To the haunting question: “Why didn’t Jews fight back?”
This film will answer: “They did.”
While dramatizations like Defiance and Inglorious Basterds have come out of Hollywood, there is a true story that urgently needs to be told. FOUR WINTERS will tell it, revealing through a new lens, an alternative portal through which to explore and understand the Holocaust. This new documentary film tells the story of those courageous Jewish fighters who, against unimaginable odds, fought back fiercely against Hitler’s war machine as it raged across Eastern Europe.
In Their Own Voices
FOUR WINTERS features interviews with the last living Partisans who are the centerpiece of this film. By also using personal photographs, letters, journals, rare archival film footage, historic war records, photographs, and artifacts shared with the filmmakers from Partisans’ personal collections, the documentarians weave together many strands to tell this layered story that shatters the myth of Jewish passivity. The film illuminates the many ways in which Jews resisted the Nazis -- and celebrates the soulful bravery, cleverness, and leadership, of the Partisans.
“Our history must not contain only tragedy. We cannot allow that. It must also have heroic struggles, self-defense, war, even death with honor."
This is 11:59 pm
“This is the final hour if we are to make a film with the actual participants in the Partisans. We are losing Holocaust survivors day by day."
Oscar, Emmy, Sundance, Cannes, and Peabody Award-Winning Filmmakers
Julia Mintz, Dan Sturman, Tricia Reidy, along with a distinguished board of advisors bring a depth of experience and a passion to the subject that ensures an outstanding and historically accurate documentary.
“It was inevitable that we would die but death would come on our own terms."
ABOUT OUR FEATURED PARTISANS
"When it was time to be hugging a boyfriend, I was hugging a rifle.” A photographer by trade, Faye served as a nurse and doctor's aide for extreme surgeries, participating in partisan missions, finding much-needed medical supplies. During one mission, she recovered her camera and developing chemicals. Faye took photographs and developed them under blankets in the night, images she painstakingly protected and held onto until after the War. Faye personally gave us her photographs and these pictures will be included in the film. After the War, while waiting for permission to immigrate to Palestine in a camp in Germany, Faye and her new husband Morris helped smuggle arms to support the struggle for independence. When Faye became pregnant, the couple decided that Palestine was too dangerous and instead secured visas for Canada. Faye lived in Toronto, and published a book about her war experiences, and an exhibition of Faye’s selected photographs toured internationally.
Michael was born on February 21, 1926, to Leon Stolowitzky, and Sarah Stolowitzky in Lida, Poland; a town with a vibrant and rich cultural life with nearly 7,000 Jewish people. Michael’s two sisters, Bella and Ann, together with his parents, grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in a farmhouse with three wings; where they kept a kosher home, spoke Yiddish, and often hosted guests from local Yeshivas for Shabbos. At age 17, Michael escaped into the forest, joining with the Bielski partisan brigade in bases deep in the Naliboki woods. After the War, Michael came to the United States aboard the USS General Blatchford with his surviving family. While he was unable to obtain a job because he was not yet a citizen, he was drafted into the U.S. army during the Korean War, serving as a Russian and German interpreter. In 1957, Michael married Etta Greenblatt, and built a successful business in Brooklyn, NY, where the couple raised their two children. Michael was president of the Lida Holocaust Memorial Foundation, honoring all those who were lost in Lida, and commemorating those who survived – in hopes of keeping the town’s spirit and memory alive for generations to come. In Lida, a memorial service is held every on the Yahrzeit of May 8, the day nearly 6,000 Jewish townspeople were shot and killed by Hitler’s soldiers in 1942.
Before her sixteen-year-old eyes, “Gertie” saw members of her family murdered by Polish collaborators who hunted them down in the forest after they fled the ghetto. She lived in the forest for Four Winters, three years and fought fiercely as a partisan. Her militia fought back fiercely against the German soldiers occupying the surrounding villages, and did everything in its power to sabotage the infrastructure of the Nazis. After the War, Gertie was honored with the highest decoration bestowed by the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin. In 1945, she married a fellow partisan; they settled and had their children in the United States. Well into her eighties, Gertie made every effort to speak at schools about her wartime experiences, and her life as a partisan.
Sara was born on 17 March 1924, in Kaunas, Lithuania. After the murderous Kaunas pogrom, she was imprisoned. While there, she joined with the Anti-Fascist Fighting Organization, a resistance group, and after her release, she escaped to join with the partisans, establishing a partisan military unit called "Death to the Occupiers.” Sara twice returned to the ghetto helping others to escape. In 1944, she participated in the liberation of the Jews in Vilnius and Kaunas ghettos although sadly most of the Jews had already been killed. After the war, Sara became a professor of political economics at Vilnius University until her husband's death in 1983 when she moved to Canada with her two daughters. Ginaite's book Resistance and Survival, was translated into English and published in Toronto, winning the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Holocaust History.
At twenty-one years old, Frank became a platoon commander of over 75 partisans during the war, overseeing an all-Jewish unit with strong ties to the Polish underground and the Soviet army. He says he is still astonished to think how his small group of frightened and terrorized Jews became such a disciplined and courageous fighting force. Frank's partisan unit effectively disrupted communications, dealt with spies and collaborators, damaged factories that produced supplies for the Germans, and ambushed German patrols. In September 1943, the underground army called Armia Ludowa (People's Army), recognized that Frank's unit could be an ally in the fight against the Germans and provided them with much needed modern military equipment. "I'm very proud of what I did all those years," he says. "I am still amazed at what we were able to accomplish…” After the war, Frank married fellow partisan, Cesia and in the 1950's they immigrated to the United States and had two children. Frank became a successful businessman in New York City. Frank’s memoir Rather Die Fighting was published in 2009, nearly seventy years after he led Partisan brigades in Europe.
The fourth of six children in a well-to-do Jewish family in Swieciany, near Vilna, 21-year-old Chayelle had been hoping to go to medical school in Paris when the Germans occupied her town on June 24, 1941. Her family joined with the underground resistance in the Swieciany Ghetto and their large house was used to store ammunition, guns, and stolen machinery parts from a nearby airplane factory, materials that could be fashioned into guns. In April 1943, the Jews of Swieciany, including Chayelle’s family, were rounded up and murdered at Ponar. Chayelle escaped to the Naroch Forest, joining the Markov partisans, and formed the Nekama Brigade, which by the end of the war consisted of 200 Jewish fighters. After the War, Chayelle married partisan Simon Palevsky, and moved to New York, where she cofounded an organization dedicated to preserving the cultural legacy of Lithuanian Jewry. Together they helped establish Nusakh Vilna (now part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research), Workmen’s Circle branch 349, and Camp Hemshekh, that started with the children of Holocaust survivors.
Isadore was born on May 5, 1920 in the small industrial town of Parchowo, Poland. In 1939, the military needed grain and potatoes, so Isadore’s father became the middleman between the farmers and the businessmen, driving car loads of potatoes back and forth, and Isadore, his brother, and his mother loaded and sold grain and leather from local tanneries. Going out to earn money on his own, Isadore and his Polish neighbor rode on one bike from Parchowo to Liblin, 45 kilometers away, to deliver grain to citizens and military members. When the Germans forced the Jews from Parchowo onto trains to send them to the Treblinka extermination camp, Isadore escaped into the woods, dodging bullets as he went. He survived in the woods with other Jewish people who had escaped the Nazis and they organized their own Partisan unit. The only thing on their minds was “to see the destruction of the Germans and stay alive.” After the War, Isadore married and decided with his wife to leave Poland behind for good. They debated whether to begin their future life in Israel or the United States, deciding on Chicago, Illinois where they raised their family.
Luba lived with her husband and one-year-old son in one big room in her parents’ house in Slonim, Belarus. On the second day of the invasion her parents’ house was destroyed in an air raid – raids that soon occurred daily and destroyed their town of wooden houses row by row. Luba lost her husband, her first child, and then her parents. The thing that pulled her out of the deep depression that followed was the chance to join a Partisan Unit. Luba proved her courage to the Partisans by smuggling massive amounts of bullets out of a dirty cellar set up by the Gendarmerie, where Jews were made to clean their ammunition. She worked tirelessly to smuggle out ammunition and guns into wagons and delivered them to the Partisans who came out of the woods to meet her. She left Slonim herself three months later to join them. Their group of Jewish men and women collaborated with the 51st Partisan unit to fight back against the Nazis. Luba’s group focused on blowing up echelons and railways, destroying German ranks, and liberating ghettos, including the Kosovo ghetto. Luba herself took part in blowing up seven echelons, eight trains, and blew up a ninth train by herself.
FEATURED PARTISAN MEMOIRS
"A Partisan's Memoir: Woman of the Holocaust" – Faye Schulman
"The Defiant: A True Story of Escape, Survival & Resistance" – Shalom Yoran
"Rather Die Fighting: A Memoir of World War II" – Frank Blaichman
"Resistance and Survival" – Sarah Ginaite-Rubinson
OTHER WEBSITES OF INTEREST
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Foundation for Jewish Culture
The National Center for Jewish Film
Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation
The European office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center
WETA Washington, DC