ESMA & The Banality of EvilWednesday, October 23, 2013
The infamous place of torture and death which was housed in the lovely and beautifully landscaped Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA) on one of Buenos Aire’s most prestigious streets, Avenida del Libertador General San Martín was just that for me, a lovely and beautifully landscaped… I was last there in 1976 before the horrors began. Many of those that presided in that horror in the 70s, where officers I had met as younger men in the mid 60s.
I returned to ESMA now given the special name Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos (Space of Memory and Human rights) with my friend artist Nora Patrich. She was going to give a mural how-to workshop on a weekend. She was there to make sure her workshop would run smoothly. This gave me the opportunity to take some photographs, although eventually I was told I could not take any for reasons that escape me.
I did manage to take a picture of the door to the infirmary which I am sure by the end of the 70s has perhaps other reasons for its existence. I took the picture and shuddered only mildly.
The shudder in my memory became much stronger when in my flight back from Buenos Aires I watched the German film Hannah Arendt. It was in German with French subtitles so most of the dialogue did not record in my brain. But there is a section where during Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem you see actual black and white TV footage of the man behind his bullet-proof screen. Without his handsome SS uniform and wearing his glasses he looked like and ordinary bureaucrat. His voice seemed forgettable. It was then that I thought of Arendt’s coined and most famous expression, “the banality of evil”. It was then that the lovely door of the infirmary at ESMA suddenly became an antesala del infierno (a dramatic Spanish expression that sort of means the anteroom to hell).