This week’s Humans of Chapelboro features Tamara Schenck, who was born in the Ukraine before she and her family immigrated to the United States in 1952. She later worked as a model and lived all over the world with her husband, a foreign service officer.
“I was born in the Ukraine in a very small village. My father worked at a alcohol distillery. Then we moved from there to a bigger city when I was a couple of months old. This was during the early Stalin years. The Soviets were really…playing hardball in the area. The big famine had just ended, you know, when they collectivized everything. They took everything to starve the population into submission. My sister was born during the worst part of it and I was born a few years later, but times were still hard.later but times were still hard. I don’t remember very much of my life there because we left when I was just a small girl. We left Ukraine when I was a small girl and World War II had started. In 1943, we moved to Poland with the retreating Germans.”
“The Nazis needed workers in their factories so they were taking local people with them. We lived in Poland for about a year or a year and a half very near one of the concentration camps, called Chelmno. We were always worried about whether we would end up in it. So there was constant worry. But we were fortunate–evidently we were not quite on the list. When the Soviets pushed the Nazis back, they retreated again and took the capable workers to slave in their factories in Germany. As it turned out we were very fortunate to escape the camps in Poland, and we did not fully comprehend the Nazi’s inhuman treatment of Jews and other nationalities deemed inferior to the Aryan race.”
“In 1945 we ended up in the western part of the American zone in Germany, which was in Bavaria. We lived there from ‘45 to ‘52, and at that time we applied to immigrate to Australia, to Argentina, and to the United States. And luckily we got to the States. My uncle and his wife who left at the same time as us, they ended up in Australia, and some great friends of ours ended up in Argentina. Everywhere. You were just lucky to be accepted anywhere. Living conditions were difficult in German after the war for both Germans and immigrants. The Germans did not particularly like us. They called us “Fluechtlinge,” people who fled—immigrants, basically. We didn’t speak any German, although as kids we learned it reasonably quickly. It was not very pleasant for us there, so we were really delighted to escape to America.
“When we landed in the States, it was just unimaginable. Talk about streets paved with gold. We had everything! We had this tiny little coldwater flat in the Bronx in New York City, but we thought we were in heaven! My father found work about two weeks after we arrived, and my mother worked in a shirt factory sewing shirts. My sister and I started school. I went to middle school and my sister, to high school. It was great. Everything was cheap. The white bread—the Wonder bread—we thought it was just something you only get in paradise.”
“We arrived in the States in ‘52. When I finished school I worked as a model for a while in New York City. Then I met a great guy, Dick, who had just come back from Japan where he’d served in the Navy for four years. We married and moved to Michigan State where Dick had to finish his senior year. He received good scholarships for his Masters and doctorate, but after three months he was so tired of studying when a chance to take the Foreign Service exam came up. He took it and passed with flying colors and I became a nomad again. He worked for the Department of State at embassies overseas so he got transferred every two or three years. We decided this was going to be the life for us. Our first assignment was Mexico City after a three month Spanish language course. We served there for two years. Then two years in Washington, D.C; Hong Kong for two years; Bangkok also for two; Afghanistan for three years; Venezuela for four; Madrid for four; and London for four.”
Photos taken by Aleta Donald. Stay tuned next week for part two of Tamara Schenck’s story! View more Humans of Chapelboro posts here.