World War II: Photography exhibit offers rare glimpse of Jewish partisans

MILWAUKEE — In a time of war and genocide, only three things stood between Faye Schulman and certain death: a camera, the ability to use it well and a lot of bravery.

On Thursday, March 28, the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, a program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, 1360 N. Prospect Ave., will launch “Pictures of Resistance: The Wartime Photographs of Jewish Partisan Faye Schulman.”

Faye Schulman with her camera. Photo by Moishe Lazebnik. Image Source: Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation / “A Partisan’s Memoir,” Second Story Press.

 

The exhibit, which is slated to be on display until May 26, highlights the work of Schulman, who is believed to be the only known Jewish partisan to capture the World War II experience on film.

“Pictures of Resistance” shines a light on a lesser known narrative of the Holocaust — the thousands of Jews who managed to escape from the Nazis to join or form resistance groups as partisans to fight against their enemy,” said Jewish Museum Milwaukee Curator Molly Dubin. “Schulman’s photographs capture a clandestine and perilous existence.”

Fighter, photographer

Living in the Polish city of Lenin along the Russian border, Schulman was just 18 when the Germans invaded eastern Poland in 1939, triggering World War II.

Roughly three years later, on Aug. 14, 1942, the Nazis killed 1,850 Jews from the Lenin ghetto, including Schulman’s parents, sisters and younger brother.

Schulman, who had learned photography from her older brother, Moishe, was one of only 26 people spared.

Although the Nazis spared her for her ability to document their atrocities, the young photographer soon escaped to the nearby forests during a raid by the Russian resistance. There she joined the Molotova Brigade, a group of escaped Soviet Red Army POWs turned partisan fighters.

During her nearly two years with the brigade, Schulman served as a nurse, while also documenting the experiences of the fighters, some of whom were Jewish. Her photos offer a rare view into the world of those partisans and include images of both the camaraderie and triumphs they experienced, as well as the hardships and horrors.

Faye Schulman with her rifle at a forest near Pinsk, end of winter, 1943. Image source: Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation / “A Partisan’s Memoir,” Second Story Press.

“It was about avenging her family. They blew up trenches and bridges to detract (the Germans from) fighting the Allied powers,” Dubin said.

Woman’s perspective

While working on the exhibit, Dubin said she was surprised to learn about the sheer number of partisan fighters who were involved in the resistance.

“I had known about Jewish resistance groups that worked to sabotage the Third Reich by blowing up supply trains, convoys, bridges and by raiding towns and villages which had been invaded by the Nazis, but was unaware of the number of resistance fighters,” Dubin said. “I found it incredible to learn that approximately 25,000 Jewish partisans and 200,000 non-Jewish partisans fought their common enemy throughout a great portion of Europe.”

Being a Jew, and the only woman in her otherwise all-male partisan detachment, Schulman’s photos offer a unique perspective of the partisan experience, Dubin said, while also providing insight to the further challenges and dangers she endured for the sake of survival.

As part of the exhibit, the museum plans to highlight the contributions and lives of Milwaukee area community members who were also partisans and or part of the resistance, she said.

Faye Schulman with her detachment in the forests near Lenin, fall 1942. Image source: Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation / “A Partisan’s Memoir,” Second Story Press.

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How to go

What: Pictures of Resistance: The Wartime Photographs of Jewish Partisan Faye Schulman

When: March 29 – May 26, with an opening preview from 7-9 p.m. on March 28

Where: Jewish Museum Milwaukee, 1360 N. Prospect Ave.

More info: 414-390-5730. JewishMuseumMilwaukee.org

The Peltz Family, Feb. 10, 1946, Poland: Brothers Joseph (bottom row, far left), Nathan and Morris, 2nd row, participated in Polish resistance group activities. Bottom row, left to right: Joseph Peltz, Rebecca Peltz, Lola Peltz, Esther Pelz, Alex Peltz and Paula Peltz. Second row: Joseph Peltz, Rose Peltz, Jack Peltz, Samuel Peltz, Nathan Pelz and Morris Peltz. Top: Joseph Peltz (in uniform). Image courtesy of the Family and Jewish Museum Milwaukee. Note: There are alternate spellings of the “Peltz” family name.