Mrs. Schulman, who died April 24 in Toronto at 101, was one of 20,000 to 30,000 Jews who joined the resistance during World War II and one of only hundreds still alive today, according to Mitch Braff, the founding director of the San Francisco-based Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation. Her photographs, many of which are reproduced in her book “A Partisan’s Memoir,” survive her, revealing in shot after shot one woman’s experience of an often overlooked history of wartime heroism.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust, a widespread myth emerged that the 6 million murdered Jews of Europe had gone “like sheep to the slaughter,” in one common formulation of the idea. The notion persisted for decades, despite the documentation of courageous acts of resistance, such as the Warsaw ghetto uprising of 1943 and the actions of outgunned, outnumbered partisans who risked their lives to help bring about the liberation from the Nazis.
Mrs. Schulman — then Faigel Lazebnik — joined a brigade of Soviet partisans in 1942 after the Nazis murdered 1,850 inhabitants of the Jewish ghetto in her town in eastern Poland. At 22, she found herself alone with a tailor, a shoemaker, a carpenter, a blacksmith and a printer, among few other survivors, all spared because they practiced a useful trade. Photography, which she had learned as an apprentice to an older brother, became in that moment her salvation.
Once ensconced with the partisans, Mrs. Schulman worked by day as a nurse. By night, she would drape herself in blankets to block out the moonlight, creating an open-air darkroom where she developed her photographs chronicling their life.
Mrs. Schulman was not the only partisan photographer during World War II, Michael Berkowitz, a professor of modern Jewish history at University College London, said in an interview, but she amassed a collection that became “extremely important in documenting the history of the resistance.”
Intimate and with artful composition, her photographs reveal the primitive surgeries conducted on operating tables fashioned from tree limbs, the makeshift burial of fighters killed in action, the joyful reunion of friends who had been dispersed amid the chaos of war and their youthful camaraderie in a cherished cause.
“It became so important after the war for survivors to assert the fact that we fought, we were part of partisan units,” Doris Bergen, a professor of Holocaust studies at the University of Toronto, said in an interview. Mrs. Schulman is significant as “an embodiment, a person who both by her survival and by those photographs . . . asserts there was resistance.”
Faigel Lazebnik was born on Nov. 28, 1919, to an Orthodox Jewish family in Lenin, a shtetl on what was then the Polish border with the Soviet Union. (The town was not named for the communist revolutionary but rather for a woman named Lena, the daughter of a local aristocrat.)
Mrs. Schulman’s father was the administrator at the local synagogue, and her mother was a cook. Both parents and four of her six siblings would perish in the Holocaust.
The Germans occupied eastern Poland in 1941, and by May 1942 the Jews of Lenin were placed in a ghetto, according to the partisan educational foundation. On Aug. 14, 1942, the Nazis liquidated the ghetto, marching all but roughly two dozen of its residents to trenches where they were shot. Mrs. Schulman and the others, meanwhile, were held in the synagogue.
“I heard the Nazis open fire with their machine-guns,” she wrote in her 1995 memoir. “The trenches were far away, but I heard the cries of my people, cries that still echo in my ears. I am still filled with indescribable sorrow when I think of how they came to their end. I flinch even today whenever I hear the roar of a crowd at an outdoor sports arena, sounds that reverberate.”
The Nazis put Mrs. Schulman to work photographing German officials and developing prints as they deemed necessary for record-keeping. Among the photographs she processed was one depicting a trench full of corpses, including those of her murdered family members. She clandestinely made a second copy of the photograph for herself, to document the atrocity.
“I just was crying,” she said in an interview with the Memory Project, a Canadian oral history initiative. “I lost my family. I’m alone. I’m a young girl. What shall I do now? Where shall I go?”
She escaped into the surrounding forests and — despite what she said was her fear of weapons and blood — joined a partisan brigade. “This was the only way I could fight back and revenge my family” she said in a PBS documentary.
Mrs. Schulman was one of the few Jews in the group, which consisted mainly of escaped Soviet prisoners of war, and said she concealed her Jewish identity because of pervasive antisemitism. She was also the only woman in her detachment. Partisan leaders accepted her, she said, because they needed medics and because they hoped she might have gleaned some medical knowledge from her brother-in-law, a doctor.
Often washing and reusing bandages, she helped repair gunshot and other wounds, perform surgeries with vodka as anesthetic and treat conditions such as gangrene and typhoid fever. In the meantime, she took photographs, burying her camera and developing solution in the ground for safekeeping during partisan forays.
Mrs. Schulman would sometimes direct another partisan to release the camera’s shutter after she had framed a scene, which allowed her to appear in her own images. They reveal her caring for the sick or wounded, her medical inexperience belied by her seriousness of purpose. In wintertime shots, she wears the leopard-skin coat to which she owed, at least in part, her survival in freezing conditions.
Soviet troops liberated her territory in July 1944. “For me the day of victory was a day of reckoning,” she wrote. “Never in my life had I felt so lonely, so sad; never had I felt such yearning for the parents, family and friends whom I would never see again.”
That December, she married Morris Schulman, a fellow partisan. Mrs. Schulman worked for a period as a photographer in Pinsk, in what is now Belarus, before the couple decided to seek entry into what was then the British mandate of Palestine.
They joined the Bricha, an underground movement that spirited Jews into Palestine, and spent several years in a displaced persons camp in Germany. When Mrs. Schulman gave birth to a daughter, they decided to immigrate to the relative stability of Canada.
Mrs. Schulman’s husband, who in Europe had been an accountant, worked as a laborer before eventually buying a hardware store. Mrs. Schulman worked in a dress factory and later in photography and art, hand-tinting black-and-white photos and painting in oils and watercolors.
Morris Schulman died in 1992. Survivors include their two children, Susan Schulman of Toronto and Sidney Schulman of Janesville, Wis.; a brother; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A granddaughter, Rachelle Schulman, confirmed Mrs. Schulman’s death and said the cause was complications from a fall.
Until the end of her life, Mrs. Schulman kept her wartime camera. “I would never like to part [with it] as long as I live,” she said, remarking that the camera had “seen everything.”
Asked if she had a favorite photograph among the hundreds or thousands she had taken, she said it was not the swashbuckling shot of herself, clad in the leopard-skin coat and aiming her rifle like a sharpshooter, or the one that showed her smiling exuberantly with her partisan friends. Rather it was a simple photograph that she took before the war, a portrait of her family, intact, together, unaware of what was to come.
“I want people to know that there was resistance,” Mrs. Schulman said years after the war, according to the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation. “Jews did not go like sheep to the slaughter. I was a photographer. I have pictures. I have proof.”
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