Victoria Montenegro recalls a childhood filled with chilling dinnertime discussions. Lt Col Hernán Tetzlaff,the head of the family,would recount military operations he had taken part in where subversives had been tortured or killed. The discussions often ended with his slamming his gun on the table, she said.
It took an incessant search by a human rights group,a DNA match and a decade of overcoming denial for Montenegro,35,to realize that Colonel Tetzlaff was,in fact,not her father nor the hero he portrayed himself to be.
Instead,he was the man responsible for murdering her real parents and illegally taking her as his own child,she said.
He confessed to her what he had done in 2000,Montenegro said. But it was not until she testified at a trial here last spring that she finally came to grips with her past,shedding once and for all the name that Colonel Tetzlaff and his wife had given her María Sol after falsifying her birth records.
The trial could prove for the first time that the nations military leaders engaged in a systematic plan to steal babies about 500 of them,some 105 of whom have since been found from perceived enemies of the government.
The trial is also revealing the complicity of civilians,including the Catholic Church.
In 1992,Tetzlaff was detained on suspicion of baby stealing. Five years later,a court informed Montenegro she was not the biological child of Tetzlaff and his wife,she said. I was still convinced it was all a lie, she said.
In 2000,she gave a DNA sample. A judge then delivered jarring news: the test confirmed she was the biological child of Hilda and Roque Montenegro.
Colonel Tetzlaff confessed to Montenegro and her husband: He had headed the operation in which the Montenegros were tortured and killed,and had taken her in May 1976,when she was 4 months old. I cant bear to say any more, she said,choking up at the memory of the dinner.
A court convicted Tetzlaff in 2001 of illegally appropriating Montenegro. She says she still does not hate the Tetzlaffs. The heart doesnt kidnap you,it doesnt hide you,it doesnt hurt you,it doesnt lie to you all of your life, she said. Love is something else.