Rescued Twice

Stand for Israel  |  July 19, 2019

A man walks over the rubble left after a bomb expl
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA: A man walks over the rubble left after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994. As arguments for the AMIA trail begin, 13 January 2004, the Active Memory association, formed by the victims' relatives of the 1994 attack, will hold the Argentine government responsible for it and also seek life imprisonment for just one of the accused - Carlos Telleldin. AFP PHOTO/ALI BURAFI (Photo credit should read ALI BURAFI/AFP via Getty Images)

After 85 souls were lost and more than 300 were wounded during the 1994 bombing of Buenos Aires’ Jewish center, volunteers saved not only lives, but an important archive of Jewish history. Writing at The Times of Israel, Alan Grabinsky tells the story of this precious piece of history which not only survived the Argentina bombing 25 years ago, but the Holocaust, as well:

Abraham Lichtenbaum was getting ready to leave his house on July 18, 1994 when, at 9:53 a.m., he heard an explosion: The headquarters of Argentina’s 200,000-strong Jewish community, the AMIA, located less than four miles from his home, had been bombed.

Eighty-five people died and 300 were injured in what has become Argentina’s biggest terror attack. Lichtenbaum worked in the building and typically arrived there at 9 a.m. But he had been up the night before recording a weekly radio show at Radio Chai and on Monday mornings would usually come in at 10:30. This is what saved his life.

That January, after 25 years working at the Sholem Aleichem School, Lichtenbaum had been named director of IWO (Idishe Wiesenshaft Institute), the nation’s largest Jewish archive.

Hosted on the third and fourth floor of the AMIA building, IWO — the equivalent of New York’s YIVO — contained thousands of books, paintings, art collections, audio records, letters and Judaica artifacts documenting Jewish life in Argentina and Eastern Europe.

No record or artifact is more valuable than any of the lives lost on that day. But thanks to Lichtenbaum and others, the attack by terrorists linked to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah could not snuff out the Jews’ devotion to their history. In the days following the attack, they and a small army of volunteers managed to preserve not only pieces of Argentine Jewish history but memories that survived the century’s greatest Jewish tragedy.

Ester Szwarc, academic coordinator of IWO, is also alive today because of luck. Work was slow due to winter vacations and Szwarc had plans to go by the office to pick material for some festivals she was organizing. She had no morning shift during that time, so she was running later than usual. She heard news of the tragedy from a student who called to see if she was alive.

Upon reaching the site, Szwarc found the building had split in two, “like an apple…”

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