Fajgel Schulman - Photographer of partisans

by yu yessler - Fajgel Schulman is, as far as known, the only photographer who has documented the life of the partisans in the forests. She was born 100 years ago in Lenin, a town on the Polish-Russian border that today lies in Belarus and is not named after Vladimir Ilyich, but after a girl named Lena, who is said to have plunged into the river due to lovesickness.


Fajgel learned to photograph and develop films from her brother Moische, and assisted him in his shop. In 1940 the Red Army occupied Lenin, in 1941 the Wehrmacht re-occupied it. The former had already abducted part of the population to Siberia, now the Germans were going for the Jews. A part of them were shot immediately, the rest was locked in a ghetto. Since her brother has fled Faigel had to take and develop pictures for the Germans. "They were obsessed with documenting their actions," she said later. In August 1942, in Lenin, they shot 1850 Jews, including Fajgel's parents, three of their siblings and their families. Her little nephews and nieces were thrown alive into the ditch: "the nazis did not waste any bullets on children," said Fajgel, who as one of the 26 survivors and was forced to develop the photos the Germans made during the massacre. In one picture, she discovered her family in a mass grave. She hid one of the prints and swore revenge.


Then the partisans attacked the city in search of food. Fajgel fled into the forest with a group of Russians and found the partisan group. They did not want a woman, especially not a Jewess, unarmed. Because her brother-in-law was a doctor, they assumed she had medical knowledge, and was allowed to stay. She was the only woman among forty or fifty men in the brigade Molotov. Fajgel learned to shoot, but above all, to overcome her disgust with blood and sores - and from then on she was deployed as a nurse.


As her unit occupied Lenin, she got her photographic equipment back. Over the next two years, she took over a hundred photos. She made her own stop bath and fixer, developed the negatives under covers at night and made "sun prints" during the day (she put the negatives on photo paper and held it towards the sun).


Fajgel's pictures show a rare side of partisan life. Above three examples: Fajgel in 1944 with three Jewish partisans in an unexpected reunion in the forest - laughing, because each one of them believed that the others were dead; Faigel during an operation (in the winter of 1944 it was minus 40 degrees, Fajgel had to treat mainly frozen limbs); and a funeral - here, despite the strong anti-Semitism in the group, two Jews were buried together with two Russian partisans in a grave.


On June 14, 1944, the brigade Molotov freed the former polish city Pinsk. The unit dissolved. Faigel felt like many ex-partisans – cut off. Her family was dead. What to do with her freedom? She married a like-minded Jewish partisan. But the two did not want to stay; Poland was a "cemetery". For the next three years they lived in the DP camp in Landsberg and immigrated to Canada in 1948. She took some of the most important negatives with her: "I wanted people to know that there was resistance, the Jews did not go to slaughter like sheep, I was a photographer, I have pictures, I have proof." Fajgel (Faye) Schulman died in Toronto in 2015.