JIFF 2022: Partisans and the Holocaust

Sepia photo of partisans in the woods
Partisans courtesy of “Four Winters” movie showcased at JIFF.


Melbourne Holocaust Museum partners with the Jewish International Film Festival (JIFF) to provide audiences with meaningful connections to representations of the Holocaust in film.

This year’s program features two films exploring the experiences of Jewish partisans who fought back against the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust. Below, our Head of Education Dr Simon Holloway provides more context to Four Winters and The Partisan with the Leica Camera showing in cinemas as part of the festival.
Get tickets: Four Winters
Get tickets: The Partisan with the Leica Camera

At some point during his incarceration in the Kovno Ghetto, Rabbi Ephraim Oshry was asked whether or not one is allowed to risk one’s life to join the partisans. Although he ruled that it was indeed permissible to do so, he prefaced his answer with a list of all of the risks that doing so entails. 

For a start, leaving the ghetto in order to make one’s way to the forest was fraught with danger. The perimeter of the ghetto was constantly guarded, and Jews caught on the outside – especially if armed – were executed. 

Secondly, there were members of the local population (in Rabbi Oshry’s case, the Lithuanians) who collaborated with the Germans, and who feigned an interest in assisting Jews escape in order to rob or abuse them before turning them over. 

Thirdly, when encountering a band of partisans, one’s fortunes depended entirely on who they were. Jewish partisans, so long as you already had your own weapon, might be counted on to provide assistance, but local national groups in the woods were frequently antisemites. They fought against the German occupation, but in the process also murdered Jews.

Still from “Four Winters”, courtesy of JIFF.

 Finally, even were one to prove successful and could join a group of partisans, the activities in which they were engaged were so fraught with danger that death seemed sometimes certain. That over 20,000 Jews risked their life in this fashion, across the forests of eastern Europe, is remarkable. That some 10,000 of them survived is nothing short of miraculous. 

Many stories have been told about the partisans, but most have been limited to a few particularly notorious groups, like those of the Bielski Brothers. Due to the proliferation of first-hand documentation, thanks to the growing popularity of personal cameras in the years before the war broke out, we are now able to augment our understanding of the period with additional stories. 


From the collection

 Top:”Union of Participants in the Armed Struggle, Independence and Democracy” membership card Bottom: certificate and medal awarded to Dora by the Polish Army for her contributions in the heroic battle against the Nazi Regime, 1947.


Our collection managed by Dr Anna Hirsh and her team houses many items relating to partisans during the war. Above are artefacts belonging to Dora (Dwora) Natanblit (nee Goldszaider, later Fajman). Dora held a membership card to the “Union of Participants in the Armed Struggle, Independence and Democracy” (top) as a member of the Belarus Partisan Group, located in Warsaw. Her work with the Bielski partisans was awarded with a Partisan Cross Medal & Certificate (bottom), demonstrating her brave commitment to resistance throughout the Holocaust. 

Four Winters gives insight into the difficulties of surviving in the forests of eastern Europe, and into the remarkable achievements of the partisans. These achievements were not just limited to inflicting harm on the German occupiers and disrupting the machinery of destruction, but extended also to providing safety and support to individual Jews who were unable to fight. Watch the trailer: 

The Partisan with the Leica Camera provides an intimate look into the experiences of one partisan in particular. Armed not only with a rifle, but with one of the most popular compact cameras of the period, he produced a stunning visual testimony, which he took over 75 years to be able to share. 

The story of partisan activity is more than a story of resistance. It is a story of solidarity and companionship, and of the triumph of humanity over the will of those who sought to break all human bonds apart. Watch the trailer: 

Those attending the film festival, please keep an eye out for Dr Simon Holloway, who will be appearing live to introduce film called The Auschwitz Report. We look forward to seeing you all at JIFF 2022.

Get tickets