By Almeda Girod
Tamar Hendel was born in Zagreb, Croatia in 1935. Her parents, both born in Poland, had established a successful business which they sold for a considerable loss when the Nazis invaded in 1941. Her parents, along with her older brother and Tamar, fled to Italy. She describes the Italians as kind and generous, despite an official law forbidding Jews to own businesses or attend school. As other family members succeeded in escaping, the family grew to three children, three teenagers, and four adults. The Italian government gave each interned person a small stipend and found them an apartment. The family did not go hungry, even though a meal was often limited to grits. The family gleaned in nearby farm fields. She remembers that the police, who were required to “monitor” them, would occasionally bring bread for the children.
In 1943 the Nazi regime invaded Italy and began arresting and deporting Jews. The family fled south to Rome, using false papers, hoping to meet the advancing American Army. Shortly after Rome was liberated in 1944, her resourceful father joined the group that had been invited to come to the United States. A group of nearly 1,000 people came on the ship The Henry Gibbins. After arriving in New York, the group was taken to Oswego, NY, and again interned; this time in an empty army training camp called Fort Ontario. The children were allowed to attend school and quickly learned English. Tamar’s family moved to New York City in 1946. Her father worked as a jeweler and her mother in the garment industry. She credits her mother with saving the family photographs which now the entire family can enjoy.
Tamar met her husband, the son of Russian immigrants, as a teen and reconnected when they were in college. The couple moved to Kensington and then to Washington, DC. Her husband worked as a psychiatrist at NIH as Tamar cared for their four children. Tamar studied Art and Art Therapy which led to her work with psychiatric patients. She formed CREATE Arts Center in 1986 which continues 32 years later achieving its mission through art education, art therapy, and enrichment programs.
She moved to Hampton Square in 2013, 15 years after her husband’s death. Tamar teaches Paper Mâché Construction through the SAGE program. Her apartment is filled with her art work that includes ceramic, paper mâché and wood sculptures. Tamar comments that “she cannot throw anything away” hoping to one day incorporate it into an art piece.
You can see Tamar’s art work in the Arts Council of Riderwood display.