New film highlights role of Jewish partisans in defeat of Nazis

Director, Julia Mintz, and interviewee, Mike Stoll

Conventional wisdom is that Jews ‘went like lambs to the slaughter’ during the Holocaust, that they put up little resistance in the face of the murderous intent of the Nazis and local collaborators throughout Europe. This was a convenient narrative for the perpetrators: an indication of their antisemitic stereotyping. 

But we are now seeing increasing evidence of acts of resistance, and some are of huge significance. This is why the recently-released documentary, Four Winters, is so groundbreaking. 

Shown to a large and enthusiastic audience at the Cape Town Holocaust & Genocide Centre (CTHGC) recently, the movie — by the film’s Producer and Director, Julia Mintz — highlights the incredible resistance demonstrated by the 25 000 Jewish partisans who fought from the forests of Eastern Europe (largely in Poland, Belarus and Lithuania) over a period of four years (the four winters for which the film is named). Information about this phenomenal military force was largely suppressed during the Soviet era, which is why it is crucial that the stories of these brave men and women are publicised.

Present at the movie’s launch in Cape Town, which followed showings in Johannesburg and Durban, Julia explained that, “My intention with this film – made over a 10-year period — was to make the partisans’ stories the main focus, while the expert, academic information served as a backdrop for assessing the accuracy of what these fighters were telling me more than 70 years after the actual events. As such, no Holocaust scholar appears on screen; the key interviewees are the former partisans, who were in their 80s and 90s when I interviewed and filmed them.” Here we have oral history affirmed by the academic research of the scholars.

In addition to the real-life descriptions of the partisan fighters’ activities, the film is characterised by many never-before seen photographs and film clips from the time. “One of the surviving partisans whom we interviewed is a woman named Faye Schulman. A photographer by trade, Faye managed to recover her camera and developing chemicals, so she took photographs and developed them under blankets at night. She held onto these images throughout the War, and shared them with us for the film,” Julia says. These pictures provide unique visual insights into the war that the Jewish partisans waged — military action that was very successful, despite the conditions under which the partisans lived. 

“We certainly feel proud that we could host a showing of this important film, especially now, as we start to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Centre,” comments Kuba Nowakowski,  Director of the CTHGC. 

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