Tamara Bunke

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Tamara Bunke 1964

Haydée Tamara Bunke Bider (November 19, 1937 – August 31, 1967), better known as Tania or Tania the Guerrilla, was an Argentine-born East German communist revolutionary and spy who played a prominent role in the Cuban government after the Cuban Revolution and in various Latin American revolutionary movements.[1] She was the only woman to fight alongside Marxist guerrillas under Che Guevara during the Bolivian Insurgency (1966–1967) and was killed in an ambush by CIA-assisted Bolivian Army Rangers.[1]

Early life (1937–52)[edit]

Bunke was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the daughter of German communists Erich Bunke and Nadia Bider (who was of Jewish Polish origin).[2][3] Bunke's family called her "Ita".[1] Bunke’s father Erich had joined the Communist Party of Germany in 1928[2][3] As Hitler rose to power, Erich Bunke and Nadia Bider realized they would not be able to get married due to Hitler’s race laws or be able to continue their political work.[2] They fled Germany within twenty-four hours of receiving orders to report to the Gestapo[3]

In Argentina, Tamara's father, Erich Bunke, taught German, physical education, and mathematics.[4]  Bunke’s parents joined the Argentine Communist Party, ensuring that Tamara and her brother Olaf would grow up in a highly charged political atmosphere.[3]  The Bunke household became a leftist meeting place, often used to help refugees, hide publications, and stash weapons[3]  Thus, Bunke learned to keep political secrets at an early age.[5]

As a youth Bunke was a keen athlete and an excellent student, who developed a particular fondness for the folk music of South America.[3] Bunke started learning the piano at seven, sang, had a special affinity for the accordion and had a lifelong "penchant for classical music".[6]

In 1952, when Bunke was 14, the family returned to East Germany and settled in Stalinstadt (later named Eisenhüttenstadt).[3] In the GDR, Erich Bunke became the secretary of the Cuban Solidarity Committee.[7]  Bunke did not learn German until her adolescence and in youth and her peers made fun of her accent.[8]

University years (1953–59)[edit]

Bunke thrived in her new environment and began studying political science at Humboldt University in East Berlin. She joined the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany's youth organization, the Free German Youth (FGY).[3] Her political views were staunchly pro-soviet although "she strongly criticized the mistakes of the Stalinist period particularly Stalin’s abuse of power and the persecutions that took place against her own compañeros in the struggle”.[9]  Bunke started taking shooting lessons through the FYG when she was 15.[10]

In her teens Bunke joined the World Federation of Democratic Youth, allowing her to attend the World Festival of Youth and Students in Vienna, Prague, Moscow and finally Havana,.[3] Her keen interest in and familiarity with Latin America, along with her linguistic abilities (she spoke fluent Russian, English, Spanish and German),[1] soon saw her translating on behalf of the FGY's International Department. One of Bunke's notable translations is the first German translation of the 26th of July Anthem.[11]  Bunke was invested in Cuba and took part in the rally of solidarity for Cuba in Berlin.[12]  She also entertained and translated for the growing stream of visitors from Cuba, following the victory of the 1959 Cuban Revolution[3]. Around this time, Tamara befriended her first Cuban- Hortensia Gomez, Cuba’s representative to the International Democratic Federation for Women.[13]

Cuba and Che Guevara (1960–64)[edit]

Bunke as she first arrived in Cuba in 1961.

In 1960, at the age of 23, Bunke met the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.[2] Guevara was visiting the East German city of Leipzig with a Cuban trade delegation and Bunke was assigned to him as an interpreter.[1] Around this time Bunke wrote that she hoped to “return to Argentina, my homeland, and do everything possible to help the party there.”[14] and that her greatest ambition in life was “to place myself entirely at the service of the Revolution".[15]  In 1961, the East German government allowed Bunke to travel to Latin America.[16]

Inspired by the Cuban Revolution, which she viewed as part of a continental revolution[17], Bunke came to live in Cuba in 1961[4] to gain the skills she hoped to use later in Argentina.[18]  In Cuba, Bunke first sought out voluntary work, teaching and building homes and schools in the countryside[1]. She participated in work brigades, the militia, and the Cuban Literacy Campaign.[3] She also worked in the Ministry of Education, the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, the Federation of Cuban Women[3], and attended Havana University.[19]  As a member of the militia “She was criticized because although she was a foreigner… she wore our militia uniform.  Bunke responded saying it was the duty of all revolutionaries to behave as revolutionaries, whatever country they were in… She claimed that a communist was a communist and a revolutionary wherever she was, even though the country she was in might not be the one where she was born.[20]  Bunke helped organize the International Student Union Conference held in Havana in 1961 and translated several books.[21]

Eventually Bunke was selected for training to take part in Che's ill-fated guerrilla expedition to Bolivia entitled "Operation Fantasma". Guevara's goal was to spark a continent-wide revolutionary uprising into neighboring Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru and Chile; by creating "two, three, many Vietnams" in order to challenge American imperialism.[1][3] In preparation, Guevara assigned Bunke to be trained by Dariel Alarcón Ramírez (known by his nom de guerre Benigno) in Pinar del Río in western Cuba.[1] Before Bunke went undercover, she had to cut off all social relations.[22]  Before disappearing, she wrote her parents, “If one day the party were to assign me to something difficult, how wonderful it would be if I could say: ‘My parent would be proud if they knew of this mission.  This may be difficult for them, but if they were in my place, they would do the same!’  Perhaps this will happen soon”.[23]

As part of her training Bunke learned how to use a knife, a submachine gun and a pistol and how to send and receive telegraph transmissions and coded messages by radio.[1] It was during this period that Bunke took the name "Tania" as her nom de guerre in honor of a Soviet guerilla named Zoja Kosmodemjanskaja who used the same alias and was killed by Nazis in 1941.[24] During her training in Cuba and later at a small farm on the outskirts of Prague, Bunke impressed the Cubans with her intelligence, stamina, and skill for espionage.[1] Benigno for instance, has described Bunke as "gracious, beautiful and kind, but also very tough."[1] She further endeared herself to the Cubans by entertaining them in the training camp by playing Argentine folk songs on accordion or guitar.[1] Moreover, as a sociable person who could strike up friendships easily, the Cuban government realized that she possessed beneficial traits for her future work in Bolivia.[3]

Bolivian insurgency (1964–67)[edit]

During her years working for the Cuban government (1961–1967), Bunke utilized various disguises. These included a Czech woman Marta Iriarte, Haydée González, and Vittoria Pancini, an Italian citizen travelling in Europe.[25]

In October 1964, Bunke traveled to Bolivia under the name Laura Gutiérrez Bauer, as a secret agent for Guevara's last campaign. Her first mission was to gather intelligence on Bolivia's political elite and the strength of its armed forces.[1] Posing as a right-wing folklore expert of Argentine background, she quickly found herself infiltrating high society and rubbing shoulders with the glitterati of Bolivia's academic and official circles.[3][5] Showing how high she was able to rise in La Paz society, she won the adoration of Bolivian President René Barrientos, and even went on holiday with him to Peru.[1] During this time Bunke wrote, “The greatest thing about [my holiday to Peru] is that they realize I’m ‘just a little silly and crazy’... and therefore it never occurs to them that I might be involved in anything.  By the way, as far as the male representatives of that country are concerned, they are beginning to be repulsive to me, especially because of the way they try to seduce a woman.”[26] In order to maintain her cover, Bunke busied herself part-time with her explorations of folk music.  Cuban historian Abyss Cupull claims that Bolivian scholars consider Bunke to be the author of some of the most valuable collections of folk music in their countries history.[27]  In Bolivia, Bunke entered into a marriage of convenience with a young Bolivian to gain citizenship .[3]

Tactically, Bunke was invaluable to Guevara's guerrillas because she used radio equipment hidden in a compartment behind the wall in her apartment to not only send coded messages to Fidel Castro in Havana; but also to Guevara's guerrillas in the field by posing as a radio host giving encoded relationship advice to fictitious lovelorn couples.[1] This radio program was called "Advice to Women".[4]

In late 1966 however, the unreliability of many of her comrades in the urban network setup to support Che's guerrillas forced Bunke to travel to their rural camp at Ñancahuazú on a number of occasions. On one of these trips, a captured Bolivian communist gave away a safe house where Tania’s jeep was parked in which she had left her address book.[28]  As a result, her cover was blown, and Bunke now had no other choice than to join Guevara's armed guerrilla campaign. In this capacity she was in charge of rationing food and monitoring radio broadcasts.[3]

Bunke is remembered by other Guerillas for saying “You Cubans think you are macho but you are so timid”[29] and critiquing Cuban machismo.[30]  A fellow guerilla recalled "[Bunke] refused any special treatment as a woman.  She wanted to be treated just like the rest of the comrades in the guerrilla group.  I believe that one of the greatest moments for her must have been when Che gave her the honor of being considered as one more fighter- when he gave her an M-I rifle”.[31]  Bunke gained notoriety for calling out in the midst of battle to tell Bolivian soldiers they should surrender.[32]

Without Bunke as the guerrilla's contact to the outside world, the guerrillas found themselves isolated.[33]  Bunke also soon found herself battling a high fever, a leg injury, and the painful effects of the Chigoe flea parasite.[1][3] Furthermore, her boots were too big which led to significant pain in her feet.[34]  Consequently, Guevara decided to try to send a group of 16 other ailing combatants, including Bunke, out of the mountains.[1][3]

Death[edit]

"Will my name one day be forgotten
and nothing of me remain on the Earth?"
— Tamara Bunke, a 1966 poem[25]

At 5:20 pm on August 31, 1967, the lead guerrilla column was ambushed while crossing the Río Grande at Vado del Yeso.[1]  Bunke was waist-deep in the water, with her rifle held above her head, when she was shot through the arm and the lung and killed along with eight of her fellow insurgents in quick succession.[1][3] Her body was carried downstream and only recovered by the Bolivian army several days later on September 6. When her piranha-eaten corpse was presented to Barrientos, the plan was to dump her in an unmarked grave with the rest of the guerrillas.[35]  However, the local campesino women demanded that as a woman, she be given a proper Christian burial.[3]

When her death was announced over the radio, Guevara, still struggling through the jungles close by, refused to believe the news; suspecting it was army propaganda to demoralise him.[1] Later, when Fidel Castro learned of her demise, he declared "Tania the guerrilla" a hero of the Cuban Revolution.[1]

Remains[edit]

After the research of biographer Jon Lee Anderson led to the 1997 discovery of Che Guevara's Bolivian remains, Bunke's remains were tracked down to an unmarked grave in a small pit on the periphery of the Vallegrande army base on October 13, 1998. They were transferred to Cuba and were interred in the Che Guevara Mausoleum in the city of Santa Clara, alongside those of Guevara himself and several other guerrillas killed during the Bolivian Insurgency (1966–1967).

KGB, Stasi, and affair claims[edit]

Writer and Guevara biographer Daniel James has argued Bunke was an East German double Agent and that foiling Che's revolution in Bolivia was her final objective.[36]  In 1997 amidst similar unproven rumors and claims that Tamara worked for the KGB or East German Stasi, her 85-year-old mother Nadia Bunke travelled to Moscow to obtain a written statement from the successors to the KGB declaring that Bunke never worked for them.[2] For their part the German government, which now holds the Stasi files, has also confirmed that it has no records on her.[2]

Another myth is that Bunke and Che Guevara were lovers while in Bolivia, and that she may have even been carrying his child when she was killed[1]; this was refuted in 2017 by Bolivian [living in Puebla, Mexico for about 50 years] Dr. Abraham Baptista who was in charge of the autopsy of both the Ché and Tamara Bunke[6].

Before Bunke’s mother died in 2003, she also managed to have the book Tania, the Woman Che Guevara Loved by Uruguayan author José A Friedl, removed from sale in Germany.[3]The courts ruled that the book contained defamatory allegations against Tamara Bunke in that it repeated Stasi defector Günter Männel's rumor from the 1970s that Bunke and Guevara started an extra-marital affair in 1965 while training together in the Czech capital of Prague.[1][3] However, although Guevara and Bunke both received instruction in Prague, they were never in the city at the same time.[3]

Popular culture[edit]

  • During her involvement with the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, Patty Hearst took on the alias "Tania."
  • Minor planet 2283 Bunke, discovered in 1974 by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Zhuravlyova, is named after her.[37]
  • Venezuelan folk singer songwriter Ali Primera wrote a song titled Tania, commemorating Bunke and her dedication to revolution.
  • Tania Bunke also appears intermittently in the first part of Luigi Nono's 1972 music/theatre work Al gran sole carico d'amore.
  • Heidi Specogna filmed a documentary about her in 1991.
  • Before unification, Bunke was a folk legend in East Germany. At one time, there were 200 youth clubs named after her.[38]
  • Before unification, Bunke was a folk legend in East Germany. At one time, there were 200 youth clubs named after her [2] Her life story became the subject of several bestsellers.[39]  Bunke was popular among young people; while traditional socialist heroes represented the establishment, Bunke resonated with non-conformists.[40]  Bunke’s memory was useful in strengthening the relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union.[41] Though the public presentation of her biography and the political assessment of her participation in the armed revolutionary struggle contradicted the foreign policy line of the GDR.[42]
  • Bunke is portrayed by Franka Potente in Steven Soderbergh's 2008 biopic of Che Guevara, entitled Che.

In fiction[edit]

  • A 2007 novel by Chilean economist Sebastián Edwards entitled El misterio de las Tanias is inspired by Bunke's story.
  • A character known as Tania Vunke appears in Chuck Pfarrers novel Killing Che. In the story Tania is an East German KGB spy who falls in love with Guevara when she is supposed to be helping to kill him. Eventually she betrays the KGB to fight for Che and dies in battle.
  • A fictionalized version of Bunke appears in the shared world anthology Heroes in Hell, created by Janet Morris. Written in the 1980s, this version of Bunke incorporates what was then commonly believed about her work for the KGB and betraying Che to his death. In this series, Bunke is working for one of Satan's various intelligence agencies and is sent to find and (temporarily) assassinate Che, who is now running Hell's Dissidents.

Further reading[edit]

  • Tania, the Woman Che Guevara Loved, by José Antonio Friedl Zapata, Planeta, 1997, ISBN 978-3-351-02465-9
  • Tania: Undercover With Che Guevara in Bolivia, by Ulises Estrada, Ocean Press (AU), 2005, ISBN 1-876175-43-5
  • Tania, the Unforgettable Guerilla by Marta Rojas and Mirta Rodríguez Calderón, 1971.
  • The Fall of Che Guevara: A Story of Soldiers, Spies, and Diplomats by Henry Butterfield Ryan, Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Sun, Sex and Socialism: Cuba in the German Imaginary by Jennifer Ruth Hosek. University of Toronto Press, 2017.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 3. 
  2. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p 22.
  3. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 23
  4. ^ Estrada, Ulises (2005). Tania: Undercover With Che Guevara in Bolivia. Ocean Press (AU). p. 141. ISBN 1-876175-43-5. 
  5. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 24
  6. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 33.
  7. ^ Hosek, Jennifer Ruth (2017). Sun, Sex and Socialism: Cuba in the German Imaginary. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 151. 
  8. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 56.
  9. ^ Estrada, Ulises (2005). Tania: Undercover With Che Guevara in Bolivia. Ocean Press (AU). p. 75. ISBN 1-876175-43-5.
  10. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 55.
  11. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 10.
  12. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 7.
  13. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 11-12.
  14. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 15.
  15. ^ Estrada, Ulises (2005). Tania: Undercover With Che Guevara in Bolivia. Ocean Press (AU). p. 100. ISBN 1-876175-43-5.
  16. ^ Hosek, Jennifer Ruth (2017). Sun, Sex and Socialism: Cuba in the German Imaginary. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 151.
  17. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 51.
  18. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 15.
  19. ^ Butterfield Ryan, Henry (1999). The Fall of Che Guevara: A Story of Soldiers, Spies, and Diplomats. Oxford University Press. p. 67.
  20. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 28-29.
  21. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 32.
  22. ^ Estrada, Ulises (2005). Tania: Undercover With Che Guevara in Bolivia. Ocean Press (AU). p. 26. ISBN 1-876175-43-5.
  23. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 73.
  24. ^ Estrada, Ulises (2005). Tania: Undercover With Che Guevara in Bolivia. Ocean Press (AU). p. 27. ISBN 1-876175-43-5.
  25. ^ a b Haydée Tamara Bunke Bider: the woman who died with Che Guevara by Christine Toomey, The Sunday Times, August 10, 2008
  26. ^ Estrada, Ulises (2005). Tania: Undercover With Che Guevara in Bolivia. Ocean Press (AU). p. 138. ISBN 1-876175-43-5.
  27. ^ Estrada, Ulises (2005). Tania: Undercover With Che Guevara in Bolivia. Ocean Press (AU). p. 106. ISBN 1-876175-43-5.
  28. ^ Butterfield Ryan, Henry (1999). The Fall of Che Guevara: A Story of Soldiers, Spies, and Diplomats. Oxford University Press. p. 70. 
  29. ^ Estrada, Ulises (2005). Tania: Undercover With Che Guevara in Bolivia. Ocean Press (AU). p. 74. ISBN 1-876175-43-5.
  30. ^ Estrada, Ulises (2005). Tania: Undercover With Che Guevara in Bolivia. Ocean Press (AU). p. 64. ISBN 1-876175-43-5.
  31. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 200.
  32. ^ Estrada, Ulises (2005). Tania: Undercover With Che Guevara in Bolivia. Ocean Press (AU). p. 120. ISBN 1-876175-43-5.
  33. ^ Butterfield Ryan, Henry (1999). The Fall of Che Guevara: A Story of Soldiers, Spies, and Diplomats. Oxford University Press. p. 70.
  34. ^ Rojas, Marta (1971). Tania, the Unforgettable Guerrilla. New York: Random House. p. 199.
  35. ^ Estrada, Ulises (2005). Tania: Undercover With Che Guevara in Bolivia. Ocean Press (AU). p. 126. ISBN 1-876175-43-5.
  36. ^ Butterfield Ryan, Henry (1999). The Fall of Che Guevara: A Story of Soldiers, Spies, and Diplomats. Oxford University Press. p. 69.
  37. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. p. 186. ISBN 3-540-00238-3. 
  38. ^ Mother Fights Che Film Over 'Lover' Claims by Tony Paterson & Oliver Poole, Daily Telegraph, March 17, 2002
  39. ^ Hosek, Jennifer Ruth (2017). Sun, Sex and Socialism: Cuba in the German Imaginary. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 156.
  40. ^ Hosek, Jennifer Ruth (2017). Sun, Sex and Socialism: Cuba in the German Imaginary. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 147.
  41. ^ Hosek, Jennifer Ruth (2017). Sun, Sex and Socialism: Cuba in the German Imaginary. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 153.
  42. ^ Katrin Neubauer: Tania - Guerrillera from Eisenhüttenstadt. In: Latin America News of May 1998, accessed on July 3, 2015.

External links[edit]