THE MAN WHO STOOD UP TO POWER TO SAVE LIVES
Buenos Aires Herald Journal, by Robert Cox, 1/20/13
Non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust are honoured at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. as “Righteous Among the Nations” and trees are planted with their names on a plaque. Morton Rosenthal, who died on January 12 following a stroke, at the age of 81, deserves to be honoured as doubly righteous. He saved Jews and non-Jews during the Argentine holocaust, a word I use unreservedly because it was the word that another righteous rabbi, Marshall Meyer, used to capture the enormity of the atrocities committed by the 1976-83 Argentine military dictatorship.
It was largely thanks to the work of Rabbi Rosenthal that I was able to take a mother, Helena Arocena, whose son, playwright Marcos Arocena, was a desaparecido, to Washington for an appearance on the influential NBC programme Meet the Press. Mrs. Arocena’s testimony on national television helped awake the United States to the horrendous crimes of the military who were kidnapping, murdering and secretly disposing of the bodies of their victims, even going a step further that the Nazis.
The best description of Rabbi Rosenthal’s heroic efforts to stop the secret slaughter in Argentina is to be found in an essential book on the “Dirty War.” It is A Lexicon of Terror (Oxford University Press) by Marguerite Feitlowitz. Rosenthal was director of the Latin American Affairs Department of B’Nai Brith, the Anti-Defamation League. And, as Feitlowitz writes: “Against the better wishes of his immediate superiors and over the opposition of the B’nai Brith in Buenos Aires, he forged on with his Argentine Prisoners Project” that recorded 1,200 cases of disappearances, most, but not all, Jews.” (It is noteworthy that US diplomat F. Allen Harris at the embassy in Buenos Aires was also risking his career in his efforts to save lives by documenting more that 10,000 disappearances.) I recall that in December 2010 when Rabbi Rosenthal got the news that Jorge Rafael Videla had been sentenced to life imprisonment he e-mailed to me to describe his meeting the dictator in the Waldorf Towers Hotel in New York:
“During the course of conversation I said to him, ‘General, you as a military man would ordinarily match the weapons you use to the opponent you face. Faced with some urban guerillas, why are you using the equivalent of atomic weapons — torturing and disappearing men and women?’” At the time, Videla was at the height of his power and was the darling of the neocons in the US.
In a future column I will return to the saga of this remarkable man.
He personified the Talmud saying: “One who destroys a single life ... destroys an entire world; and one who preserves a single life ... preserves an entire world.”
Rabbi Morton Rosenthal was indeed righteous among the righteous.
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