Discovering HERstory

I met Tamara at Goucher College during my second year there. I have the fondest memories of entering the campus Library not only to be greeted by her warm presence as she worked the font desk, but by her ability to provide a sense of comfort in such enlightening ways. A wise soul, Tamara continues to teach me through her story, and her story's stories. In this piece in particular, I am reminded that it's never too late to listen and learn from the complexities of our family's history. In better understanding our roots, an incredible healing process can take place for all involved. -emidobz 

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“We all have the story of Mother deep within us. We are all one in our suffering.” -Aboriginal Elder

Do you remember having an experience as a child, an adolescent, or young adult trying to make it in the world that seemed to point you in the direction of your dreams? You may have had a few such moments, and you may have dug farther and deeper into one, some, or all of them, as if seeking a treasure. Or you may have let go of them, for whatever reason. 

I can think of a few such experiences in my life so far, most of which I didn’t pursue for a variety of reasons. There is one however that I came across, and somehow managed to stick with, or perhaps it wouldn’t let go of me.  It’s not one that has shaped my career, but my personal history and life choices.

 In the fall of 2008, during my senior year at Goucher College, I took a course called “Oral Histories of Holocaust Survivors.” On September 23rd, I met Mr. Morris Rosen. I still remember so distinctly arriving at his home: a wide smile greeted us alongside his small stature and large spirit. Over the course of the next two months, he shared his life story and how he survived the Holocaust in Poland and Germany.

At the end of November, I performed parts of his life story in front of a crowd of Holocaust survivors, other student-storytellers, professors, Baltimore locals, family and friends. With that performance, I sought to take the audience deep inside moments of a human life shaped by this horrific history, and to emotionally connect them to it. There was only one person I needed to look at to know that I achieved this. They were the tear-filled eyes of my German professor. 

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My mom was sitting in the audience too. Mr. Morris (as I like to call him) was sitting in the same row, a few chairs to the left of her.  In telling his story, I intertwined her story; about the pain and scars she has had to bear as a woman living in the Balkans. I weaved these histories together, because through my recollection of what my mother went through in times of war, I could connect with the suffering that Mr. Morris went through during the Holocaust.

 Until I met Mr. Morris, I only studied history in books. I had been searching among strangers’ tales until I discovered what I was seeking were my roots, and that my mom’s life story was the gateway.  

And therein lies my treasure. 

Over the years, as I continue to interview my mother and record her life story, it has dawned on me that this pain I once spoke in sharing Mr. Morris’ story is universal. We all arrive at it in different ways, and usually very personal ways. This is the kind of pain that connects you to something deep, yearning and caged within your body. It is a primal pain, whose greatest bearer is our beloved Mother Earth.

My mother has always flown above the rest, all of her life. But early on, she had to learn to fly with only one wing. I’ve always known this about my mother: she is a spiritual being in a human world, somehow able to persevere and move forward despite of all the pain and injustice.

 As time continues to pass, I’ve become deeply aware of the silence she has had to bear all her life, and that in helping her resurrect her story, I am helping her reconstruct her voice and power, and redefine the meaning of life beyond the pain. This process is now taking much longer than I expected, and is quite different from when I interviewed Mr. Morris. But it was that experience, of meeting Mr. Morris and hearing his story, which connected me to the treasure that lies within all of us: a deep-seethed source of empathy for all life.

In helping my mother unearth and record her life story, I seek to help her heal, to better connect to my beginnings, and one day perhaps, when others have a chance to read and hear her story, help them connect to their source of empathy for all that women have suffered and overcome throughout history.  -Tamara

Tamara Filipović