A Lost Adolescence: The Story of Débora Benchoam

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One of the best ways to understand Marshall Meyer is through the stories of the people he helped . In July 1977, plainclothes security officers burst into the Buenos Aires family home of 16-year-old Débora Benchoam. As she watched, the officers killed her 17-year-old brother and then proceeded to detain Débora. Her “crime” was witnessing the assassination of her brother.

The next four years of Débora's life were spent in prison under cruel and inhuman treatment. The first month of her detention, Debora was held incommunicado during which time she fended off rape attempts by police officials. After that, she was sent to Villa Devoto prison where she shared an 87-square-foot prison cell with three other political prisoners who helped her continue her high school studies. Débora soon began writing letters to relatives decrying her prison conditions.

Despite being censored, Débora’s letters made it out of the prison and eventually found their way to Rabbi Marshall Meyer. Marshall immediately took up her case. He began visiting her on a regular basis, brought her books and reading material, and sought permission for her to emigrate to Israel, Canada, or the United States. He wrote to members of Congress and rabbis in the United States. Finally, with pressure from the United States embassy, and personal efforts by U.S. Representative William Lehman, Débora was released in November 1981. She arrived in Miami, FL, at the age of 19. Débora went on to finish college and eventually became a lawyer for the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights.