Faye Schulman operated for nearly two years as a partisan resistance fighter in the forests of Eastern Europe during World War II, sabotaging Nazis, tending to wounded comrades and foraging for food. Throughout the ordeal, she was armed with two weapons.
One was her rifle, a possession so dear that it became her pillow during those nights, she later recalled, when she had no roof but the sky and only grass for her bed. While the rifle served for the battle at hand, her other weapon — a Photo-Porst Nurnberg camera — would serve in the battle to come: the battle against time, against forgetting.
Mrs. Schulman, who died April 24 in Toronto at 101, was one of 20,000 to 30,000 Jews who joined the resistance during World War II and one of only hundreds still alive today, according to Mitch Braff, the founding director of the San Francisco-based Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation. Her photographs, many of which are reproduced in her book “A Partisan’s Memoir,” survive her, revealing in shot after shot one woman’s experience of an often overlooked history of wartime heroism.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust, a widespread myth emerged that the 6 million murdered Jews of Europe had gone “like sheep to the slaughter,” in one common formulation of the idea. The notion persisted for decades, despite the documentation of courageous acts of resistance, such as the Warsaw ghetto uprising of 1943 and the actions of outgunned, outnumbered partisans who risked their lives to help bring about the liberation from the Nazis.
Mrs. Schulman — then Faigel Lazebnik — joined a brigade of Soviet partisans in 1942 after the Nazis murdered 1,850 inhabitants of the Jewish ghetto in her town in eastern Poland. At 22, she found herself alone with a tailor, a shoemaker, a carpenter, a blacksmith and a printer, among few other survivors, all spared because they practiced a useful trade. Photography, which she had learned as an apprentice to an older brother, became in that moment her salvation.
Once ensconced with the partisans, Mrs. Schulman worked by day as a nurse. By night, she would drape herself in blankets to block out the moonlight, creating an open-air darkroom where she developed her photographs chronicling their life.
Mrs. Schulman was not the only partisan photographer during World War II, Michael Berkowitz, a professor of modern Jewish history at University College London, said in an interview, but she amassed a collection that became “extremely important in documenting the history of the resistance.”
Intimate and with artful composition, her photographs reveal the primitive surgeries conducted on operating tables fashioned from tree limbs, the makeshift burial of fighters killed in action, the joyful reunion of friends who had been dispersed amid the chaos of war and their youthful camaraderie in a cherished cause.