Surviving the Shadows: Celsa’s Story

Last Updated: May 20, 2024By

Surviving the Shadows: Celsa’s Story


Sofia Paoli Thorne’s documentary grabs your heart right from the start. The first scene is quietly powerful, showing a woman tending to her back with herbal remedies. This isn’t just a nightly skincare routine—it’s Celsa, now in her 60s, who once endured the horrors of the Emboscada prison. This place was one of the brutal concentration camps during Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner’s rule.


A Family Torn Apart

Before Celsa faced Emboscada, her mother had already been locked up there. Their reunion was bittersweet and deeply painful. To make matters worse, Celsa was pregnant with her son, Derlis, who was born in that terrible place. Their family’s story is a haunting reminder of the suffering under Stroessner’s regime. Through heart-wrenching interviews, Celsa and her mother recount the searing heat, relentless torture, and harsh neglect they experienced. These tales are heartbreaking, but Thorne contrasts them with scenes of Celsa’s peaceful daily life, where she lovingly cares for her plants and makes herbal remedies. Despite everything, healing has begun.

Scars That Never Fade

Just like the scars on Celsa’s back, Thorne’s film shows that the past’s ghosts never truly vanish. On the radio, you can hear Mario Abdo Benítez, then president of Paraguay, praising Stroessner’s policies. The film’s title hints at the danger of forgetting history. The guapo’y tree, once a symbol of hope in Emboscada and a secret meeting spot for prisoners, was cut down in 2013. Under its shade, prisoners recorded tapes to document the camp’s cruelty. The documentary closes with one of these tapes, voices from the past urging us not to forget.

A Personal Reflection

Watching Celsa’s story unfold made me think about the strength and resilience of people who’ve endured so much. It’s incredible how she finds peace in her daily routines, like tending to her garden. It’s a reminder that even in the darkest times, humans can find ways to heal and move forward. This documentary isn’t just about the past; it’s a call to remember and learn from it.

Thorne’s film is a powerful tribute to those who suffered and a reminder to us all: never let history be erased.

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