Disappeared Memories of the Silent Holocaust

A Brief History of the Ramp-Up to the Massacres

The Guatemalan Genocide, also known as The Silent Holocaust or the Mayan Genocide, was a series of raids, massacres, forced disappearances, and other terror events that occurred during the Guatemalan Civil War which took place between 1960-1996. The height of the atrocities occurred between 1981 and 1983 and the vast majority of them were against rural Maya groups and villages. The reasons behind all of these events are complex with many moving parts related to the on-going civil war at the time, the 500 years of colonial and institutional oppression and resulting racism against indigenous groups, the fear of the spread of communism, land rights held by or given to some Maya groups, and many more. All of these factors coalesced into a scorched-earth campaign that was carried out in 1982 and 1983. The Guatemalan Army justified most of the reported killings and forced disappearances of indigenous Maya by stating they had ties to the Guerilla Army of the Poor - the EGP (Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres). The Guatemalan Civil War resulted in over 200,000 dead Guatemalans. Conservative estimates place Maya deaths around 30,000 with an additional 40,000 reported missing or kidnapped. Due to the nature of military's operations, the exact number of those dead is unknown and estimated to be much higher than the numbers just presented.
In 1954, the CIA carried out a coup d'état in Guatemala which got rid of the democratically elected president and put in his place a military dictator, Carlos Castillo Armas. This was due to both the US's fear of communism spreading to/in the country and due to powerful fruit lobbyist who convinced the government to intervene to preserve the US's claim to agricultural stakes in Guatemala. (Ernesto Che Guevara was a young man living in Guatemala City at the time of the coup and eventually escaped the country and helped thwart the CIA intervention in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.) The EGP formed as a method of resistance against the military dictatoship and against US involvment in foreign governments. Additionally, the EGP unified under shared oppression against rural farmers and institutional racism against native Maya groups. Although Maya individuals did participate in this group, the vast majority did not. However, the Guatemalan Army equated the two (Maya and the EGP) and used this as a justification for killing and abducting Maya people (all ages and both sexes) and for razing villages across the more rural areas of the country - the west and the north.

Below are interactive StoryMaps which allow you to visualize and track a selection of atrocities against the Maya people through time. The maps are split up temporally, each depicting a separate set of events that represent the general feel of the period. The maps are split up as follows:

StoryMaps of the Genocide

1970s-1980 Events

1981 Events

1982-1983 Events

Aftermath and Progress

The Guatemala Civil War offically ended in 1996, 36 years after it initially began in 1960. The conflict and the associated massacres and kidnappings left the rural Maya populations in complete devastation. The Army destroyed 626 Maya villages and displaced an estimated 1.5 million people. After the end of the war, efforts have made to not only understand the full nature and breadth of these atrocities, but to make raparations in some sort of fashion.
Intervention by the United Nations and non-profit organizations has lead to the discovery of new resources to help tease apart the actions of the military and to find and give back the remains of those murdered into the hands of their family or community. Although these efforts are steps in the right direction, there is still much work to be done. Even today, the indigenous Maya are the most dienfranchised groups in the country.

Guatemala Forensic Anthropology Foundation

Formally founded in 1997, the Guatemala Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) was created in order to excavate the human remains of victims of those killed in the genocide, attempt to identify the individuals, and give them back to surviving family members or to their communities. By using forensic anthropological methods, as well as DNA, members of FAFG have positively identified over 2,000 individuals. Additionally, they have performed around 1,200 exhumations and recovered 5,900 individuals. FAFG is a non-government entity and allows people to donate to further their cause in reassociating the physical remains with their loved ones, and even provides the ability for reporting someone as missing from the conflict and the option for scheduling an interview and to donate your DNA to aid in the process of identification. You can visit their main website or their interactive map of exhumation at: