Culture is rescued from AMIA rubble

buenos aires | Twelve years after the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires was bombed, a new book and documentary highlight a different side of the deadly terrorist attack.

Both works, still untitled, described the efforts of some 800 young people who saved cultural pieces from the building after it was bombed on July 18, 1994, killing 85 people and wounding hundreds.

After the explosion, young adults of all nationalities offered their help to AMIA. In the middle of the post- bombing confusion, they met Ester Szwarc, the academic coordinator in Argentina of YIVO, the association for Jewish research.

Founded in 1925 in what is today Vilnius, Lithuania, to study and preserve the Jewish life and culture, YIVO’s branch in Argentina opened in Buenos Aires in 1928.

The organization stored a huge collection of theater posters, programs, books, paintings, photographs and manuscripts, some of it rescued from the Holocaust. Since 1945, YIVO operated on the third and fourth floors of the AMIA building. The bomb destroyed most of the artifacts.

As the remainder of July 1994 passed, and the hope of finding lives below the rubble vanished, the youth brigade, coordinated by Szwarc, began the project of rescuing the objects.

Despite the cold, rainy winter, the volunteers worked diligently from July to December.

“It was terrible to approach the destruction, to walk cautiously picking up pieces of history, making human chains from the fourth floor to the basement to get the objects out of the brash,” said Szwarc at a recent event previewing the upcoming documentary and book.

At the event, held on the 12th anniversary of the bombing, a 15-minute preview of the documentary, made by YIVO with the help of Lomas de Zamora University and Argentine journalist Rodolfo Compte, was shown.

A book of volunteers’ testimonies — also under Compte’s direction — is being published in October, while the film is in the final editing stage.

“I knew there was no more life below the rubble. But I thought that there had to be something,” Nicolas, one of the volunteers, says in the documentary.

The film shows how hair dryers and stoves were used to dry the books’ pages, as well as depicting the discovery of a piano standing in a destroyed room.

At least one member of the fewer than 25 people in attendance at the recent event couldn’t hide his tears.

“I offered a Kabbalah Shabbat service the Friday following the attack, at IWO’s alternative home,” said Rabbi Fabian Zaidemberg, 39, using the institute’s Spanish acronym. “There were several young people coming in and out. Some took off the plastic gloves which they were using to separate the cultural stuff from other remnants and used them as kippot.’