The men were all different: the constitutional law scholar who played the violin for her, the restaurant owner who brought her gourmet meals when she was hospitalized, the presidential speech writer who came by her apartment to play Scrabble, the network news commentator who took her out out for an afternoon in the Maryland countryside while their daughters played together.
Throughout her 25 years in Washington, Tamara Wall collected a legion of devoted friends, most of them men. Some fell in love with her, some were brotherly, some were both.
What she offered them was her laughter, her conversaton, a few confidences and an indefinable sense that there was something unique and valuable about that particular relationship. What they offered her was a chance to be a connoisseur, to glory in the pageantry of an opera or relish a fine meal, a new landscape or a new way of thinking.
Her times with her friends offer the best evidence of how this woman, who had paid such a high price for life, wanted to live: savoring any extravagances that were offered, yet retaining her independence; giving a great deal of affection, yet guarding her privacy. Most of all, she wanted to immerse herself in the present, determined to obliterate the painful memories of the past.
Yet every so often they would emerge, brought back by an idle question or a chance encounter. When she was leafing through German- or Russian-language books in the Globe bookshop, a companion would ask how she knew the languages. When she put on sandals during an outing to Rehoboth Beach or Shelter Island, an acquaintance would ask what had happened to her toes.
She might mention that her family came from Germany but had been forced to leave during the war. Or she might say that she had lost her toes to frostbite in a Siberian village. Then she would change the subject.
One time her friend Maurice Rosenblatt took her to a gala ball at the Soviet Embassy in 1964. Rosenblatt recalled that Nikita Khruschev had only recently been deposed as premier; his picture had been taken off the wall, but a pale residue of dust outlined the spot where it had hung.
When Tamara entered the ballroom, she immediately attracted a small crowd of Russian Army officers who vied to entertained her. One, a little drunk, was particularly ardent. She should see Russia someday, he urged. he knew she would love his homeland. He would show it to her. "You must visit my country," he repeated.
"I have," she replied.
"Oh, well, then you know how beautiful it is."
"Have you ever been to Siberia?'' she quiered curtly.
"No," he replied, puzzled.
"I have," she said.
The officer fled.
There were moments when she let her past creep into a conversation, but they were vary rare. Once, after she and Mary Ellen Benard, a young friend from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), had jovially consumed a bottle of wine at Tamara's house, Benard asked about an old framed photograph in Tamara's room, a picture of a handsome, longfaced man with an old-fashioned mustache.
"That's my father," Tamara responded. Then she turned and left the room, soon returning with the old family photographs that Boris Jaffe had brought with him when he fled Germany. Against the heavy black pages were pasted images to a day in the country, a young mother with small children. "Those are my brothers," said Tamara, pointing to one snapshot. "Poor kids, they never had a chance."
On another occasion, she was talking to Rosenblatt, and there was a lull in the conversation. Looking off wistfully, Tamara said, "Today is my little brother's birthday." But as quickly as she had mentioned it, she dropped the subject.
Her reticence was a source of frustration to her friend and attorney Ernest Bonyhadi. Bonyhadi, who had known her as a teen-ager in Portland, Ore., was now an attorney and was trying to force the German government to grant her a stipend under a 1950s' law providing restitution to Holocaust victims. But Tamara was painfully slow about collecting the necessary documentation of her family's odyssey -- of the deportation from Berlin, the trip to Siberia and the village where her mother and brothers died.
One requirement of the German government particularly bothered her. Her own physician had sent a report assessing the physical impact of her ordeal: the typhoid fever that had weakened her lungs and left her susceptible to bouts of pneumonia, the frostbite that had destroyed most of her toes. But the Germans wanted her to see a psychiatrist for an assessment of the emotional damage she had suffered.
For several years, Bonyhadi tried to coax her into seeing one. In 1968, he stopped coaxing and turned brusque. "To put it as bluntly as I can," he wrote in a 1968 letter, "the only question you have to answer is whether you can afford to ignore the chance to make several thousand dollars." She had had her daughter Cindy to think of, he added.
She went. According to the report they pyschiatrist later filed with the German government, she nearly walked out during her first two visits. When she started talking about her family, she cried. But she continued to be uncompromising about her need to lock this part of her life out of her mind.
The report written in the wake of these two interviews took a bleak and relentlessly clinical view of Tamara and her future. It read:
"When she arrived in the United States, she consciously determined at all cost to put her previous life behind her and begin all over again . . . she felt then and continues to feel that she simply is unable to come to terms with the horrible experiences in Siberia in any other manner. . . .
"She is consciously aware that she has attempted to cast off the identity of the child who lived in Siberia and take on a new identity, but she has not bheen successful in doing so, since the various roles she puts on in quest of a firm identity do not feel as if they really belong to her or fit her. . . .
"Life has little real purpose or meaning for her and it is only the presence of her child which provides her with enough incentive to keep living at all. . . . She is generally not actively depressed but has a lackluster, muted approach to life."
The woman described in this report -- morose, purposeless and hovering near despair -- bore no resemblance to the Tamara who, friends say, loved to dance, loved to charm and loved the company of others. If these were only illusions of happiness, they were entrancing enough to evoke a matching joy in those who knew her.
In 1962, when she was reading a 1920s' bestseller called, "The Story of San Michele," she wrote Rosenblatt of her puzzlement with the author's dour vision of the world. Axel Munthe, the doctor who wrote the book, had treated the pampered nobility in Paris and the victims of a cholera epidemic in the slums of Naples.
"I find it delightful and difficult to put down," she said. "[yet] i do find there is perhaps too much preoccupation with death and suffering. Perhaps that is a doctor's or a realist's view of this life. I find life much gayer -- because I shut my eyes to the evils which I know exist."
"She had such a completely positive attitude toward things," said Ruth Blum, the second wife of Tamara's onetime mentor Bill Blum. "There were no negatives. Once I asked her how she could do that, to have such an easy attitude toward things after what she'd been through. 'Ruth,' she said, it may not be evident on the outside, but on the inside I've had quite a struggle.'"
"She was just a passionate girl. She relished all the good things in life: food, love, books, clothes," recalled her friend Stewart McClure, who served as staff director for the Senate Education Committee when Tamara was still a young staffer on the Hill.
She also had a rare knack for attracting men, for walking into a crowded room and becoming the focus of attention. First there were her eyes, dark and huge in her slightly Slavic face. Then there was her laugh. "God, what a laugh," said McClure. "It was deep and throaty and so rich that you just howled with her." Then there was that aura of independence.
"While wanting to be attractive to men and while being enormously attractive to men, Tammy was not dependent on men," said Sen. John Tower (R-Texas), who met Tamara after he had married her oldest friend and onetime fellow law student, Lilla Cummings. "Nothing could make the adrenaline levels flow higher in a man than a woman who is both physically attractive, intellectually impressive . . . and purposeful."
Most important, perhaps, she served as a kind mirror to those who knew her: in looking at Tamara, her friends saw a happy reflection of the qualities they liked best in themselves. "Tammy had a great facility for reinforcing in a person his confidence in himself and his appreciation of his own values," Tower said.
Still, her sense of privacy led her to keep most of her relationships separate. Her friends at the National Labor Relations Board were all taken aback one day when she walked into an office party on the arm of CBS news commentator Eric Sevareid. An old friend from Portland, who came to town and took her to Paul Young's restaurant was amazed to find the proprietor embracing her warmly and finding her the best table in the house.
"We were friends for a long time," said Almira Stevenson, another of Tamara's colleagues at the NLRB. "But up until a few years ago, I never heard Tamara mention a husband, didn't know if she was divorced or he was dead or what. She never referred to her private life in my presence."
In fact, despite the bitter rupture of their marriage in 1960, Tamara never divorced Bill Wall. She had no idea where he was. This gave her an effective, built-in barrier between herself and the possibility of marriage.
"She didn't need to get married," said Cummings. "[She had] Theodore Sorenson coming over to her apartment to play Scrabble. She could talk to Eric Sevareid, who was talking to the rest of the country. Here you have this rich library of escorts. You pull from the shelf this volume or that . . . and you have the exhiliaration of beauty."
As for having a purpose in life, she found that her legal work and raising her daughter provided her with more than enough motivation.