Tamara Lazerson and her family were living in Kovno, Lithuania when the German army invaded in June, 1941. At the young age of thirteen, she was forced to witness terrible acts of destruction aimed at her community. Soon after the occupation began, two thousand people, mostly intellectuals, were murdered. A ghetto was established for the remaining Jewish population.
Tamara was a highly intelligent girl with a deep passion for knowledge. It must have been very difficult for her to see how little education and intelligence mattered in the ghetto. She wondered how she would be able to continue to learn and to prepare herself for a useful life under the restrictions and deprivations of Nazi rule. When she was unable to read and study, she felt lost. When she was able to engage in productive activities, she felt better. On May 20, 1943 she wrote with satisfaction that she had reached a decision about her future. She had managed to find a goal worth fighting for. “I am very pleased with myself. It seemed to me that I had strayed and have been wandering about aimlessly. And now at long last, I have found an aim in life. I am no longer forlorn – an individual without a homeland and a people. No! I have found an aim: to struggle, to study, to devote my strength to advance the well-being of my people and my homeland.”
Tamara found inspiration in her commitment to seek her future in Eretz Yisrael. Even though she was trapped in Nazi occupied Europe, facing death every day, she had a goal in mind. This gave her strength to struggle to survive. She was able to avoid the twin pitfalls that snared some of the other young people in the ghetto; licentiousness and despair.
Tamara still had many trials and losses ahead of her, but she survived the Holocaust. Like all survivors, she needed a great deal of strength and also a bit of luck. Eventually she realized her dream of a new life in Israel.
You may read excerpts from Tamara’s diary in by Laurel Holliday.
A new film by documentary filmmaker Evgeny Tsymbal, Diary from a Burned Ghetto, features an interview with Tamara and excerpts from her diary. You may read a brief description here.
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