Heroes of the Holocaust: Faye Schulman captured Nazi crimes for all to see (Part 1)
"We were not like lambs going to the slaughter. Many fought back — if there was the slightest opportunity — and thousands lost their lives fighting the enemy and working to save lives."
- The Lazebnik family, Faye Lazebnik Schulman pictured far left
Faye Lazebnik Schulman was an ordinary girl. Born in Lenin, Eastern Poland (better known now as Western Belarus) as part of a large Jewish family, Faye lived the normal life of a young woman in a European community. She went to school, looked after her chronically ill sister, and when her older brother, Moishe, decided he wanted to move to another town he taught Faye everything he knew about photography so she could take over the family photo studio at just 16 years old. There was no strife in her small town on the Russian border. They were aware of antisemitism in other areas, but never really experienced firsthand in their small mixed community. Life might not have been perfect, but it was peaceful. Until the Nazis invaded in 1941.
Overnight, everything changed.
When we think of World War 2 and the horror Jewish families faced, we often think of places like Warsaw and Berlin. Locations where tensions, racist rhetoric, and violence had been on the rise for years as the Nazis rose in prominence and power. The horror of a slow and steady escalation of hate until, like the frog that suddenly realizes the pot of water it’s in is boiling, you’ve past the point of no return without even noticing it. But that wasn’t the case for every community. For families like the Lazebnik’s, they were certainly aware of what was going on in the world and rightfully concerned about it, it seemed a long way away – right up until the jackboot was at their door.
For absolutely nothing but the crime of being Jewish, the Lazbinik’s peaceful family life was destroyed. Her older brothers were sent to slave-labor camps (a certain death sentence), the rest were herded into a ghetto where they were abused and kept in a state of constant terror. In 1942, the Nazis decided they had wrung everything they wanted from the ghetto’s inhabitants and "liquidated” them.
Only 26 Jews out of the entire Lenin ghetto population were spared. The remaining 1,850 Jewish men, women, and children were murdered by the Nazis. They were shot and unceremoniously thrown into in mass graves, treated like human refuse.
We know this because Faye was one of the only survivors of the massacre. She was sparred because the Nazis thought her photography skill could be useful and put her to work for their record keeping efforts. To her horror, she was forced to develop film of her own family lying dead in a trench.
I don’t think most people could survive something like that. The heartbreak and the horror must have been overwhelming. In less than a year, Faye went from doting on her little brothers and running the family shop, to working at gunpoint for the butchers who killed her family. That’s the kind of trauma that breaks people, that destroys them inside.
But Faye wasn’t about to let the Nazis have another victory. Somehow, she had the presence of mind to make copies of the film the Nazis gave her, to hide it away as documented proof of their crimes. The entire time she was kept under the Nazi’s thumb, Faye thought of only one thing – escape. She had to tell her story, she had to make sure the world knew the Nazis murdered her family.
Miraculously, she would get her chance. A partisan raid on the town provided just the distraction and confusion she needed. Faye slipped her captors, gathered all the film copies and whatever supplies she could carry, and made off for the woods. But she wasn’t done. No, Faye was committed to fighting back. She joined the Molotova partisan brigade and in doing so became the eyes and voice of the resistance effort.