Mario Hertzberg The Jew & Bishop Richard WilliamsonThursday, February 26, 2009
On April 7, 2007, Holy Saturday, I wrote part of what is below here. I reflected on those words tonight (I am writing this, late Wednesday). I had left much unsaid. I knew I had to somehow correct my mistake of omission. My friend Mark Budgen and I have been following via e-mail, he by the web-based Manchester Guardian, me by the on-line Argentine La Nación, the events that culminated with the expulsion,a couple of days ago, from Argentina of Bishop Richard Williamson a fervent denier of the Holocaust.
Perhaps my grandmother would have been shocked at it all or perhaps her anti-Semitic stance was only a Spanish 19th century upbringing. On Good Fridays, In Buenos Aires around the late 40s, and the beginning of the 50s I was not allowed to turn on the radio and at 3 pm we would kneel on the living room floor in our Coghlan home and she would take us through the Stations of the Cross in Latin. I distinctly remember her telling me how the evil Jews had crucified Him. When describing people's faces she would sometimes say, "She has the map of Jerusalem on her face." Or she would switch to her alternate, “Es un paisano de Jesucristo,” "He is one of Jesus' countrymen."
But she never ever uttered a critical word about my best friend who lived across the street on Melián 2779. He was Mario Hertzberg. He, Miguelito (I have long forgotten his Calabrian surname) and I were inseparable and we were known as the inglesito (the English boy) el tano (the Italian) and el judío (the Jew).
Mario had two brothers but he once showed me the photograph of a third who looked much the same as he did except he was fatter and wore glasses. "That was my older brother but he died at a place called Auschwitz." At age 8 I did not have enough curiousity to pursue the subject any further.
One day Mario and I went to see a Tarzan movie at the Saturday series sponsored by our local Capuchin monks who were building a very large new church next door to the little community center and movie house. They charged us a token fee but we knew our money was going to a good cause. As we left after the show we were approached by a chubby Capuchin who asked us our names. He asked me to what church I went to. When he questioned Mario, Mario replied, "I don't go to church I am a Jew." I will never forget the Capuchin’s smile as he placed his hand on Mario's arm and told us, "We share the same God and that is what is important." I thought about that for the rest of the day but I never confronted my grandmother with what to me was a clear difference of opinion.
I lost track of Mario Hertzberg when I was 21.
When I wrote the above I was candid to a point. But I did not elaborate. I had returned to Argentina from my home in Mexico to do my military service. This was the reason I had given my mother. The real reason was that I was going to search for my father whom my mother and grandmother had abandoned some ten years before in 1954, with me in tow, because he had become an impossible alcoholic. I felt a pull for my father and for Buenos Aires. I was an impossible romantic and I talked about “my country” and “my land.” My father was part of that landscape, the Argentine pampa.
When I arrived to Buenos Aires I searched for Mario in the hopes that he might know my father’s whereabouts. I was immediately offered the hospitality of his home. He still lived on Melián 2779 in Coghlan. His father had died. I was greeted warmly by his mother. Mario had a beautiful girlfriend who looked exactly like Susan Strasberg. While I was being enrolled into the Argentine Navy, I had some time to search for my father. Mario told me had spotted him walking the nearby street of Monroe near the Pirovano Hospital. A couple of times my father had approached Mario and asked him if he knew where I had been taken to. In the end I did locate my father and that is a story I have told before in another posting.
I remember my bed at Mario’s. It had an under sheet and above me was a large heavy duvet. I had never seen or slept under one before. Mrs. Hertzberg told me I could stay for as long as I wanted until I found a place or, worse, was sent to some remote naval base, and, even worse, some antiquated tin can like the battleship General Belgrano.
In the interim I had contacted the Irish branch of my family, the O’Reilly’s and the English branch, the Haywards. My uncle Freddy Hayward, after much persistent nagging on my part, told me that my father had approached him for information on me, “I gave him some money and sent him away.”
Inesita O’Reilly, my godmother and first cousin offered her home for me to stay until my boarding situation was solved. I recall that one of my nephews said something like, “You cannot possibly want to stay in that house with that Jew.” I remember to my embarrassment that I said nothing. One day during the afternoon I left Mario’s house with all my belongings. I did not leave a note. As my grandmother would have said, “Te despediste a la francesa,” or you left without saying goodbye. To this day the Spanish use this expression in commemoration of the hasty retreat of the French army when Wellington’s troops entered Spain. I never saw Mario again. Or at least that's the way I would like to remember it.
One year later, when I was getting off a train in Retiro (I was in uniform) I spotted Mario and he recognized me. I turned around and left the train by another door.
Four years before I had argued with many who confronted me with the news that Adolf Eichmann had been captured and then kidnapped by Israeli agents in 1960.
Eichmann was apprehended by a team of Mossad and Shabak agents in a suburb of Buenos Aires on May 11, 1960, as part of a covert operation. The Mossad agents had arrived in Buenos Aires in April 1960 after Eichmann's identity was confirmed. After observing Eichmann for an extensive period of time, a team of Mossad agents waited for him as he arrived home from his work as foreman at a Mercedes Benz factory. One kept lookout waiting for his bus to arrive while two agents pretended to be fixing a broken down car. An unconfirmed fourth would ride on the bus to make sure he would leave. Once Eichmann alighted and began walking the short distance to his home, he was asked by the agent at the car, Zvi Aharoni, for a cigarette. When Eichmann reached in his pocket he was set upon by the two by the car. Eichmann fought but team member Peter Malkin, a Polish Jew and a black belt in karate, knocked Eichmann unconscious with a strike to the back of his neck and bundled him into the car and took him to the safe house. In the safe house a preliminary interrogation was conducted and it was proved that Klement (Clement) was undoubtedly the Nazi Eichmann.
I argued up and down that no matter how heinous his crimes, Eichmann was an Argentine citizen and the Israelis had denied him due process. My friends looked at me in horror. I remember telling them that the world was black or white and gray did not exist. Things were either this way or that way and the law was the law.
My only excuse now is probably an indefensible and distorted impetuosity of youthful idealism blended with out and out ignorance.
In the picture above, taken on my birthday on August 31st, 1951, the little boy in darkness on the left is Mario. That's me in the centre in the front row and my father is in the back.
Mario, even if it is far too late, I am sorry.