A Squalid Memorial

December 31st, 2009 at 8:04 am David Frum | 5 Comments |

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In Buenos Aires on family holiday. This afternoon my son and I walked over to pay our respects to the dead at the site of the terrible Buenos Aires bombing of July 18, 1994. That day, a truck bomb destroyed the city’s Jewish community center, killing 85 and wounding hundreds. The attack is almost universally attributed to Hezbollah agents of the government of Iran.

The center has since been rebuilt as a walled fortress. The building is sited about 100 feet back from the crowded street. Fronting directly on the street is a two-storey wall, pierced by two doorways: entrance and exit to the compound. The entrance door is guarded by a serious looking guard who refused us entry. Protestations that we were Jews come to pay our respects to the dead made no impression. When I tried to take a photograph of the sorry looking memorial in front of the building, he angrily waved me away. I thought of defying him, but then decided that maybe he had reason for his concern, so complied. I’ll describe instead:

Affixed to the street-fronting wall is a long sign printed to look like a blackboard, upon which the first names of the murdered have been printed in what is meant to look like chalk.

On the block in front of the center and extending into the next are 85 breaks in the sidewalk, in which trees have been planted. In front of the trees are little metal plaques bearing the full names of the dead.  The plaques are already crumbling into poor condition. About half the trees have died, and most of the rest are struggling. The dirt squares around the plaques are littered with refuse. At least one of the plaques has come loose from its base and disappeared. Happily, Buenos Aires is not a dog-owning city: the plaques are sited at the perfect level and angle for passing pets to urinate upon.

The whole effect is one of neglect and disregard. It’s a shameful failure of memorialization, disgraceful alike to the city of Buenos Aires and the Jewish community here and abroad.  And this in a city that knows how to build a monument when it wishes to. Below are some of my photographs of the sorry state of the plaques.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • JeninCT

    Although I think the intent was honorable, the design of the memorials was poorly thought out. I see why you’re disappointed, but wouldn’t it be the responsibility of members of the community center to tend to the plaques? Why is the city of Buenas Aires solely responsible?

  • wrs10

    Looks like JeninCT has covered the main points..

  • Ill-Will

    Civic Memorial the City is responsible for its maintenance. The monuments of DC are not kept clean by the tourists or locals.

  • COProgressive

    Did you attempt to contact the Jewish Community Center’s leaders for a comment on the condition? Or for access? What is the size of the Buenas Aires Jewish community?

  • JeninCT

    Legal responsiblity is one thing, volunteerism is another. Just because a city is responsible, nothing is preventing the local community from contributing to maintenance. Perhaps this is what’s so disappointing to Mr. Frum.