, that “[i]n Argentina, the predominant form [of repression] was that of enforced disappearances, which consisted in the detention or abduction of individuals by military or police officers, who held them secretly captive in illegal detention centers or camps, known as ‘clandestine detention centers,’ torturing and, in most cases killing them. Their bodies were then buried in unmarked graves, incinerated, or thrown into the sea, and their property was looted. As these crimes were being committed, the state simultaneously denied any responsibility” (pp. 1–2). In addition, Ana Ros (2012) notes in The Post-Dictatorship Generation in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay that long-term imprisonment was predominant in Uruguay during the dictatorship, allowing the country of fewer than three million inhabitants (between 1973–1977) to have “‘the highest percentage of political detainees per capita in the world’ (Sondrol, quotes in Lessa 2011, p. 179). This number does not include transitory detentions and supervised release, which means that many more than 6000 men and women were subject to humiliation, torture, and sexual abuse” (p. 161).
The Unesco Courier can be accessed online and in multiple languages through their website: https://courier.unesco.org/en (accessed on 15 February 2023). Readers can also explore their archives and view previous issues of the magazine, including the October 1978 edition, which features Jerzy Skąpski’s Każdy Dzień Oświęcimia on pp. 22. This issue is available online in Spanish, English, and French. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000074795 (accessed on 15 February 2023). (UNESCO 1978a, 1978b).
30,000 detained-disappeared is considered the official figure by human rights organizations and has become iconic in Argentinian memory politics, “and questioning the figure is a rarely broken taboo” (Baer and Sznaider 2017, pp. 40–41). Similar to the iconic status of the figure of 6 million in Holocaust discourse, which represents the total number of Jewish victims. For details on the updated number of the detained-disappeared from the Argentinian dictatorship, see Emilio Crenzel’s (2011) Introduction in The Memory of State Terrorism in the Southern Cone. For more details on the ‘6 million’ figure, see Chapter 4 of Oren Baruch Stier’s (2015) Holocaust Icons.
We can see the global influence of Holocaust memory, for example, with how the term genocide has also been widely adopted in Argentina to reference the crimes committed by the military Junta. This is a significant word choice as calling these crimes a “genocide” makes the comparison with the Holocaust more convincing. As Baer and Sznaider (2017) contend: “While the most common and accepted term to refer to the crimes of the military Junta is terrorismo de estado (‘state terrorism’), Argentina is a country where the term ‘genocide,’ genocidio, has been also widely adopted” (p. 41).
One of the reasons why Skąpski’s work resonated in the Argentinian context has to do with the direct connections and comparisons made between this time period and the Holocaust and its commemoration in the country. Holocaust memory also played a significant role in how the dictatorship of 1976–1983 was understood on a collective and cultural level. For more details, see Chapter 2 of Alejandro Baer and Natan Sznaider’s (2017) Memory and Forgetting in the Post-Holocaust Era.
Skąpski also gifted a copy of this poster to US President Jimmy Carter when the US established the “Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust” in 1979. His wife Agnieszka Skąpska recounts in personal correspondence with the author that “he felt the need to give a poster as a thank you” (Agnieszka Skąpska, pers. comm., 26 December 2022). Skąpski “personally delivered the gift to the members of the Commision [sic]” when they “arrived in Poland (Cracow) around 1979, July 30–August 1” (Agnieszka Skąpska, pers. comm., 26 December 2022).
The artists first conceived this project in 1981 as part of the exhibition “Objetos y Experiencias” (Objects and Experiences) organized by the Esso foundation, which provided an uncensored space to “present installations, drawings, paintings, prints, individually, collectively and on any subject” (Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos: Ex ESMA 2020, 2:58–3:04; my transcription and translation). However, after the invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982 the Esso foundation left, and the artists brought the idea of using silhouettes to represent the detained-disappeared to the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, who were organizing the third annual “Marcha de la Resistencia,” (Resistance March) a 24-hour protest march to be held on 21 September 1983. There, there would be a workshop to paint and represent the youth, which is the most common age of the detained-disappeared, the highest average of detained-disappeared (Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos: Ex ESMA 2020, 4:40–5:29). The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo accepted it with a few conditions; mainly that the silhouettes should remain anonymous and only say ‘aparición con vida’ (safe return) (Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos: Ex ESMA 2020, 5:27–5:43; my translation and transcription). However, as the protestors created the silhouettes, they added the names of their missing loved ones (Longoni and Bruzzone 2008b, p. 30). The Abuelas of Plaza de Mayo also wanted the disappeared children and pregnant women to be represented. Julio Flores explains how this was done: “Entonces, Aguerreberry le colocó a Kexel un almohadón en el abdomen y trazó su silueta de perfil. Le agregó detalles como el vestido y el rodete, y así nació el molde para las siluetas embarazadas. La hija mayor de Kexel, de apenas tres años, prestó su cuerpo para la plantilla de la silueta infantil. Los bebés se hicieron a mano alzada” (“Aguerreberry then placed a cushion on Kexel’s abdomen and traced his silhouette in profile. He added details like the dress and the bun, and thus the mold for the pregnant silhouettes was born. Kexel’s eldest daughter, just three years old, lent her body for the template of the child’s silhouette. Babies were drawn by freehand” (Longoni and Bruzzone 2008b, p. 29; my translation).
Longoni and Bruzzone (2008b) explain in the introduction to their edited book El Siluetazo, that two other iterations of “EL Siluetazo” followed, one in December of 1983 carried out by the organization Frente por los Derechos Humanos that connected young activists with the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, and another in March 1984, just as the country transitioned into a democratic government (p. 12).
Here I follow Yifat Gutman’s (2017) understanding of memory activism as defined in her book Memory Activism and reference Ann Rigney’s (2018) nuancing of this term in “Remembering Hope: Transnational Activism beyond the Traumatic.” Gutman developed this concept in relation to the Israeli-Palestine conflict and defines it as “the strategic commemoration of a contested past outside state channels to influence public debate and policy” (p. 1). Rigney then nuances and expands the terminology by focusing on the interplay between Gutman’s memory activism, “the memory of activism (how earlier struggles for a better world are culturally recollected, as described in Katriel and Reading 2015), and memory in activism (how the cultural memory of earlier struggles informs new movements in the present, as set out in Eyerman 2016)” (p. 372). I utilize Rigney’s theorization of “memory-activism” as she emphasizes the connection among these three concepts (memory activism, memory of activism, and memory in activism), which helps us better understand how these case studies interact with one another. I expand on this aspect in Chapter 2 of my doctoral dissertation (Marino, forthcoming).
The use of silhouettes can also be seen in the commemoration of the victims of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. See for example the Los Angeles Times (Archives 1985) article “Death Shadows” Mark 40th Anniversary of Hiroshima: Silhouettes of Victims Drawn on Pavements”, which describes the “Death Shadows” that were painted by peace activists in various American cities during the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima.
Krawczyk’s (1962) painting Aufpassen, Mutti! can be viewed on the website of the Museum of Independence in Warsaw Palace (Muzeum Niepodległości w WarszawiePałac) as part of the exhibition article titled “WYSTAWA: Obrazy Jerzego Krawczyka z naszych zbiorów na wystawie “Jerzy Krawczyk – Myszy i ludzie” (“EXHIBITION: Paintings by Jerzy Krawczyk from our collections of the exhibition ‘Jerzy Krawczyk - Mice and People’”) (my translation). (WYSTAWA: Obrazy Jerzego Krawczyka z Naszych Zbiorów Na Wystawie “Jerzy Krawczyk—Myszy i Ludzie”|Muzeum Niepodległości w Warszawie 2022).
Skąpski’s stained glass windows for the Parish of St. Maximilian the Martyr can be viewed on the church’s website: https://maksymilian.oswiecim.pl/images/galerie/kosciol/27_kosciol.jpg (accessed on 15 February 2023) (Rzymskokatolicka Parafia św. Maksymiliana Męczennika w Oświęcimiu n.d.).
“Ośmioletni Jurek zauważył, że skobel zamykający drzwi do altany nie jest zamknięty, więc zaciekawiony zajrzał do środka, a z wnętrza mnóstwo par oczu z przerażeniem spoglądało na chłopca. Jedna z postaci, w której Jurek rozpoznał znajomego Szulima Strosberga podeszła do niego i łagodnym głosem powiedziała „Jureczek, powiedz tatusiowi, że tu jesteśmy—tylko nie mów nic Niemcom”. Jurek wykonał polecenie. Następnie, ojciec Jurka wydał kategoryczny zakaz chodzenia na strych przez kolejne miesiące…” (Skąpski n.d.b).
As Skąpski recounts in the article “Rzeczpospolita Proszowska”: “Ojciec doradził, aby ta duża rodzina rozdzieliła się po dwie osoby, bo będzie łatwiej się ukryć tym zwiększą szansę przetrwania...Na pewno przez jakiś czas przechowywali się, może nie wszyscy na naszym strychu bo nie wolno nam było chodzić na strych. Ta liczna rodzina z wyjątkiem jednego z synów przeżyła. Męska część odwiedziła nas w Krakowie już na Kremerowskiej, więc najwcześniej w 1946 r., przed wyjazdem do Jerozolimy. Przynieśli torbę pomarańczy” (Skąpski 2010b). “ “My father advised that this large family should split up into two groups, as it would be easier to hide, thus increasing their chance of survival... They must have been hiding for some time, maybe not all of them in our attic because we were not allowed to go to the attic. This large family, with the exception of one of the sons, survived. The men of the family visited us in Kraków already on Kremerowska, at the beginning of 1946, before leaving for Jerusalem. They brought us a bag of oranges” (translation by Jessica Marino and Anna (Ania) Paluch).
See for example, the photograph “Siluetas y canas.” El Siluetazo. Buenos Aires 21/22 de setiembre 1983—Fotografía de Eduardo Gil, which depicts the pasted silhouettes as well as the police presence during the Marcha de la Resistencia on 21–22 September 1983 (Gil 1983b). Available online: https://www.eduardogil.com/siluetazo.html#&gid=1&pid=10 (accessed on 7 February 2023).
“Empezamos a buscar el modo de representarlo. Y así llegamos a la conclusión que no sólo es importante el signo sino también la cantidad, y la dimensión física, real que ocupan 30.000 cuerpos. Buscando, tratando de construir ese imaginario, entre otras cosas encontramos y lleve a una de nuestras reuniones un afiche realizado por el diseñador polaco Jerzy Skąpski que representaba a los desaparecidos de un día en el campo de concentración de Auschwitz. Y el afiche decía que de ese afiche había una cantidad determinada de ejemplares que representaban los días en los cuales estuvo funcionado el campo de concentración. Eso nos mostró la idea de la dimensión. Esa era la dimensión temporal, nos faltaba la dimensión física. Y ahí apareció la idea de representar con cuerpos, con siluetas humanas de tamaño real, y esta era la clave para la idea” (Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos: Ex ESMA 2020, 3:10–4:22; my transcription).
“Entonces comenzamos otro razonamiento: si una persona adulta mide en promedio una superficie de 1,75 × 0,60 m 30,000 personas ¿qué superficie ocupan? Puestos uno al lado del otro serían 18 km (desde el Congreso Nacional hasta la ciudad de Ramos Mejía) y puestos acostados en fila—pie con cabeza—52,5 km (Congreso-Luján). La idea entonces comenzó a formalizarse: haríamos a todos los desaparecidos. Conceptualmente, sería un dimensionamiento espacial que ayudaría a comprender la magnitud del hecho” (Flores 2008, p. 92; emphasis in original).
See, for example Gil’s photograph “María Zurita.” El Siluetazo. Buenos Aires, 21/22 de setiembre 1983—Fotografía de Eduardo Gil, which depicts protestors outlining the silhouettes at the third Marcha de la Resistencia, including one with the name María Zurita. 21–22 September 1983 (Gil 1983a). Available online: https://www.eduardogil.com/siluetazo.html#&gid=1&pid=15 (accessed on 7 February 2023).
En esos días, como hoy, la Plaza de Mayo era el espacio de manifestación más alto donde conviven la historia reciente y la del origen de nuestra identidad colectiva. Es un lugar cargado de significaciones prácticas de carácter vernáculo, psicológico, social, histórico, cultural, ceremonial, económico, político e histórico” (Flores 2008, p. 93).
Following Diana Taylor’s (2003) theorization, I categorize “El Siluetazo” as a “performance protest” as the protestors physically embodied the memory of the detained-disappeared by using their bodies to create the silhouettes (p. 173). By doing so, they imprinted in these figures their pain and suffering as well as their strength to oppose the military forces and political repression, making the “absent presence” of 30,000 people as visible as possible, both to the city-dwellers and the dictatorial powers. Taylor classifies the regular protests of the Mothers and Abuelas of Plaza de Mayo, as well as those enacted by the organization H.I.J.O.S (Hijos por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio) as “performance protests” (p. 169).
I want to point out that a significant number of the detained-disappeared in Argentina were Jewish as anti-Semitism was particularly high during the dictatorship. As Baer and Sznaider (2017) argue: “While Jews represented between 0.8% and 1.2% of the Argentine population (between 230,000 and 29,000 people at that time), Jewish Argentinians make up 5% of the total number of victims of state terror (figures vary between 800 and 1600 people)” (p. 59n4). However, it is important to remember that their persecution was not at the center of the military Junta’s ideology, as it was in Nazi Germany (Tarica 2012, p. 91), as Estelle Tarica (2012) argues in “The Holocaust Again? Dispatches from the Jewish ‘Internal Front’ in Dictatorship Argentina.”
To understand how the protestors created the silhouettes, see Gil’s photograph “Silueteando I.” El Siluetazo. Buenos Aires, 21/22 de setiembre 1983—Fotografía de Eduardo Gil, which depicts protestors outlining the silhouettes at the third Marcha de la Resistencia at the Plaza de Mayo. 21–22 September 1983 (Gil 1983c). Available online: https://www.eduardogil.com/siluetazo.html#&gid=1&pid=12 (accessed on 7 February 2023). Also see Gil’s “Silueteando VI.” El Siluetazo. Buenos Aires, 21/22 de setiembre 1983—Fotografía de Eduardo Gil, which shows a small girl painting a silhouette during the third Marcha de la Resistencia. 21–22 September 1983 (Gil 1983d). Available online: https://www.eduardogil.com/siluetazo.html#&gid=1&pid=19 (accessed on 7 February 2023).
The English translations for the terms “Siluetazo” and “Silueteada” are not perfect translations. Following Prof. Sonya Lipsett-Rivera’s advice I have translated “Siluetazo” as “Silhouetazo” as “[t]he suffix “azo” often denotes a blow or a something big” and the project was a collective, aesthetic and political action (Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, pers. comm. 2 February 2023). For “Silueteada” I have used “Silhouetted” as it is the most common dictionary translation. It is important to note that the suffix “ada” in this case refers to the silhouettes being an event (Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, pers. comm. 2 February 2023). This is why Aguerreberry, Flores, and Kexel, prefer this term as it references the action taking place (the collective act of making the silhouettes), instead of the result (the silhouettes as objects pasted on walls).
“Decimos la silueteada porque creemos que el acto de hacer la silueta es más importante que el objeto silueta. Si bien el objeto luego queda instalado, en su momento entendimos que fuera anónimo que no se supiera quiénes lo habían hecho, pero luego para afirmar esta continuidad y hacer que a futuro se continúe haciéndolo de esa manera, en la realización de las siluetas, empezamos a anunciar, a contar, cual fue la historia y explicar que no era una obra de arte, que es una herramienta de lucha. Y como tal fue tomado en cada lugar en que, en cada país, en cada región, en cada continente en que hay desaparecidos, ha sido retomado el signo este y el modo de hacerlo. Un compañero se acuesta y ocupa el lugar que ocuparía un cuerpo y otro lo contornea. En ese momento la silueteada era una acción que trataba llamar la atención sobre el que no está” (Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos: Ex ESMA 2020, 6:41–7:45; my translation and transcription).
We can see this for example in the Uruguayan post-dictatorial context as the silhouettes became part of the annual “Marcha del Silencio” (March of Silence), organized by Madres y Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos (Mothers and Family Members of the Detained Disappeared) and held on May 20th since 1996. More recently, the Argentinian “Siluetazo” has been adopted in Spain in the action known as “Siluetazo por Ayotzinapa”. This project was created by artists Ana Felker, Arlene Bayliss, Mauricio Patrón Rivera, Sol Prado, and xara sacchi, and conducted at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art on 1 November 2014. Together with the public, these artists protested the forced disappearances by Mexican authorities of forty-three students from the Escuela Normal Raúl Isidro Burgos de Ayotzinapa (Normal Rural School Raúl Isidro Burgos of Ayotzinapa) in the state of Guerrero, Mexico on the night of 26–27 September 2014. For details, see Martín Zícari’s (2018) “Silhouettes: Choreographies of Remembrance Against Enforced Disappearance.” I also mention these iterations in the second chapter of my doctoral dissertation (Marino, forthcoming).
For details on the impact of Holocaust memory in Argentina during this time period, see Kahan and Schenquer’s (2016a) “Los usos del pasado durante la última dictadura militar. El Holocausto como horizonte de los actores de la comunidad judía en tiempos de régimen militar”, as well as Kahan’s (2022) “Usos y narrativas del Holocausto desde la recuperación democrática en Argentina (1983–2019).
In Argentina & the Jews Haim Avni (1991) explains that Argentina accepted an estimated 13,800–16,600 Jews between 1934 and 1937 (p.141); however, this declined after 1938 when a stricter immigration policy was enacted, which made it more difficult for Jewish refugees to enter the country. After the war, although immigration to Argentina significantly increased in general, Jewish refugees were still being accepted significantly less (pp. 141–146). As he argues: “[i]n the five years between 1947 and 1951, 598,939 immigrants settled permanently in Argentina—compared with 126,925 in the fourteen-year period between 1933 and 1946. The number of Jews, however, was extremely small. In the five years after the Holocaust, 1945–1949, Jewish sources recorded the legal immigration of no more than on thousand to fifteen hundred Jews” (p. 192).
Finchelstein (2014) further notes that “[a]lthough Jews represented less than 1 percent of the population, they were between 10 and 15 percent of the victims of the military dictatorship” (p. 11). In addition, in A Lexicon of Terror, Marguerite Feitlowitz (2011) discusses how anti-Semitism affected Jews in the country. She argues: “The largest Jewry in Latin America, the community has by and large done well. Yet anti-Semitism is entrenched in every major institution, particularly the Church, the military, the government and public schools. Every setback in the economy has engendered scapegoating of the country’s Jews. And every attack on democracy has featured Jew-hating rhetoric. Labor unrest unleashed a full-scale pogrom in 1919. In the ‘30s, inspiration came from the Nazis. After the war Argentina accepted refugees from Hitler’s Holocaust even as it welcomed Martin Bormann, Josef Mengele, and Adolph Eichmann. Ex-Nazis modernized the Argentine secret service” (p. 113).
“Otro tema -que no fue menor- era el de la autoría del proyecto, que desde el origen pretendimos que se diluyera entre la militancia, con el doble objecto de fundirnos en la actividad para que ésta naciera como de todos y preservar la seguridad personal para poder llevarlo a cabo” (Flores 2008, p. 94).
“El que puso su vehículo cuando hizo falta, el que salió a pegar siluetas una noche y fue preso, el que puso los últimos pesos que tenía en el bolsillo para comprar un pincel, el que estropeó la única ropa que tenía para ir al trabajo, llena de pintura o engrudo” (p. 112).
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Marino, J.P. Outlining the Victims of the Holocaust and the Argentinian Dictatorship: Jerzy Skąpski’s Każdy Dzień Oświęcimia and Rodolfo Aguerreberry, Julio Flores, and Guillermo Kexel’s “El Siluetazo”. Genealogy 2023, 7, 21. https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy7010021
Marino JP. Outlining the Victims of the Holocaust and the Argentinian Dictatorship: Jerzy Skąpski’s Każdy Dzień Oświęcimia and Rodolfo Aguerreberry, Julio Flores, and Guillermo Kexel’s “El Siluetazo”. Genealogy. 2023; 7(1):21. https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy7010021Chicago/Turabian Style
Marino, Jessica Paola. 2023. "Outlining the Victims of the Holocaust and the Argentinian Dictatorship: Jerzy Skąpski’s Każdy Dzień Oświęcimia and Rodolfo Aguerreberry, Julio Flores, and Guillermo Kexel’s “El Siluetazo”" Genealogy 7, no. 1: 21. https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy7010021