Tribute to Daniel Schapira,
the only tennis player disappeared during the dictatorship
It was the month of September 1973, and even though I was a tennis fan - a sport which was still not very popular because the Vilas boom had not yet occurred - and had made it clear that I was going to dedicate myself to journalism, I thought that tennis professors only had a ball or a grip on their minds. The “coach” at my club, Macabi, was blond, tall, good-looking and played very well, and on his first appearance he didn’t escape those classifications, in a similar fashion to models or “good-looking girls”.
After school I went to the Congress to attend a manifestation, held against the fall of the Chilean democratic government of Salvador Allende to the hands of the dictator and genocide organiser Augusto Pinochet. At the front of the march, shouting “Viva Chile, carajo…” there he stood, Dani Schapira, the “coach”. Of course, from that moment on my impression of him changed completely.
The conversations with him, on the other side of court 6 - where Dani imparted his classes - became more frequent and were not only about tennis, our main topic, but about political, social, philosophical, and religious themes. He was an advanced Law student and had a very high intellectual grounding.
Daniel Marcelo Schapira was born October 18, 1950. He played in GEBA until 1968 and in 1969 he transferred to Comercio, where he played in the intermediate category. However, he also went to train at San Lorenzo (even though he was a Racing fan) together with his brother, Edgardo “Topo” Schapira, 4 years younger than him, when the club was very close to his father’s house. I saw him playing there in a tournament organized by his father, on a wooden surface. He was ranked 3 times in the top 10 in the national players ranking. He was in the same generation of players as Ricardo Cano, Huguito Varela, “Bicho” Romani, and his two great friends, “Mono” Miceli and “Pancho” Mastelli.
He started giving classes in DAOM and then went to Macabi, recommending Cesar Dialoy to occupy his place. Dialoy commented to us that in one tournament Dani lost to a guy two years younger than us, who came from Mar del Plata and I had to face him and we didn’t know him. Daniel was very angry about his loss, and he told me “I lost it myself - he’s a lefty that has a little game, and I played to his backhand. He hits it with a very twisted effect; that guy was Guillermo Vilas”.
His intellectual level allowed him be selected as an assistant for the Constitutional Law subject, in charge of Rodolfo Ortega Peña (assassinated by the “Tres A” in 1974) and Eduardo Luis Duhalde. He was then in Córdoba, where he was an important part of the JUP (Juventud Universitaria Peronista, a political party). There, in 1976 in the middle of the Military Dictatorship, he was chased and received three shots from “the forces of the terrorism of State’”. It is good to point out that the only thing Daniel wielded was a tennis racket, and the sharpest things he possessed were his clear ideas: his dreams of social justice and a more equable society.
Even though he was wounded, thanks to his great physical condition he managed to escape and arrive at Buenos Aires by train, with a cast and in a wheelchair. His brother, “el Topo”, tells: “Given the graveness of the situation, my dad tried to convince him to leave the country, but he emphatically refused, stating that he was defending his ideals and rights. He considered that to leave the country was to betray and abandon his partners”.
He was intensely searched in Buenos Aires and his life of being a political fugitive made him sleep every night in a different place. However, from clandestinity, he called his brother almost every day to know about his family and his tennis activity. “Despite the horror he was going through, his passion for tennis made him recommend to me which tactic to play against the rival I was facing next”, says “el Topo”.
Finally on April 7, 1977, when he was travelling by bus, a Task Force kidnapped him.
Last year in Mexico, Miguel Angel Cavallo, an Argentine ex-repressor, was arrested. There is an order of extradition from the Judge Baltazar Garzón, from Spain, who states: “The acts which he is accused of in the document are those which refer to his participation in the disappearance and torture of 227 persons. This was recorded in the Cause 13/84, whose verdict was dictated by the National Chamber of Criminal and Correctional Appeals of Buenos Aires. As a result of what was ordered in point 30 of the sentence dictated in cause 13, the Argentine office of prosecutors presented a document of accusation in the context of the cause n° 761. This judicial procedure didn’t continue its course when the Law 23.492 about “Final Point” was promulgated on December 24, 1986. This law exonerated everyone responsible for the crimes committed during the last Military Dictatorship in Argentina from penal responsibility. Because of this, no one accused in the document presented by the Argentine office of prosecutors in the mentioned cause 761 was convicted. Of the 227 victims which Lieutenant Cavallo was accused of, the CASE N° 109 is: SCHAPIRA, Daniel Marcelo. He suffered the privation of his liberty on April 7, 1977 in the streets of the Federal District. He was taken to the Navy Petty-Officers School of Mechanics (ESMA by its initials in Spanish) where he was treated to inhuman life conditions. He was tortured with blows and electric shocks to force him to give information. He remains disappeared”.
Eight months after his vanished his son was born, called Daniel Schapira. He, at the moment of his disappearance, didn’t know that his wife was pregnant. She, Andrea Yankilevich, was kidnapped together with the baby, on July 1978 (she remains disappeared to this day) but the baby was given back to his grandmother from his mother's side. Today that child is already 23 years old and he militates in H.I.J.O.S. (Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice Against Forgetting and Silence, an organization of the children of people who were "disappeared" in Argentina).
A torturer, who was known as “The Thunder”, boasted in the ESMA about having obtained in the United States some darts with high doses of venom that were shot with fire weapons. In the prologue of the book “Recuerdos de la Muerte”, its author Miguel Bonasso, tells: “One morning “The Thunder” randomly chose one of the hundreds of guests that were kept there. He forced him to be taken to the basement and decided to conduct an experiment. The subject was Daniel Schapira. Daniel thought he was going to be executed when “The Thunder” ordered him to face the wall. He was very weak and he still hadn’t recovered from the bullet injuries and the goad sessions. “The Thunder” carefully aimed and then shot him with a small gun. Daniel collapsed and slept for more than a day”…
Daniel Marcelo Schapira appears in the report of the CONADEP with the number 4742, statement #5274, as a Law student. But he was also a tennis player. From the years of lead the case of the Almagro goalkeeper, Claudio Tamburrini, is remembered. He was also a Philosophy and Literature student. He was retained in the “Seré Mansion” in Haedo, but he managed to escape and arrive in Sweden where he was a political refugee and is a philosopher today. The athlete Miguel Sánchez is incorrectly remembered as the only disappeared sportsman during the dictatorship.
Because of this, 25 years after the tragic Coup d'état that remembers “the years of lead” and 24 years after his disappearance, the tennis world has never – due to ignorance, error or omission - rendered the homage that Dani Schapira deserved. He played superbly, was an exceptional doubles player and an advocate of “fair play”, in addition to being loyal, a great intellectual, an idealist and a terrific guy.
The renowned Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti, says that “The people always remember, but one way of helping them (and helping us) is to describe how the past was when it was still the present. To remember is to live in the past, which is always an abode, and there is no forgetfulness that is able to demolish it”.
That’s why from here we pay this deserved and humble tribute to Dani. No forgetfulness nor forgiveness! Never again! And we say: Daniel Marcelo Schapira: PRESENT!!!!!!
Here is the original article in Spanish written by Oscar Pinco: http://www.aplenotenis.com.ar/pinco1.htm
Translated by: yours truly
Edited by: Jenni (aka Naranoc)