FAYE LAZABNIK SCHULMAN
(1924/Lenin, Poland – 2015/Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
In the bright light that streamed from her modern apartment when she opened the door to greet me, tiny Faye Shulman looked as if she were floating on a sunbeam. Her eyes sparkled with their own secret energy, as she smiled and welcomed me into her lovely, art-filled home. Her eyes also conveyed a sense of her profound knowledge of the human soul. At 90 years of age, this tiny beautiful woman still radiates the calm confidence that must have provided comfort and inspiration to her patients as well as to the partisans who fought at her side against the Germans in the Polesi Forest during World War II.
“Many people say that the Jews went silently
like sheep to the slaughter.
This is absolutely not true. I was there.
I saw it. I lived it. I photographed it.”
With the Toronto skyline as our backdrop, we sat companionably in Faye’s living room. Once she was sure that I was comfortable, and had everything I needed, she began telling me her story, just as if we were old friends, who visited often, and were picking up where our last conversation had left off. And as she spoke, her tiny physique seemed to transform into the impressive stature of the strong, undaunted woman-warrior that she still is today. I could almost feel the heat when she told me about how, as a partisan, she set her beloved childhood home on fire so that the Germans couldn’t use it for their headquarters. I silently cheered at the bittersweet moment when the Germans decided that her skills as a photographer made her “valuable” enough to be allowed to live – at least for awhile. I could see her performing surgery out in the freezing cold Polish forest, while bullets flew over her head. I was awed by the movie-star glamorous young woman in a luxurious, leopard-fur coat and hat, confidently lifting her rifle to shoot an enemy that was determined to kill her.
Alternately gracious or fiery, authoritative or spunky – Fay Schulman’s multi-faceted personality still is as adaptable and engaging today, as it was seventy years ago – when she made a Germans mass-murderer smile and persuaded tough, Soviet partisans to take her along with them. What is also unchanged over seventy years, is her agonized grief over the tragic fate of so many loved ones… the lost Jews of Europe, and her determination to make sure the world never forgets.
Excerpted from Joanne Gilbert’s Award-Winning book,
WOMEN OF VALOR: Polish Resisters to the Third Reich.