A Must-See Holocaust Movie (No, Really), By Marjorie Ingall

I don't watch Holocaust movies any more. But I will make an exception for this one.

Four Winters debuted at the New York Jewish Film Festival last month and will be wending its way around the festival circuit in the weeks to come. It’s an unusual Holocaust documentary, in that it focuses not on concentration camps but on Jewish resistance, on young partisan fighters hiding out from Nazis in Eastern European forests and engaging in guerilla warfare. It’s surprising, moving, horrifying …and sometimes shockingly funny.

We never hear much about the Jews who fought back during the Holocaust. It's a constant stream of stories about pacified Jews following orders to march to their doom. We know from the history of modern Israel that Jews can fight back effectively. We also know from history that fighting back is what we must do if we are to survive.

There are books about Jewish resistance fighters. I'm not sure how many people bother to read them. The stories about resistance aren't told nearly as often as they should. I hope this movie remedies that.

The movie features interviews with some of surviving resistance fighters.

The narrators’ stories are frequently harrowing … but the tellers themselves are sometimes hilarious. (It feels almost sacrilegious to laugh during a Holocaust documentary.) Isadore Farbstein, in a brown plaid grandpa shirt and twinkling eyes, talks about his difficulty finding partisans to join up with. “The forest is not a hotel that’s waiting for you!” he exclaims. Michael Stoll tells a heartbreaking story of leaping from a moving train headed to the camp, but he peppers the telling with jokes. It’s jarring and it’s real. (“Humor is a survival strategy,” Mintz said. “It was important to me to show that.”) Of a cluster of people in the corner of the cattle car praying, Stoll snorts, “Jews have a habit of speaking to God. I say it’s ridiculous. You think He’s gonna listen to you?” Moments later, as he stands outside the train car on a narrow railing, he says, “I’m sorry, God, I insulted you! Don’t let me fall!” After he’s jumped from the train, a Polish peasant sees him, marks him as a Jew, and—instead of ratting him out points him to the location of Jewish partisans on the other side of a river; Stoll says dryly, “Now I have a conflict. Maybe God sent him … but I don’t believe in You!”

I haven't heard whether or not this movie will be screened in Detroit. It should be, and we at MJAC are hoping it will be.

Addendum: When I use the term "resistance fighter," I mean somebody who actually put their life on the line to fight real evil. I'm not referring to its current debased usage. A poor loser, unhappy over the results of our last presidential election, wearing a "pussy hat" while carrying a homemade sign for an afternoon, who gets to return to a comfortable home after an hour or two of marching, is not "the resistance."