The handwriting on the postcard was painstakingly correct; the sentences simple. "My dear Papa," it said. "I travel to Achmolenska to the children's home. Seven months I was in the hospital. Mother and Sascha and Jascha died. I am now already big. . . When I get to the children's home I will still write to you and send you the address and you can pick me up. I will go to school and learn.
"Greetings from Tamara."
World War II was nearly over when the postcard reached Boris Jaffe, who had settled in Portland, Ore., after wandering back and forth across the country in search of work. In the huge shipbuilding yards in Vancouver, Wash., a few miles from Portland, he had found a job as an electrician that paid about $45 a week. By 1944, he had spent about two years there, always waiting for news of his wife and three children. He had last heard from then in 1941.
When word came, first from a strange woman writing from a strange village in Siberia, he didn't want to believe it. The woman, who called herself Milly Livschitz, wrote to tell him his wife had died. Later a letter came from the American Embassy in Moscow confirming his wife's death of exposure and malnutrition.
Jaffe could not ignore the news, but he also could not believe it. Even when the postcard from Tamara came in early 1945, said Lynn Franzen -- then a Quaker relief worker -- "he didn't want to believe she was alive. Because if he believed it, he would have to believe the rest of his family was dead."
For Jaffe, those three years were little more than a time of endless searching for four people who had disappeared into the Soviet Union, a country whose population was then ceaselessly in motion, a country where tens of millions of people had been displaced and millions would die before the war's end.
"He spent a big part of the money he had earned trying to locate his family and bring them back, until he hadn't any money left to spend," recalled John Firtler, who was Jaffe's foreman at the Kaiser shipyards.
What plagued Jaffe was what he did not know. But for his daughter Tamara, reality was uglier than any formless fear. In later years, that time was compressed for her, so the only images she retained were those of a flat, frigid landscape and death. Only a few parts of the picture can be retrieved from her conversations with friends, from official documents made part of an idemnification suit she later filed against the German government, and from the letters of Milly Livschitz.
These scraps of history don't tell why she and her mother and brothers, deported from Germany to Istanbul after the Nazi invasion of Russia, ended up being sent -- not as prisoners, but not as free people, either -- to an agricultural village in Siberia. Originally, Moscow was to be only a way station in their journey to join Jaffe in America. But the upheavals caused by the war, the movement to populate some of the country's empty northern regions and Joseph Stalin's intense suspicion o foreigners -- especially those with German ties -- all may have contributed to the Jaffe family's fate.
The only clue comes from one of Livschitz's letters to Jaffe. In it, she said she met Ida and her children in Berlin in 1941, while Livschitz and her Russian-born husband were waiting to be deported, because "Russian subjects in Germany and occupied countries were exchanged for Germans who lived in Russia." The Jaffes and the Livschitzes were deported together.
From Turkey they were sent to the Soviet Union. At the first stop, the men were separated from the women, and Livschitz never saw her husband again. For months afterward, she and the Jaffes were kept in a camp in northern Russia. Tamara spent part of that time in a hospital with scarlet fever.
Then, Livschitz said, "In December . . . we were sent, so the Russian secret service men said, to a warm place where we could work and live. The journey [(was] supposed to last five days. But it turned out to be different. The journey took a month in horrible cattle wagons, some days without food or water, locked and full of lice, when we finally arrived . . . it was 50 degrees below, thus not so warm either! We were all in summer dresses so you can imagine how we looked. Dirty, hungry and cold!"
Tamara was about 10 years old when she and her mother Ida and her brothers Alexander, 11, and Jascha, 8, arrived in Siberia. Once there, they had no contact with the outside world. The only life was work -- planting and harvesting potatoes, clearing trees, herding cattle.
At first, "We got 10 kilograms of flour and potatoes to last a fortnight," Livschitz wrote Jaffe. "Then they gave us a little at a time, too much to die and too few to live on." In the summer, she wrote, Ida and her two oldest children worked in the fields and "so earned a little wheat for the winter."
But when winter came, she wrote, "They had no clothes whatever, and so could not go out of the house to get some wood or something else to make fire with." Tamara slept on a stove inside the earthen huts, but nothing seemed to keep the Jaffes warm. They tore out the frames of the windows to burn them, but that did little against the cold.
On a single night, the temperature inside their small dwelling grew so cold that Tamara, her mother and older brother had severe frostbite in the morning and were taken to the hospital. There, Alexander's and Ida's feet were amputated to prevent gangrene from spreading. Tamara was luckiest. She lost only her toes.
A dozen years later, when the indemnification suit was being prepared, Tamara wrote her attorney a brief description of the days that followed:
"[My mother] was not too long confined before she passed away -- before my very eyes; I had shared the hospital room with her after having my toes removed. My brother, who had had his feet amputated the same as mother was unable to get up and see her buried near the hospital -- but I saw all."
Those few lines comprise the only available description of Ida's death, the end of her efforts to shepherd her family to America. Of the three children she had raised, only her daughter, standing on newly unbalanced feet, was there to see her grave dug in the earth of the northern plains.
Those images remained with Tamara when details such as dates and place names had long since been forgotten. She never remembered the name of the village where she spent those years; she remembered being in the hospital for months suffering from what doctors then diagnosed as "sleeping sickness" but was apparently typhoid fever. Her older brother Alexander, who had recovered from his amputations, died of lung disease a few months after Ida.
"Little Jascha," Millie Livschitz wrote later, " . . . died because nobody took care of him."
More than 35 years later, on the one occasion in her adult life that she told the whole story freely, Tamara remembered little of how much time elapsed between her mother's death and that of her older brother. But she did recall more vivdly the day he died. "Then I didn't know who would take care of me. He had always taken care of me," she told a young cousin.
At this moment, Milly Livschitz intervened. Over the years, other people who knew Tamara would find she evoked their protective, generous instincts, and would find themselves moved to help her. This 28-year-old, childless Englishwoman was the first. After all Tamara's family had died, Livschitz took the girl in. Eventually, she also took Tamara out.
Boris Jaffe first heard of Livchitz when a letter came to his apartment in northwest Portland in late 1944. It was written in Russian on the kind of graph paper used as stationey by children in Soviet schools. "Dear Mr. Boris," it began. " . . . Unfortunetly I must answer your letters because my friend and your wife Ida is no longer living . . . and I have now undertaken to raise Tamara. . . ." The letter made no mention of the boys or their fate.
"A few days ago," the letter continued, [Tamara] was 12 years old. I did as much as I could to celebrate the day. She received a knitted sweater, felt boots, mittens and pencils. I baked her a holiday cake. . . . In the evenings we sit and she tells me about you. Tamaritschkia is entirely sure that at the end of the war she will see you and will share everything with you, kiss you and be your support in life."
A few weeks later, the postcard came from Tamara. In early 1945, she and Livschitz had made their way onto a train from Siberia to Moscow. Once there, they had sought out the British Embassy, where Livchitz had told authorities that Tamara was her own child. Soviet authorities, knowing better, had threatened to put Tamara in an orphanage. Apparently Tamara believed this would happen at the time she wrote her father the postcard. But Livschitz succeeded in persuading the British to add Tamara's name to her passpaort.
The pair left Russia late that winter, traveling to England by way of Sweden. They arrived in London in July; by fall, Tamara was enrolled in school and learning English. Livschitz wrote Jaffe of their whereabouts, and he set about raising the money to bring her to his home.
In the first week in May 1946, Tamara boarded the Swedish-American liner Drottingholm and embarked for New York City, her passage paid, in part, by the money the American Friends Service Committee had raised to bring the whole family over five years before.
When she arrived at the docks, Tamara was welcomed not only by her uncle, Ida's older brother Jack Schman, but also by a covey of reporters and photographers. She was 13 years old, with curly hair and a big smile. The newspapers said she was the first child refuge to be reunited with a relative in America since the end of the war.
After staying with her uncle in Brooklyn for a few weeks, Tamara boarded a small propeller plane for the journey west. Over and over again during this trip, she asked herself how she would greet her father. She had spoken to him on the telephone, but this would be the first real greeting. She worried not so much about what she would say, as what langugage she would say it in: German, her first langugage; Russian, his native tongue; or the English they were both adopting.
When the moment came, she addressed her father in Russian, then listened in disbelief to his irate response. For the Russian she had learned in Siberia was a coarse, peasant version of the language, filled with vulgarisms she didn't understand.
"Don't talk like that. Don't ever let me hear you say that," her father screamed.
Then he took the bewildered child in his arms and led her home.
Brusque to the outside world and sometimes brusque with his daughter, Jaffe was nonetheless deeply content to have her back with him. Their life in Portland was necessarily frugal; the end of the war had meant the end of the good shipyard job. Jaffe, increasingly plagued by high blood pressure and circulatory problems, found work as a traveling salesman, peddling baby clothes, hats and knitted goods to small-town department stores throughout the Northwest.
Portland housed dozens of immigrants, Germans and other Central Europeans displaced by the war. Many of them knew the Jaffes; some, like Theordore Oulman, were close friends. When Jaffe's health prevented him from driving, Oulman would drive for him, the two salesman going out together on the road for days at a time.
Yet, Jaffe's English was still poor, and his earnings were meager. Most of the furniture in their apartment in a working-class neighborhood of Portland had been discarded by other German emigres. Tamara helped out by taking baby-sitting jobs, clerking for department stores, doing whatever she could.
Neither father nor daughter talked of what had gone before, at least not with outsiders, according to several members of Portland's emige community. Their silence was hardly unusual. Many of the emigres bore the same sorts of scars; at the very least, they had lost their worlds and their livelihoods. Most knew the essentials of Tamara's story and asked no more.
Like other immigrants, Tamara did her best to blend in, but her father made it difficult. The old world lived on for Jaffe in many ways. "He was sonderling how would you say it, a loner," said mrs. Edmund Kalisher, who lived in an apartment building across the street from the Jaffes. Kalisher, Oulman and other friends of the Jaffes said Boris was very protective of his daughter.
"She said it was tough growing up with him," recalled one friend who met Tamara 25 years later. "The kind of world he wanted wasn't the kind of world he could have."
He had strong desires for her to succeed, to do well at school. But he had old-world notions about dates, the need for chaperones and the kind of man who was good enough for his daughter. "He was very cautious. He wanted to be sure she attracted the finest," recalled Claude Oulman, the son of Boris' cloest friend and himself a childhood friend of Tamara's.
"Tammy never had a childhood and she never really had teen-age years," recalled Fred Rosenbaum, another child of Portland-based immigrants who is now an attorney there. "She was shy and I think she, like all of us who came from Europe, had trouble assimilating into the American style of high school and college dating. . . . She wasn't comfortable with her environment. sI don't think she broke out of that completely until she came to Washington." i
Not that this prevented her from doing well in school. First at Couch Elementary and later at Lincoln High, Tamara flourished. She lost her accent in less than two years and was elected secretary of the high school Student Council in her senior year.
Unlike her father, whose striking good looks were now clouded by ill health and habitual moroseness, she radiated life and liveliness."She was a beautiful child," said Oulman. "Peppy. Not necessarily talkative, but peppy."
She went from Lincoln High School to Lewis and Clark College. A scholarship student, she lived at home, traveling back and forth by bus. She became fascinated with political science, the field she eventaully majored in. She also found it easy to attract friends, particularly men friends. In her senior year, she was elected May Queen -- the college's top social honor.
Her elation over this final token of acceptance into America was immeasurable. Years later, as an attorney in Washington, she would mention it in her resume. She even sent some local newspaper clippings billing her as the May Queen who "Fled the Reds" to Livschitz. In the years since coming to America, she had seldom communicated with Livschitz; she had put her rescuer out of her mind, along with the world from which she had been rescued.
The reply was both enthusiastic and reproachful. "I was so very surprised to received your letter and so very pleased with its contents, although you could not find time to write a few personal words," wrote Livschitz.She continued with congratulations and some chatty news about mutural friends. But her tone turned wistful in closing. "I very often wonder why you cannot find the time to drop me a line now and then. . . . I don't expect a long detailed letter but just a few words to say that you are O.K. and have not altogether forgotten me."
No record can be found of Tamara's reply, although once, a year later, in a letter to an attorney, Tamara said she felt "guilty about asking a favor of [Livschitz] after playing the prodigal child for so many years." But her determination not to look back outweighed other sentiments. She may have communicated with Livschitz once or twice in the ensuing years, but she never saw her again.
She soon left Portland behind the way she had put Siberia, its people and its memories out of her mind. She had already decided she wanted to go into the Foreign Serivce -- something that pleased her father, who wanted to see her make a name for herself in a place larger than Portland.
"She wanted to be where the action was," said Lewis and Clark Prof. Donald Balmer, one of the few Portland-based friends who kept up with Tamara over the years. "The action was in Washington. For somebody who wants to do something, it's important to be where it counts, where the power is, where things are happening. . . . Washington was a star shining across the country. That's where she wanted to go."