This series on the life of Tamara Wall was in the making over the period of a year. The first work was done not long after her memorial service in May 1980. The last important document was found less than two weeks ago. In between, more than 75 interviews were conducted with people in Washington, Portland, Ore., New York, Florida, Pennsylvania and Arizona, people who had known Tamara Wall, her father Boris Jaffe, or her daughter Cindy Wall. Since she was so reticent about her childhood, most of the information about those years was gleaned from the archives of the American Friends Service Committee and the Balch Institute in Philadelphia, and from those of the Entschaedigungsamt [Indemnification Office] of the Federal Republic of Germany in Berlin. The documents in Berlin were retrieved and translated by Washington Post Bonn correspondent Bradley P. Graham.
The guests who moved quiety into American University's small Kay Chapel for the memorial service brought a personal vision of the woman they had all come to mourn. Then, as the service unfolded, each was brought face to face with the limits of his own vision.
Tamara Jaffe Wall had lived among them in Washington for 25 years. She had gone to law school here, married and separated here, worked as a congressional aide and mastered the intricate legal work of the National Labor Relations Board. She had raised a handicapped child. She had made friends. Some or all of this, the mourners knew.
But during that quarter-century, Tammy Wall behaved as if there had been no earlier time, as if she had been newly conceived, at the age of 22, one fall day in 1955 when she and her steamer trunk arrived at Union Station.
So it was with amazement that her friends learned what had come before: the childhood that took her from Nazi Germany to a small village in Siberia, the bitter winters that deprived her of her mother, her two brothers and most of her toes, the Englishwoman who smuggled her out of Russia and, as she would say later, "rescued me from life in a Soviet orphanage.'
Some mourners recalled months afterward that they felt a strange sense of communion on that day in May one year ago, as they saw their own growing astonishment mirrored on the faces around them. They were prepared for sorrow, not for suprise. They knew some of her past, the bitter dissolution of a young marriage and her painful groping to find the right place in the world for a daughter who would never be able to manage on her own.
What was hard to comprehend was the underlying sorrow: that the pain of her adult years had followed a childhood torn apart in Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. It was harder still to understand the silence that Tammy Wall had put between her present and her past, the silence that forbade curiosity or sympathy. "We would have wanted to feel sorry for her,' her friend Eugene McCarthy said later. "She wouldn't let us.'
Her double life was not a matter of conscious duplicity, but one of willful forgetfulness. In Washington, Tammy Wall had found the perfect place to hide herself. She lived in a city that demands little in the way of a past, asking only a present and, perhaps, a future.
Those things she was willing to give. With all the history behind her, she worked at living a normal life, yet she still wanted to be a little bit out of the ordinary, a little exotic, the face that one remembered in the crowd. In this she succeeded -- the friends she drew to her included Theodore Sorenson, Eric Sevareid, and Eugene McCarthy.
Tamara Wall's story is not that of a victim or a victor, although at times she was both. It is hard to say whether she achieved what she wanted before cancer killed her at the age of 47. What she left behind was her daughter Cindy, her friendships and the history that she had put away. Her main achievement is perhaps reflected in the memorial service, which turned her friends' affection into awe.
The year was 1937 and Tamara Jaffe was 5 years old when her father Boris received the first notice from Berlin police ordering him to leave the country. But it was not until a few days after her seventh birthday that her father -- a Russian-born film agent -- was finally forced to board a train and flee Germany, two days before his visa expired.
Behind him he left the shards of the fragile life that he, an immigrant, had been able to build in his adopted country. At 47, he was a tall, slim, handsome man with a military bearing and an immense pride; he had a 30-year-old wife, a daughter and two sons, and a once-promising career as a distributor of American films for Warner Brothers Inc. -- a career that had been slowly wrested away from him by a series of Nazi decrees.
His wife, Ida Pochumenski, a woman of large, soft eyes that her daughter would inherit, was born in Lithuania of Jewish parents. Her husband told friends they had met in the northeastern German town of Stolp, where her family moved when she was small. He had come there as a Russian prisoner of war, wounded and captured during World War I. When the war ended, he found that the Russian Revolution had left him, a one-time czarist Army officer, with no place to go. He decided to settle in Germany, and lived in a comfortable home in a residential section of eastern Berlin.
Tamara, the second child, was born as Nazi power in the country was growing, and xenophobia and anti-Semitism were becoming codified in public policy. Warner Brothers, which employed Boris Jaffe as a regional film distribution supervisor, closed its German operations in 1933 in response to German harassment of Jews. Warner's continued to pay him a stipend while he worked with smaller firms. But, in 1937, authorities told him he could no longer work because he was married to a Jew. He himself, although born of Jewish parents, always listed his religion as "Greek Catholic."
Somehow, Boris Jaffe obtained a work permit anyway. "One day he showed me the work permit," reported Theodore Oulman, an emigre traveling sales who befriended Jaffe years later in Portland, Ore. "It was a small yellow card . . . that saved his family from hunger."
But the card could not protect him from the edicts of a government determined to rid itself of Jews and foreigners. After the chief of police ordered him out, he managed to remain in Berlin for 18 months. Then, on Oct. 27, 1939, five days after Tamara turned 7, Boris Jaffe put himself on a train to Copenhagen and a steamship to New York City, leaving his family behind.
Of the documents that survive in German and American archives, none explains what prevented him from taking them with him. Perhaps it was money; Boris' passage to America alone cost $200. Perhaps it was American immigration laws, which certainly prevented the family from following Boris later. All he would say years later, when he filed an indemnification suit against the German government was: "My family stayed in Berlin."
When he left, Boris Jaffe took with him the family's photograph album, filled with crinkled-edged, black-and-white pictures of picnics and parties, of the boys dressed in lederhosen and a dimpled, curly-haired Tamara clad in ruffles. For more than six years, the photograph album would be the only family he had. The Parted Father
How Tamara and her mother and brothers lived during the next 20 months can be seen only through Boris Jaffe's eyes; through the brief, increasingly alarming glimpses that reached him as he was struglling to cope with another strange country and language.
When he first arrived in America, Jaffe found his difficulties with English precluded any employment. without money coming in, he would be unable to pay for his family's passage or to persuade skeptical American consular officials that his family would not become a public charge if permitted to immigrate.
Soon, the American Friends Service Committee (afsc), a Quaker relief organization, took him in and sent him to a place called the Scattergood Hostel, out among the Iowa farmlands.There, far from the tens of thousands of refugees piling into the cities of the eastern seaboard, the Quakers had turned an unused school into a training center where floundering refugees could take English lessons, learn some skills and look for jobs.
There Jaffe brooded, lost weight and spent nights walking the corridors. "In the dead of night, I would hear him walking back and forth. I would go and walk with him," recalled Lynn Zimmerman Franzen, who was then a young relief worker at the hostel. "He would talk about Tamara and his boys. Then he would show me pictures . . . the same pictures, over and over again. Particularly the one of Tamara on the first day of school, with all those presents. . . . The pictures he always dwelt on were of her."
So worried was Jaffe that he could not study, and his English remained impenetrable. The best job he could get was as a $14-a-week porter for a Cedar Rapids department store -- barely enough to support himself, much less support a family or raise the hundreds of dollars in passage money needed to bring them to America.
Back in Washington, in a Congress and a State Department infected with an antiforeign feeling exacerbated by the Depression, there was a continual struggle over refugee policy -- how many people could come in, who could come in.
American immigration policy had been relatively liberal when Boris Jaffe came to the United States, but was tightened at about the time Jaffe arrived, in 1939, after the war began in Europe. American consuls abroad began to demand proof that potential refugees had paid their ship passage. And instead of simply requiring affidavits from Americans who promised to support new refugees, the State Department sometimes required that large cash deposits be placed in banks before issuing new visas.
The policy had a direct impact on the Jaffe family. Jaffe's quest for visas for Ida and the children had started soon after he arrived in America; in time he obtained affidavits of support from an Iowa farmer and a businessman moved by his plight. The Quaker workers wrote countless letters on his behalf. Still the visas were unobtainable.
Then, in February 1941, came a moment of panic. Ida wrote that two of her close friends had fallen victim to the Nazis, one taken to a concentration camp and the other murdered on the street. City authorities had apparently demanded that the family move out of its home. Some payments from Warner Brothers were apparently helping them live, but the money did not always come through regularly. It was hard to find food.
Jaffe became frantic with worry. "[He] fears danger is closing in on his wife and it is only a matter of time until she herself becomes a victim of persecution," an AFSC worker wrote to another refugee aid society, the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Near the end of the month, he wrote a personal appeal to the American consul general in Berlin, who controlled his family's fate.
"Honorable Sir," he said, "this is a request made by a husband and father on behalf of his wife and three small children. . . . I an most anxious to have my family join me in the United States. The reasons for this I know you can well understand. . . . Their life in Berlin has not been easy during these months. They have borne it with fortitude and courage. I would like to relieve them of this as soon as I can."
Just about the time this was written, there came a sudden break: a cabel from the JDC's Berlin office saying the consul had agreed to give the family visas if the passage -- about $600 -- were paid in full ahead of time. The AFSC workers at Scattergood went on a money-raising drive, buttonholing friends as they were depositing their paychecks in local banks and making appeals to local civic groups. In three weeks, with the help of matching funds from the JDC, the money was obtained and sent off.
Jaffe was close to a nervous breakdown. He wanted to move back to New York. Bad English or no bad English, he wanted to get a job and do something himself to aid his family. But when the money was on the way and everything seemed set, he relaxed.
Then the plan fell through; the visas could not be obtained. The records of the AFSC don't explain why. Jaffe, despairing, headed back east, looking for a better job. From Germany to Russia
Four months later, on June 21 -- the day that the Germans invaded Russia -- several Gestapo officers came to Ida Jaffe's front door at 5:30 in the morning. "I was supposed to take as many things as I needed for one-two days," Ida wrote her husband three weeks later. With 90 minutes' warning, Ida and the children were taken to a holding camp near the city. "The tone was very militaristic," Ida wrote. "We had a definite daily schedule that had to be followed very exactly. We were informed we could count on being released any day."
Ten days later, according to Ida's letter, she and the children and 300 other women and children were rounded up and put in to buses. "As we crossed Hermanns Square . . . I realized we were being brought to the train station and were going to be deported. . . . We sat eight in a compartment, third class. You can imagine how shattered we were . . ."
The journey across the Balkans took 11 days, days punctuated by long delays, reversals in direction, nights spent either sitting up in the crowded compartments or sleeping in rat-filled barracks on horse blankets. "It was terrible, so much filth and vermin," she wrote.
On July 13, the train passed into Turkey, and suddenly the vilified passengers were treated to a grand reception. "We rested there [Andrianople] the whole day, ate twice very well, washed, etc." One day later, Ida, Tamara and her brothers Alexander and Jascha were lodged in the Hotel Bristol in Istanbul, where Ida took four pieces of hotel stationery and wrote Boris a detailed account of their fate. A total of 1,059 people had arrived in Istanbul "from Italy, Holland, Belgium and Germany," she wrote.
All that remained was to get to America. She told her husband that she had dined at the consul's and that "from here the passports would be sent to Russia." Once again the practical housewife, she added: "All our things are of course gone forever. I don't own a thing here. Neither the children nor I have anything to wear. You must send money. Send it to the American consulate in Moscow. . . .
"It would be a lot easier for me if I could speak Russian. The Russians don't want to hear German. . . . We will go by way of Ankara. . . . All right then, stay in good health and be strong. I have to be strong, too."
There the letter ended. It was signed, "Sincere greetings and kisses, Ida and the children."
Boris Jaffe had no more word from his family for three years.