Tamara Lazerson was thirteen years old when her ordeal at the hands of the Nazis began. Her hometown of Kovno was occupied in 1941 as part of Germany’s drive to defeat the Soviet Union that brought most of Eastern Europe under Nazi rule. From August 1941 onward, the Jews of Kovno (at least those who avoided execution) were penned into a ghetto where they lived under conditions of utter deprivation and misery. They were also forced to provide labor for the occupation forces. This situation persisted for almost three years until the tide of war turned against Germany and Soviet forces began to drive them back. In July 1944, the retreating German forces set fire to the ghetto area – killing many of the remaining inhabitants. Others were sent to the Dachau Concentration Camp to continue their imprisonment. Tamara was able to hide during this period, though, and was liberated when Soviet troops arrived. Even though she survived, she was separated from family and friends and was deeply wounded by the things she had experienced.
On January 14, 1945 Tamara wrote, “Boredom and cold; it is bleak outside and in my heart. Vitas left for someplace afar, and I do not know where. Uncle and aunt are somewhere in a desolate land, and I am here alone, a stranger. O God, what a burden it is to be solitary among aliens, fatherless and motherless. There is no one to whom you can run for solace, to embrace, to kiss. Around me are apathetic faces of people. How long can this continue? How can one stand up under it and endure? I want to die so that my sufferings will end…”
It is important to realize that Tamara wrote these words months after she had been liberated. The idea that freedom solved the problems of Holocaust survivors is incomplete at best and insensitive at worst. For many, freedom brought first the necessity to mourn and grieve for all that had been lost. People who were just starting to rebuild their lives and families had many more trials to face before they could consider themselves to be liberated in the fullest sense of the word. Tamara’s diary reminds us that the process of recovery was fraught with difficulty and that the emotional trauma of the Nazi years should not be discounted.
Excerpts from Tamara Lazerson’s diary are included in by Laurel Holiday.
You may learn more about the German occupation, the Kovno Ghetto and about Jewish resistance here.
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