Marillyn Tallman helped Jews make new lives for themselves during some of the most monumental conflicts of the twentieth century. As director of the Hillel Foreign Student Service, a rescue project for young Holocaust survivors in displaced persons camps, Tallman helped 125 survivors relocate to the US. Three years later, when Israel was attacked on all sides following the 1948 declaration of statehood, Tallman raised emergency funds for planes and weapons. In 1968, following a trip to the Soviet Union, Tallman took on a leadership role for Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry, which she continued throughout her life. With Pam Cohen, she developed briefing sessions for travellers meeting with Soviet Jews and helped monitor human rights in the Soviet Union. Beyond her work in human rights, Tallman taught Jewish history for many years and lectured on the subject for UJA’s National Speakers Bureau. Marillyn Tallman was honored at the 2005 Women Who Dared event in Chicago.
This interview began with Tallman sharing about her childhood in Decatur, Illinois, the lives of her parents prior to her birth, and her experiences at Decatur High School and the University of Illinois. After college, Tallman worked at Hillel and joined Hillel Foreign Student Program, dedicated to saving lives of children in DP camps in Europe during WWII; this led her to an activism path where she worked for Jewish Family and Community Services, taught at Brandeis on Jewish history, and the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews. In 1963, Tallman moved down to Mississippi to become involved in the Civil Rights Movement, although she moved back to the Chicago area and shared about her Jewish life in said area and her Zionist beliefs.