PBS studies teens who fought Nazis

Monday, September 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — The Nazis' spared 16-year-old Faye Schulman because she had a talent they were looking for — she could take pictures and develop film.

Then they gave her a roll of black-and-white images that filled the Polish girl with unimaginable horror.

As she dredged the paper through trays of solutions, it became increasingly clear that she was staring at her dead family — murdered together with hundreds of other Jews from the same Polish town one day earlier.

The fury would push her to a life among the partisans where she documented their successes and waged war on the evil that destroyed everything she knew. With a vengeance, she and the partisans returned to her village where the Nazis had established a base and burned it to the ground.

``When it was time to be hugging a boyfriend, I was hugging a rifle,'' she said.

Schulman's story is one of three beautifully told in ``Daring to Resist,'' a moving documentary on a subject rarely touched on in the history of World War II — teen-age girls who brilliantly used their wits to outsmart and outfight Nazi tyranny in Poland, Hungary and The Netherlands.

Stripped of the sweet adolescent moments of young love, innocence and never-ending time, Schulman, Barbara Rodbell and Shulamit Lack spent their teen-age years forging papers, hiding strangers and carrying guns. They lived orphaned in Nazi-occupied lands under the constant fear of being caught and being killed. Their voices speak for young women oppressed everywhere.

Produced and directed by two Philadelphia-area filmmakers, Martha Lubell and Barbara Attie, ``Daring to Resist'' will be aired Monday on PBS at 10:30 p.m. Eastern (check local listings).

Historical footage mixed with the sensitive narration of actress Janeane Garofalo help the three women — now late in life — to share their experiences in emotionally personal verse.

The story of Barbara Rodbell, a young German ballerina who passed for a Christian girl in Amsterdam, is emblematic of a feisty teen with a will to persevere.

Like Anne Frank, the sister of Rodbell's childhood friend, she lived a secret life, and like the Franks, her family too went on a train from Amsterdam to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp.

The Rodbells had left Germany at the start of the war, fleeing to The Netherlands where they believed they would be safe.

But as Adolph Hitler's Germany picked off European capitals one-by-one, it became clear that Jews would be persecuted there, too. Rodbell, a striking young brunette with fair features, knew something terrible was waiting to unfold. She left her family's home several months before they were taken away, and boarded with a German woman in the city who was a Nazi sympathizer.

On the other side, away from the Jewish ghetto and working in the ballet, Rodbell could have lived in relative security.

But her own life was not enough. She used ballet, and the access it gave her, often as a cover for underground activities that included moving Jews to safe houses.

Rodbell revisits the same Dutch streets she traversed under the cover of darkness, carefully explaining how she carried bags of partisan newspapers, often to people she never saw, and how she lied to German officers to cross bridges and roads closed to Jews.

A world away in Hungary, Shulamit Lack was also working to save her kin. But like Rodbell and Schulman, she saved many, but was not able to save her own family.

A rebellious teen from the start, Lack responded to schoolyard anti-Semitism by rejecting her family's Hungarian pride and joining a Zionist youth movement.

Lack begged her parents to leave Hungary for the safety of Palestine. As she arranged false travel papers for dozens and skirted Jews across the border into Romania, she begged her own parents to leave Hungary. Her mother refused, and when the Nazis captured Budapest in 1944, she was sent to Auschwitz.

Testimonials often bring a certain comfort to the outsider in the knowledge that, despite the most inhumane of circumstances, the storyteller has somehow survived.

So is the case with ``Daring to Resist.'' Though the sheer horror and loneliness of their young lives, all three have grown old and gray in comfortable homes. Rodbell has been New York since 1947, Lack has made it her home, too, after 15 years in Israel where she worked so hard to send young Jews during the war. Schulman moved to Canada in 1948, after two years in a displaced persons camp.


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