I just finished reading “The Atrocity Files: Deciphering the Archives of Guatemalaâ€™s Dirty War” (subscriber-only link), an amazing article in Dec. 2007 Harpers. It’s about how investigators in Guatemala stumbled across five buildings of decaying records about people who were “disappeared” by the government during Guatemala’s civil war.
Here’s the original posting from the National Security Archiveâ€™s Guatemala Documentation Project. Please go look at the photos, they’ll make your brain swim. You can see the scope of the project to preserve these documents, and to get information to families of those who were murdered by police. Many of the records were left lying in heaps exposed to the weather and vermin.
All those people inside the files remind me of the fictional house in Everything is Illuminated that contains the belongings of a town decimated by the Nazis. Dusty boxes full of keys, and pocket squares, and baby teeth. It must be a peculiar sensation to begin preservation work, to feel so much loss and possibility in the same room.