Faye Lazebnik Schulman lived a quiet life with her family in the small town of Lenin on the border of Russia and Poland until 1941, when the Nazi invasion changed her life forever. Her experience in the family photography business served her well when, at 16, she joined a group of Russian partisans and became a chronicler of history. A display of her work is at Columbia-Barnard Hillel through Tuesday, April 28, and she will lead a personal tour to benefit the Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation on Thursday, April 30 at Astor Center Gallery in Manhattan (firstname.lastname@example.org). The author of “A Partisan’s Memoir: Woman of The Holocaust,” Schulman, now 89, spoke to The Jewish Week from her home in Toronto on the eve of Yom HaShoah, in between speaking engagements.
Q:How many photos did you take and how did you preserve them?
A: A few hundred. After the war I had to cross three or four borders and was always searched and had many taken away from me, but I still had the negatives.
Living in the forest and hiding from the Nazis, how did you manage the delicate process of developing film?
On the ground in the winter, covering myself with blankets. We didn’t just hide; we were attacking the Nazis and would take whatever we needed. I would always take photo supplies — glass or plastic to hold the film — and medical supplies since I was also the nurse. The campfire was my light. Today they still look beautiful after 65 years, so I guess I did a good job.
What did you think of the film “Defiance?” Was it similar to your experience?
This was a different story. I was with Russian soldiers, many of them escaped from German prisons into the woods to fight the Nazis. They didn’t like to accept Jews or anyone who didn’t have any rifles.
Did you continue as a photographer after the war?
I wanted to, but it wasn’t the same and I didn’t like it. Instead I became an artist and paint watercolors, oil or pastels. I also made a slideshow of some 80 pictures and use it to teach the younger generation that people who had the opportunity to fight back did so and didn’t go like lambs to the slaughter. Between 20,000 and 30,000 Jewish boys and girls fought the Nazis.
Did any of your family survive?
My two older brothers. One lives in New York and the other was here in Toronto. Thank God I have a son and daughter, and six grandchildren.
What was it like being one of the few woman partisans?
In my brigade there were three Jewish girls, all survived. I had a rifle and a grenade to kill myself in case I was captured, so I wouldn’t be tortured. I volunteered to go on every ambush. Once my commander insisted I stay home from a mission that was almost suicidal. There were eight of us; five came back. When we returned [to camp], spies had notified the Nazis and they were attacked and killed. If I would not have insisted on going, I would have been killed. God helped me.