Faye Schulman Interview – Benji Bloom

I am Faye Schulman. I was born in the small town of Lenin, Poland. This was a very small town of only 5 000 Jewish people and 5 000 gentiles. This town was named after Lena, the daughter of a family owning land in this area. It was a very peaceful town, many people knew each other, got along, and lived life no different than people live today: with freedom. The town was right on the Russian border, separated only by a river. There was no anti-semitism when I was growing up. My family, friends and I were able to do many different activities in Lenin, such as swim in the river, go to shows and plays, and enjoy many different forms of arts and entertainment. It was an enjoyable and peaceful lifestyle that we did not have problems with. My father Yakov was a very good natured man, and was the Gabay in the Lenin Synagogue. For a period of time, he was also the head banker on the bank in Lenin. This came to be because there were many poor people in Lenin, and the Jewish people decided to help them by opening a bank to lend them money so they could get jobs. They decided to name him the head banker because of his good-will. We were living nicely like this until 1939.

 

In 1939, the war started, and poland was divided into East and West Poland. Lenin was on the East side, occupied by the Russians, and the West side was occupied by Nazi Germany. Faye was living under Russian rule for the first two years of the war. The Nazi’s and Russians had an agreement, but that was broken in 1941, when the Germans attacked the East side of Poland. They formed a ghetto in Lenin, where all the Jews including myself were sent to stay. The ghetto was not a good place to live. It was overcrowded, with a lack of food to feed the hungry, and lots of ill people and disease going around the ghetto. Fortunately, I found work as a photographer for the Nazi’s, and was allowed to leave the ghetto to take pictures. I was also an artist, and made portraits for the Germans. The main killer in that ghetto liked my portraits, as unlike many others, I made them in colour. One day, the Nazis came into the ghetto to take all the Jews out to mass graves, but they took me a separate direction. I thought they were going to kill me, but they kept only 5 families of only 27 Jews behind that had useful jobs to them, and thankfully I was one of them. I was the only person of that group that was not saved with my family. My brothers escaped a few weeks earlier, but the rest of my family was killed in the ghetto. The Nazi’s kept us in a house in Lenin for a few weeks. After 2 or 3 weeks, Jewish partisans attacked Lenin, including the house we were in, and I took the opportunity to run with them and escape the Nazis.

 

The Jewish partisans immediately accepted me, because the husband of my sister was a doctor, but since they were both killed, I was the closest thing they had to a nurse even though I was afraid of blood. I knew that I had no choice other than being the nurse for them, so I tried my hardest to get rid of my fear for blood as soon as possible. During my time as a partisan, I developed many pictures of what we did, and was able to overcome my fear, and save many lives as a nurse. We would stay in the woods for most of the time, and we attacked many towns that were occupied by the Nazis, including my hometown Lenin. It was emotional, because I saw the mass graves where my family, and many friends were shot and killed. This all ended in 1944, when Belarus was liberated. I was able to go live there, and thankfully was able to get a job. I was appointed as the photographer of the Belarus newspaper. I was also very thankful to receive a letter from my brother, stating that he was now east of Moscow in Russia, safe and free, but not wounded. This was a strong sign showing that the Nazi’s were not so strong anymore.

 

After the war ended, I got married, and had a child. We wanted to go to Israel but the English mandate was not accepting any Jews yet, as Israel was not an independent state until a few years later. From 1945-1948, we were in a displaced persons camp in Germany. We then decided to register to leave Germany, and were one of the very few Jewish people accepted to Canada. My brother is now a Rabbi in New York and has been for the past 65 years, and I am living in Toronto.

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