Documenting war and conflicts takes a whole lot of courage. Photographer Faye Schulman sure had it, and I think I can say that she took courage to a new level. This brave woman survived the Nazi occupation, fled to a forest, and joined partisans. She was secretly taking and developing photos. And when she wasn’t shooting with her camera, she shot from a gun.
Faigel “Faye” Lazebnik Schulman was born on 28 November 1919 in Lenin, Poland (today the town belongs to Belarus). She had a large family, and it was her brother Morris (Moishe) who taught her photography. He was a photographer, too, and Faye helped him in his business.
After the Nazis invaded Belarus, Moishe managed to flee Poland and the rest of Faye’s family was imprisoned in the Lenin Ghetto. On 14 August 1942, the Germans killed 1,850 people from the ghetto. They only spared 26 “useful” Jews, including a tailor, a carpenter, and a photographer. Thanks to her photographic skills, Faye was left to live and recruited to take photos of Nazi officials.
All the time while being a photographer for the Nazis, Faye thought about how to escape and join the resistance. In an interview from 2013, she shared a story that I found particularly moving and difficult. One day, she had a task to develop some films of trenches filled with killed people. When she looked more closely, she realized that her entire family was in those trenches: her parents, two sisters, two younger brothers, and her sister’s husband and children.
Faye secretly made a few copies of the photos for herself. And one day, when a group of Russian partisans raided Lenin, she begged them to take her along. “They were doubtful of her worth; what good was a woman,” J. Weekly writes. “But she promised she could serve as a doctor’s assistant, and they accepted her into the group.”
During another raid on Lenin, she managed to recover her photography equipment. She lived in the forest for two years, documenting the life of the resistance. She made “sun prints” during the day and developed medium format negatives under blankets. She made her own stop bath and fixer, and buried bottles of the solutions in the ground, retrieving them when she needed them. During missions, she kept her camera and tripod buried to keep them safe.
“Her photos show a rare side of partisan activity — one is a funeral scene where two Jewish partisans are being buried alongside Russian partisans, despite the intense antisemitism in the group. In another image, Schulman and three young Jewish men smile joyously after an unexpected reunion in the forest — each believing that the other had been killed.”
While she was living with partisans, Faye had to hide her Jewish identity due to the antisemitism within the group. “During Passover, she ate only potatoes, never explaining why,” J. Weekly writes.
After liberation, Faye married Morris Schulman, who was also a Jewish partisan. “Faye and Morris enjoyed a prosperous life as decorated Soviet partisans,” writes JPEF, “but wanted to leave Pinsk, Poland, which reminded them of ‘a graveyard.’”
The couple lived in the Landsberg Displaced Persons Camps in Germany for the next three years. In 1948, they immigrated to Canada where they spend the rest of their lives.
While writing this article, I learned that this brave woman passed away in Toronto, Canada on 24 April this year, at the age of 101. She was survived by two children, six grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.
“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,” Faye said. According to several sources, she is one of the only known Jewish partisan photographers.