Hero­ines, Res­cuers, Rab­bis, Spies: Unsung Women of the Holocaust

  • Review
By – April 18, 2023

This recent addi­tion to Holo­caust lit­er­a­ture focus­es on nine women whose ded­i­ca­tion to human­i­ty and truth is both impres­sive and chal­leng­ing to under­stand. One read­ing about their lives can only mar­vel at the extra­or­di­nary courage and resource­ful­ness with which they faced a bru­tal world. Each unique sto­ry includes his­tor­i­cal back­ground that deep­ens our under­stand­ing of the growth of Nazi ideology.

When pre­sent­ing the sto­ry of Faye Lazeb­nik Schul­man, a pho­tog­ra­ph­er, the author includes pho­tographs of par­ti­san life, corpse-filled trench­es, and oper­at­ing tables made of tree branch­es. All the pho­tographs are high qual­i­ty and artis­ti­cal­ly com­posed. Schulman’s bat­tle cry is I was a pho­tog­ra­ph­er. I have pho­tos. I have proof.” Some such pho­tos are of her own mur­dered family.

From the age of ten, Schul­man learned from her broth­er, a pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­ph­er, how to han­dle a cam­era. When the Jews of her small Pol­ish town were pushed into a crowd­ed ghet­to, she obtained per­mis­sion to return home — where her fam­i­ly had a dark­room — to devel­op the pho­tographs the Nazis demand­ed she take. As a result, she was able to smug­gle food back to the ghet­to for her fam­i­ly and oth­ers. Keep­ing copies of the prints she made for the Nazis was dan­ger­ous, but they remain, to this day, a tes­ta­ment to Nazi atroc­i­ties. After the war, she became a dec­o­rat­ed Sovi­et par­ti­san and dis­cov­ered that her old­er broth­er, the one who had taught her pho­tog­ra­phy, was the only oth­er sur­vivor of her fam­i­ly. Her book, A Partisan’s Mem­oir: Woman of the Holo­caust, led to speak­ing engage­ments, muse­um exhi­bi­tions of her pho­tographs, and both a trav­el­ing and online exhib­it of her work. Schul­man was fea­tured in two doc­u­men­tary films, and she always kept her wartime camera.

In the War­saw ghet­to, Rachel Auer­bach man­aged a soup kitchen and care­ful­ly doc­u­ment­ed the ghet­to’s rich cul­tur­al life. She was a mem­ber of Oyneg Shabes, a code name for a group led by Emanuel Ringel­blum, ded­i­cat­ed to chron­i­cling ghet­to life dur­ing the Holo­caust. The mem­bers col­lect­ed tes­ti­monies, essays, diaries, draw­ings, and oth­er mate­ri­als doc­u­ment­ing life at that time. Thou­sands of these price­less accounts — approx­i­mate­ly 35,000 pages — were buried through­out the ghet­to for safe­keep­ing. Auer­bach was one of the only three sur­vivors of the group. After the war, she was was deter­mined to recov­er those buried archives. Aid­ed by friends, she led a search and pres­sured Jew­ish lead­ers to help. She also con­tin­ued to col­lect tes­ti­monies from oth­er survivors.

These two women, and the sev­en oth­ers fea­tured in this mag­nif­i­cent book, remind us of the strength that can be shown under the most bru­tal cir­cum­stances. They are shin­ing role mod­els for today’s youth, teach­ing us lessons we must not forget.

Award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and free­lance writer, Helen Weiss Pin­cus, has taught mem­oir writ­ing and cre­ative writ­ing through­out the NY Metro area to senior cit­i­zens and high school stu­dents. Her work has been pub­lished in The New York Times, The Record, The Jew­ish Stan­dard, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. She recent­ly added Bub­by” to her job description.

Discussion Questions