Film Reviews
Daring to Resist:
Three Women Face the Holocaust

Directors:  Martha Lubell and Barbara Attie 
Producers: Martha Lubell and Barbara Attie 
Martha Lubell Productions, 426 Bolsover Road, Wynnewood, PA 19096, (610)642-9112 
Narrator: Janeane Garofalo. 

Running Time: One Hour 

Reviewed by Carla Rose Shapiro, Department of Media and Cultural Studies, University of Sussex, England 
Copyright Carla Rose Shapiro, 2000.  


According to professor Yosef Yerushalmi, in his classic text on collective Jewish memory, Zakhor, the Holocaust has already engendered more historical research than any single event in Jewish history.[i] However, the voluminous research engendered' by the 1980s, the time when Zakhor was published, did not represent a fully inclusive account of Shoah and was wanting in at least one area of study - gender. A recent corrective to this lacuna in the field of Holocaust studies is the investigation of gender as a category of inquiry.  

In response to this new embrace of gender's inclusion there have been both remarks and attacks - notably Gabriel Schoenfeld's acerbic Commentary article, "Auschwitz and the Professors."[ii] Schoenfeld rails against a whole series of academic approaches to the study of the Holocaust which he claims trivialize the calamity that befell the Jewish communities of Europe; he reserves his harshest criticism for gender -based analysis. He accuses feminist scholars of having an agenda while characterizing their work as frivolous and self-serving. Others charge that the focus of the Holocaust as an enormous overarching tragedy may get splintered and fragmented in the quest by individual groups to claim their niche of persecution and victimhood.  

Professor Myrna Goldenberg, whose research and publications examine experiences of Jewish women during the Holocaust, presents an opposing opinion.[iii] She insists that gender is a significant factor for analysis and needs to be included in order to give a more complete historical picture of the Holocaust.  

Gender analysis should be viewed as a complementary, rather than rivalrous arena of inquiry in the field of Holocaust studies; it adds more nuance to a subject dense with information about predominantly male-centred political institutions and initiatives, reflective of evidence from male perpetrators and, until recently, analyzed most commonly by male academics.  

In examining the subject of Jewish persecution during the Shoah, gender is certainly an important factor to consider.[iv] Jewish women were victims of the Nazis because they were Jewish; because they were Jewish women they were victimized as Jews  and as women. The differing experiences of suffering between men and women were often a function of the fact that women were vulnerable to the Nazis in ways specific and exclusive to women. The threat of sexual victimization and the dangers posed by pregnancy and childbirth were unique to women.  

Gender should also be a significant consideration in relation to the topic of Jewish resistance and non-resistance during the Holocaust. The oft-used, but offensive expression, that Jews went to their deaths like sheep to the slaughter, is a reference to a perceived overwhelming passivity on the part of the Jews during the Shoah. The state of being passive in a more general sense has an associative link with the feminine, if one defined this adjective in terms of gender. It is this perceived Jewish passivity and seeming lack of agency associated with women in particular that Martha Lubell and Barbara Attie address in their estimable documentary entitled Daring To Resist: Three Women Face the Holocaust 

Lubell and Attie skillfully introduce the viewer to each of the three women resistors featured in her film. Lubell and Attie's accomplishment begins with her choice of subjects who each have a different medium of resistance peculiar to her location, temperament, and circumstance.  

Barbara Rodbell and her family emigrated from Germany to Holland in 1933, seeking safety from the Nazis. Barbara's talent for ballet and fierce determination to live helped her survive while passing as a Christian. The rest of her family perished in Auschwitz. Using the privilege of her position as a ballerina, Barbara participated in numerous resistance activities. Possessing special papers which allowed her to stay out after curfew, she helped distribute underground newspapers, and, under the cover of darkness, assisted in the transportation of people who had to be moved from one hiding place to another.  

Shulamit Lack experienced anti-Semitism as a young schoolgirl in Budapest. She responded by joining a Zionist youth group. By the age of 19, Shulamit was leading groups of Jews in underground border crossings to Romania. Caught and imprisoned, she persuaded the SS to keep her fellow prisoners alive.  

Perhaps the most striking of the three stories is that of Faye Schulman. Schulman learned professional photography as a young teen in Poland. Her camera made her useful to the Nazis and kept her alive when her entire ghetto was slaughtered. Faye joined a forest partisan unit and photographed their resistance activities while she waged war and cared for the wounded. Faye's own words succinctly reveal the essence of her ordeal: When it was time to be hugging a boy, I was hugging a rifle. 

These three varied and remarkable portraits broaden our understanding of resistance during the Holocaust. In Daring To Resist, resistance is practiced with forgeries, smuggling, dance, photography and wit. An act of resistance might involve the use of guns and explosives, but is not reducible to it. In depicting a range of activities which broadens the scope of how an act of resistance is characterized, Lubell and Attie's film necessarily raises one of this topics most pertinent questions - how does one define an act of resistance? This issue is particularly relevant for those interested in the study of women in the Holocaust; defining resistance more narrowly, as exclusively an act waged with arms, would exclude many of the feats accomplished by women.  

While more sophomoric productions might not spare the viewer from usually tedious didacticism, Daring to Resist illustrates examples of resistance, but does not claim to define the topic. Instead, the film poses many other necessary questions about resistance. What motivated those who chose defiance rather than submission? What obstacles were faced while attempting to resist? What is the nature of courage? Viewers learn both the intricacies involved in planning an act of resistance and the great risks involved in carrying them out. We see the details of how heroes, or should one say, heroines, emerge.  

In choosing women from three different areas of Europe (Poland, Hungary and Holland) all of which experienced the unfolding of the Final Solution at different times and in differing ways, Lubell and Attie's film gives fuller geographical and political scope in which to comprehend the evolution of the Shoah. The three women also come from varied cultural and religious backgrounds. From Rodbell's acculturated, assimilated Berlin environment, to Lack's participation in Zionist youth groups in Budapest to Faye's more traditional religious Jewish life in an Eastern European shtetl, the manner in which each woman resisted was inextricably linked to her culture, the resistance methods available to her, and, of course, circumstance and chance. For instance, fighting as a forest partisan was not a resistance option readily available in urban Amsterdam. Conversely, transporting children to safe houses while passing as a German didn't lend itself well to the situations faced by most Jewish women whose pre-war universes were informed by the shtetl.  

Building on the notion that women and men experienced the Holocaust in similar yet differing ways, the telling of three women's stories of survival by resistance highlights the commonality of men's and women's experiences while giving some detail of where their ability to fight genocide diverged. There certainly were significant gender differences in both survival and resistance activities during the war, sometimes to the advantage of one or the other. For example, women could often pass' more easily on the Aryan side since they were not marked as Jewish. As a result, women in the resistance were often chosen to act as couriers or saboteurs. In Lubell and Attie's film, Barbara Rodbell was able to pass as a Christian, even renting a room in the home of a pro-Nazi German woman and performing ballet on Dutch stages in front of audiences packed with German soldiers. Some experiences were also clearly gender-specific for example, Shulamit Lack's incarceration in a Hungarian prison with a group of Roma (Gypsy) prostitutes lead to moments of mutual support.  

The defiant acts of Shulamit, Faye and Barbara typify three genres of resistance; in fact, these three portraits are quite representative of resistance activities in their respective countries: forest partisans in Eastern Europe, the Zionist movement's activities of smuggling and forgeries in Hungary, and passing and underground activities which involved finding safe havens for Jews in Holland. However, Lubell and Attie's film, in its choice of its three particular types of resistance activities and by emphasizing overt acts of heroism, somehow almost inadvertently de-genders' the theme of the film itself by linking women's resistance activities to men's resistance work, rather than focusing on those aspects of resistance that were unique to women. And while their tales are certainly heroic, they are not in fact, wholly representative of Jewish women's resistance experiences during the war.  

No one video can address all the issues of resistance in one hour - Lubell and Attie certainly had to make some difficult content choices, hence the subtitle Three Women Face the Holocaust. Lubell and Attie's decision to present just three individual stories is both the strength and the weakness of the documentary, depending on the expectations one brings to the film. While each viewer is privileged with a richly-detailed account of each woman's life, the narrow narrative focus on just three individual stories does not give a panorama of Jewish women's resistance experiences during World War II. Perhaps a more inclusive account of women's resistance during the Holocaust would have included at least one woman's story of spiritual resistance, of small yet nonetheless important acts of defiance such as the keeping of diaries in ghettos and concentration camps, or the emergence of camp sistering and surrogate families which women formed in camp barracks. While some scholars might question the validity of labelling these measures as resistance, their very existence should, at the very least, be acknowledged within the film. Working in underground movements, assisting with clandestine border crossings, passing as a gentile, and taking up arms were not activities that could have even entered into the realm of the possible for the elderly, the very young or the infirmed.  

All three women are especially articulate and weave compelling and gripping chronicles of their lives before, during, and after the war. Each woman's life story is greatly complemented by excellent photographs, and, in the case of Shulamit Lack, by rare home movies. With such a wealth of precious archival material, the documentary moves beyond the basic format of visual history interviews which mostly rely on static close-up shots of survivors recalling the events of their lives during the war. Lubell and Attie's film has an animated, vibrant quality throughout, with each woman's photographs lending a rich visual texture to the stories being told. Faye Schulman's photographs of her life in the Molotava Brigade are treasures; they still resonate with intense feeling and character. In one picture, Faye is holding a large rifle next to her leopard pattern coat in a snowy forest; one gets a real taste of life on the edge in the depth of a Polish winter. Additionally, both Lack and Rodbell are filmed returning to the sites where the events they describe in the film took place. Scenes of contemporary Amsterdam and Budapest are contrasted with the narratives being recalled; the effect is almost surreal.  

There is clearly a paucity of documentaries on the general subject of resistance, with the topic of women's resistance rarely, if ever, touched. Lubell and Attie's film stands as a much-needed visual corrective to this fascinating, yet neglected chapter of Holocaust history. In line with Goldenberg's more general comments on gender analysis, a gendered study of resistance adds an additional layer of knowledge in which to understand the Holocaust. With Daring To Resist, Lubell and Attie adeptly and movingly fill this void. Perhaps the film's greatest achievement is its success in returning the women's survivor's voice. The testimony of each of these three witnesses is the point of departure for Lubell and Attie's film and its primary focus throughout. Recalling the facts and events of their own lives, these unique, deeply personal stories, replete with detail and character, paint richly woven, sensitive and respectful portraits of three young Jewish women who resisted a fate prescribed to them during World War II.  


[i] Goldenberg, Myrna. Lessons Learned From Gentle Heroism: Women's Holocaust Narratives. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. November 1996:78-93.  

[ii] Schoenfeld, Gabriel. Auschwitz and the Professors. Commentary June 1998: 42-46.  

[iii] Weitzman, Lenore J. and Dalia Ofer, Introduction: The Role of Gender in the Holocaust. Women in the Holocaust. Eds. Dalia Ofer and Lenore J. Weitzman. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998. 1-18.  

[iv] Yerushalmi,. Yosef Hayim. Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory. New York: Schocken Books, 1989.  

Carla Rose Shapiro is a Ph.D. candidate in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sussex. She is also a curator of Holocaust-themed exhibitions.  

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