During 2015, a group of University of Washington students traveled to El Salvador to document the work of Asociación Pro-Búsqueda to investigate cases of the forced disappearance of children during the country’s civil war. It is our privilege to reproduce this article by Pro-Búsqueda recounting the partial reunification of one of the families that the students met during their project.
With happiness and with great enthusiasm clear on his face, Nicolas Martinez – now known by the name German Zamora – made the journey from the city of Canberra, Australia along with his wife, kids and adopted family, ready to discover his identity and his history. Waiting in El Salvador was his biological mother, Mrs. Milagro Martinez, who had gone 35 years with the pain of not being able to find him, but who never lost the hope of having him in front of her and hugging him. Her testimony, alongside other families of disappeared children, was documented in a video made in collaboration with students at the University of Washington entitled “Still Searching: The Disappeared Children of the Quesera Massacre, El Salvador.”
The encounter between the two of them was special. With one big hug, an exchange of looks and the recognition of a familiar touch, it seemed as if the passage of time, distance and war were left aside for a moment, giving way to feelings that reflected the almost indescribable love between a mother and her son.
Nicolas was separated from his mother and disappeared on the 15th of October of 1981, at the age of 4, in the department of Usulután. He was now part of the story of the massacre of La Quesera, carried out by military forces from the Atlacatl and Atonal Battalions, the 15th and 16th Infantry Brigades, and Salvadoran National Guard, Civil Defense, and Air Forces. The areas affected by the operation were the villages of Linares Caulotal, Valle Nuevo, Linares Montanita and La Quesera, in the municipality of San Agustin; Las Piletas and Las Delicias, in the municipality of Berlin, and San Juan Letrán, San Marcos Lempa, San Pedro y Bolívar, in the municipality of Jiquilisco.
Milagro Martinez, Nicolas’s mother, and with their immediate family tried to flee from the army to the village of Linares Caulotal, but they were caught along with many other families which were captured and killed. Of her 5 children, two were killed, and the other two, Nicolas and Marisol, who were about 5 and 3 years old, were captured in the military operation and then disappeared (Marisol remains disappeared today). Investigations by Association Pro-Busqueda discovered that Nicolas was going turned over to the Red Cross, but a military official contacted a woman who agreed to adopt him under the assumption that his family of origin had been killed. He was given the name German Zamora. The family was persecuted and threatened, which led them to emigrate in 1988 from El Salvador to Australia, the country where they live today.
German always knew since he was little that the family that he grew up in and lived with was not his biological family. His adopted brothers offered to help him find his surviving family, but at the time he wasn’t ready. Years later, in 2005, with German’s consent, his adopted family gave his information to Pro Busqueda, requesting the search for his biological family. With this case, Pro-Busqueda has now resolved 423 cases of forcibly disappeared girls and boys.
This year marks the culmination of a long process of searching which was sealed with the union of two families, biological and adopted, which now maintain strong ties which have only grown with time. For Association Pro-Busqueda, this is a gift of reconciliation for the Salvadoran people, because it reflects how essential it is to know the truth in order to achieve justice and reparations. This is a clear example of how the wounds left by war begin heal. The greatest possible reparation for the victims of forced disappearance is to be reunited with their families. 24 years after the peace accords, Pro Busqueda continues to heal wounds, demonstrating that there is no reason to remain silent and to prolong so much pain.