Hitler in Central America
my mother, who had died on October 2, 1985. I had visited the cemetery to look at the
tombstones and verify the birthplaces of my ancestors for a novel I intended to write.
?But you don't write fiction,? Hector had pointed out when I told him that particular dream.
?In the dream I did.?
When I entered the cemetery, the first thing I saw was a marble and cement monument,
financed by a group called Yad Vashem, which stands for ?Commemoration of the
Holocaust? in Hebrew. The monument described itself immodestly as the first of its kind in
the Americas and its slogan was ?Remembering is our duty! Never again, our cry!? Two
columns tried but failed to uplift the spirit; one was decorated with the Star of David, the
other with a nondescript rhomboidal shape, its symbolism perhaps best left unexplored.
?Does such a thing really exist?? asked Hector.
?It most certainly does and it's so ugly that it belongs in a nightmare.?
Next to the monument, a small washbasin allowed visitors to wash their hands before leaving
the cemetery, since visiting the place of the dead, like menstruation, required ritual cleansing.
A sort of vase, full of small stones to be placed on the grave markers, had been donated, if I
remembered correctly, by Masha Scharf, née Teitelbaum. The graves themselves were
arranged more or less chronologically. The oldest ones, to the right, were easy to recognize
because of the frequent fallen-tree motif in their carvings, a symbol of prematurely
interrupted lives and the unpretentious use of cement instead of marble. The names of the
dead on some of the oldest tombstones were no longer legible, their occupants bereft of even
this modest form of immortality. In the older part of the cemetery, some families had made
reservations, so to speak, buying several plots near one another so that their relatives, even
those who would not die for many decades still, could all find eternal rest together. That had
not been the case with my grandparents. My grandmother used to warn us: ?I'll come back to
haunt you and pull you by your toes when you're sleeping if you ever bury me next to that
During the 1970s, a competitive spirit began to guide the design and particularly the
grandiosity, of each tomb: a sort of arms race, except for the fact that everyone was dead to
begin with, instead of being a potential victim. The tombs, no longer content to remain close
to the ground, started growing higher, vaguely reminding one of New York City's early 20th
century skyscrapers, the oldest of which, the tallest of their day, were soon dwarfed by newer
and ever taller buildings. Cemetery visitors started losing their way, unfamiliar with the
changing landscape. Plants no longer exposed to the sun except for a few hours each day
started withering. ?Moishele,? someone might ask a friend, ?can't you make that Star of
David a little smaller so I can plant some roses? Can't you see that your mother's tomb is so
high that no light ever shines on my grandmother's?? Others would complain that some of
their departed, separated even after the death of both because of the unavailability of plots