Museo de la memoria: an exploration through memory of ESMA

Cornelia Sage

Document Type Dissertation/Thesis


This project examines one of the 350 concentration camps that the Argentine dictatorship founded in their fight against subversion. The largest and most extensive prison within Buenos Aires, La Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada, the Army Mechanic School, (ESMA) detained over 5,000 Argentine citizens during the dictatorship's nine year reign of power. The military transformed the former military school into a concentration camp where victims were taken, tortured, and held in captivity. Ironically, this prison is unique because of the 150 victims that survived due to the implementation of a rehabilitation program established by the director of the prison. The program, named the process of rehabilitation, was designed to reincorporate a limited number of victims back into society with rehabilitated political beliefs that would support the regime. The survivors of ESMA provide invaluable insight into the inner workings of the prison because of the long duration of their captivity and their work in the rehabilitation program. It also allows a heightened understanding of the mentality of the dictatorship through the strange interactions between the detainees and the officials. The dictatorship's goal of transforming Argentina's nationhood and society was rooted in the conservative beliefs of Catholicism, patriarchy, and corporatism. To ensure its success, the military implemented a repressive strategy that built on the disappearance of thousands of individuals in order to instill a perpetual fear in society. The repression not only manifested itself in society's public sphere, but the military also established a network of clandestine prisons that focused on changing supposed leftists' political ideologies. The military killed the majority of the political prisoners held in the concentration camps, but the personnel of ESMA saw the victims as a valuable instrument that if used correctly would grant them political power in the future.