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Inspiring Thursday: Faye Schulman

Faye Schulman is one of the many female partisans who fought for the liberation of Europe during World War II. Women played a crucial role in the antifascist and anti-Nazi resistance, and we wish to remember them on the occasion of the anniversary of the conflicts’ end in Europe on May 8th. 

Faye Schulman never left her camera during the two years she was living in the forests of Poland with her fellow partisans. At the same time, she had to learn how to use a rifle and a medical kit to tend to others´ wounds.

But how did she end up shooting not only with a camera, but also with an automatic rifle? Faye was born in 1919 in Lenin, Poland, and started working as photography assistant for her brother. When the Nazis invaded Lenin in 1941, they forced over 1800 Jews into a ghetto, where the year after they killed all of them. Schulman was spared from this deportation thanks to her photographic skills and was recruited by the Nazis to take pictures of them.

Schulman sits on the ground, third from right: she was the only woman in the group

One day she was asked to develop some photographs depicting a mass grave of Jews. She could recognize her own family members within those corpses: her mother, her father, her sister with two children, her other sister with her husband and her two little brothers. Secretly, she made copies of those pictures and decided to seek justice and join a partisan group in the forest. She was accepted in a group composed mostly by non-jewish men because they desperately needed a nurse and she had some general knowledge in the field.

During that time, Schulman documented the partisans’ daily life in the forest: she was developing the negatives under blankets and making “sun prints” during the day, and on missions she buried her camera to keep it safe. She is the only known Jewish partisan photographer to report life in the forest, providing evidence and witness to the mission of the partisans. Reporting and sharing what was happening was part of the fight. As she said: “I want people to know that there was resistance. Jews did not go like sheep to the slaughter. I was a photographer. I have pictures. I have proof.”

After liberation, Faye Schulman spent three years in displaced persons camps in Germany, before moving to Canada, where she is still living and sharing her experiences.

 

By Elena Floriani, WAVE Intern