On August 14, 1942, just seven weeks after German troops invaded Soviet-occupied Poland, they slaughtered 1,850 Jews from a shtetl named Lenin near the Sluch River. Only 27 were spared, their skills deemed essential by the invaders.
Survivors included shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, blacksmiths, a barber, and a young novice photographer named Faigel Lazebnik, who would later become known as Faye Schulman.
The Germans enlisted her to take commemorative photos of them and, in some cases, of their newly acquired mistresses. (“It’s better if it’s good, otherwise you’ll be kaput,” she remembers a Gestapo commander warning her before, trembling, she asked him to smile.) They thus spared her from the peloton. execution because of their vanity and obsession with bureaucratic record keeping – two weaknesses she would end up exerting against them.
At one point, the Germans unwittingly gave him a film to develop which contained photos they had taken of the three trenches in which they themselves, their Lithuanian collaborators and the local Polish police strafed Lenin’s remaining Jews. , including his parents, sisters and younger brother.
She kept a copy of the photos as evidence of the atrocity, then later joined a group of Russian Resistance guerrilla fighters. As one of the only known Jewish partisan photographers, Ms Schulman, through her own graphic recording, debunked the common narrative that most Eastern European Jews went quietly to their deaths.
“I want people to know that there has been resistance,” she told the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation. “The Jews did not go like sheep to the slaughterhouse. I was a photographer. I have pictures. I have proof.”
Ms. Schulman, who emigrated to Canada in 1948, continued to offer this evidence, in exhibitions of her photographs, in a 1995 autobiography titled “A Partisan’s Memoir: Woman of the Holocaust”, and in a PBS documentary in 1999. , “Daring to Resist: Three Women Facing the Holocaust.
She recounted her life in pre-WWII Eastern Europe and how a motley band of Red Army stragglers, escaped prisoners of war, and Jewish and non-Jewish resistance fighters – including women – harassed the Germans behind the front lines of the Wehrmacht in the forests and swamps of what is now Belarus.
“We faced the hunger and the cold; we were constantly threatened with death and torture; on top of that, we have been confronted with anti-Semitism in our own ranks, ”she writes in her memoir. “Against all odds, we struggled. “
She died on April 24 in Toronto, her daughter, Dr Susan Schulman, said. Ms. Schulman was believed to be 101 years old.
Dr Schulman said his mother had not been in contact with fellow supporters for years. “She was the youngest,” she says.
According to the Foundation for the Education of Jewish Partisans, up to 30,000 Jews joined resistance groups on the Eastern Front during World War II; only hundreds still live.
Faigel Lazebnik was the fifth of seven children of Yakov and Rayzel (Migdalovich) Lazebnik. His mother was a caterer, his father a fabric merchant. Records indicate that her date of birth was November 28, 1919, which would have made her 22 years old in August 1942. But in her memoir, she wrote that she was 19 at the time, which would have done from her year of birth 1922 if she was born in November. .
The Lazebniks, who were Orthodox Jews, lived in Lenin (named after Lena, the daughter of a local aristocrat, not the Bolshevik revolutionary) in what was then Poland. Faye had been an apprentice with her brother Moishe, the town photographer, since she was 10 and had taken over her studio when she was 16.
In September 1939, after signing a non-aggression pact with Hitler, Soviet troops crossed the Stulch River and occupied eastern Poland, including Lenin, just 16 days after the Germans invaded the country from the west. By August 1942, Nazi Germany had broken the treaty, declared war on the Soviet Union and pushed further east, dragging Moscow to the side of the Allies.
Ms Schulman realized that among the photographs she was processing for the Germans in August were images of the bodies of her own family members. “I was just crying,” she told The Memory Project, a Canadian history preservation program. “And I lost my family. I am alone. I am a young lady. What should I do now? Where am I going ? What should I do ? “
The Germans ordered her to train a young Ukrainian as an assistant, but she stalled, knowing what would happen when she was no longer considered essential. After Soviet partisans attacked the city in September, she fled with them.
“From now on, my bed would be the grass, my roof the sky and my walls the trees,” she said. His gun has become his pillow.
Because her brother-in-law had been a doctor, the partisans welcomed her, even as a woman and a Jew, into the Molotov Brigade and made it a nurse, providing her with rudimentary equipment and the supervision by their full nurse. time, a veterinarian.
“The main part of being a supporter was not to kill but to keep the wounded alive,” she said, “bringing the wounded back to life so they can keep fighting and end at war”.
When the guerrillas attacked Lenin, she retrieved her camera and darkroom equipment and began chronicling the Resistance. Developing a film at night or under a cover, she captured intimate views of partisan underground, including a poignant moratorium on anti-Semitism at a joint funeral of Jewish and Russian supporters. She recorded a happy reunion of supporters who were surprised to find that their friends and neighbors were still alive.
Ms. Schulman remained with the brigade until July 1944, when the Red Army liberated Belarus. She reunited with two of her brothers, who reintroduced her to another supporter, Morris Schulman, an accountant she had known before the war.
They married later that year and lived in Pinsk, Belarus, as decorated Soviet heroes. But after the war, they left for an internally displaced persons camp in West Germany, where they smuggled people and weapons to support the movement for an independent Israel and planned to migrate themselves to Palestine under British control.
When Ms Schulman became pregnant with Susan, the couple decided to move to Canada instead. After arriving there in 1948, Ms. Schulman worked in a clothing factory and later in hand-tinted and oil-painted photographs. Her husband was employed as a laborer, then worked in the clothing factory as a tailor before the couple opened a hardware store. He died in 1992.
In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Schulman is survived by a son, Sidney; one brother, Rabbi Grainom Lazewnik; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
The hundreds of photos she took during the war and kept when she moved to Canada will remain her legacy, said Dr. Schulman. And among the few other personal effects Ms Schulman was able to bring back from Europe was her Compur camera, the folding bellows model she had used in August 1942. She treasured it, her daughter said, but she apparently never used it to take another. photograph again.