Ms. Montenegro, now 35, grew up as the daughter of Col. Hernan Tetzlaff, first learned there might be a possibility that her father was involved in baby stealing
when she was 15 and he was detained briefly. But it was not for another five years that a court confirmed that she was not the biological child of Tetzlaff or his wife; however, even then, she thought that must be a lie. Not only did she grow up believing him to be a defender of democracy against "subversives," she had been thoroughly indoctrinated by him against the "subversives," and came to believe that torture had been a necessary tool in Argentina's recent bloody history.
It took a search by a human rights group, a DNA match to people who had been tortured and murdered, and almost a decade of denial for her to accept that the man she called "papa" was not her father, nor the war hero he portrayed himself to be. Eventually, he broke down over dinner one night in 2000 and confessed that he had headed the operation in which her parents were tortured and killed. When he went to prison, she visited him until he died in 2003.
WHEN OUR CHILDREN GROW UP QUITE DIFFERENT FROM US
Ms. Montenegro's story--unusual in the depth of its horror--reminded me of the first/birth mothers who learn that their children were raised in ways that are so very antithetical to their own beliefs, and the distress that causes the mothers. Conservative verus liberal, no organized religion versus evangelical or Catholic or one of the fringe groups, such as Jehovah's Witness--it adds to the unhappiness and grief, and exacerbates a sense of how very wrong giving up our child was. However, the children, inculcated into a different political mindset and opposing religion, do not express grief at learning they would be probably quite different; they are who they are. They cannot undo the past like rewinding a movie reel.
I read at an adoptee blog once of the overwhelming feelings that surface when first confronted with one's biological parents--the life not lived, the different person one might be, the sorrow not known--it all comes crashing down, I expect, as an emotional waterfall the size of Niagara. Even in dealing with the daughter of my first love, someone I could have married, I still find the emotions at times overwhelming. Because if I had married her father...no daughter given up, et cetera. Yes, there are times I still weep.
The few Jewish couples I know who adopted were unable to get Jewish babies, because there were so few. Many Jewish girls from the Baby Scoop Era found a way to get an abortion, as there are no religious prohibitions against them. And the adopted Jews I know dropped all connection to the faith when they became older. Though my daughter Jane was adopted by Catholics much more serious about their religion that I was and am, when we connected it was comforting to learn that she had been raised Catholic, as were both of my granddaughters. What they do with that basis is up to them, but I don't feel like a foreigner to them in that regard. Count me fortunate.
While Ms. Montenegro's story is as horrific as it is dramatic, she found it difficult to accept the reality of her life--that her parents were kidnapped when she was 13 days old, that she was taken by Tetzlaff when she was four months old. As she told the Times reporter Alexei Barrionuevo: “This was a process; it wasn’t one moment or one day when you erase everything and begin again,” she said. “You are not a machine that can be reset and restarted.”
Eventually she told her children that their grandfather was not the brave soldier he had told them he was, and that he was a murderer. At a trial last spring in Buenos Aires, she testified and used her original name, Victoria, and not Maria Sol as the Tetzlaffs had given her. "It was very liberating." She adds that she does not hate the Tetzlaffs.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH COMPLICIT IN THE BABY THEFT
The baby thefts were largely unique to Argentina, because even as similar violence raged in nearby Chile, the Catholic Church in Argentina supported the military regime, as opposed to in Chile where it confronted it and sought to expose its crimes. Priests justified their actions on national security reasons, and the fear that the children would be raised as godless leftists. Ms. Montenegro contended: “They thought they were doing something Christian to baptize us and give us the chance to be better people than our parents. They thought and felt they were saving our lives.” Oh, where have I heard that before in regard to adoption? From just about every defender of large-scale international adoption, starting with academics like Elizabeth Bartholet and extended to churches such as the Mormons and the whole state of Utah, both which foster a culture where single parenthood is discouraged and adoption promoted.
* * *
The abduction of more than 500 babies was one of the most traumatic chapters of the military regime that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983, and the frantic effort by mothers and grandmothers to locate the missing children has never let up. When I visited Buenos Aires in 1981, the Mothers of the Plaza demonstrated, as I recall, on Mondays; I did not have the opportunity to see them. But imposing men in khaki uniforms were a decided presence in the dining room of our hotel and gave the whole city a militaristic feel. We were glad to leave.
The story of babies such as Ms.Montenegro was the subject of a movie featuring an upper middle class family raising such a stolen girl. Called The Official Story, it won several awards, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film of 1985. It's a gripping, moving film whose haunting images and story will stay with you. I can still conjure up scenes from the movie. Netflicks will have it.--lorraine
*Daughter of ‘Dirty War,’ Raised by Man Who Killed Her Parents
The following video is in Spanish.