In 2014 a group of German filmmakers travelled to Lithuania to document the amazing life story of our resident Jewish partisan soldier and long-standing member of the Community who recently celebrated a milestone birthday. The film was released in 2015 and is available on DVD and may be booked by cinemas anywhere in the world (see contact information at the bottom of this post). Here are the liner notes from the DVD released in 2015:
Fania Yocheles-Barntsovskaya was about to begin her studies when on June 22, 1941, the Germans invaded her hometown of Vilnius, known at that time as the Jerusalem of the North.
Fania and her family were forced into the over-crowded ghetto, suffered slave labor and survived the “Aktions” in which the Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators murdered a total of 70,000 Jews in nearby Ponary. Aware of the annihilation plans, Fania joined the Jewish resistance group Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (FPO)–Yiddish for the United Partisan Organization. “Liza ruft!“–“Liza is calling!”–became the secret rallying cry of their struggle. One week before the Germans liquified the ghetto, the FPO members escaped and joined the Soviet partisan movement in the neary forest. Fania carried out sabotage missions and eventually participated in the Soviet army’s liberation of Vilnius.
Although the Germans and their local collaborators had murdered her entire family, Fania stayed in her native country and contributed to its reconstruction under Soviet rule. After her husband’s death–she had fallen in love with Misha during the partisan struggle–and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Fania began to devote her life to the commemoration of the Holocaust and of Jewish resistance.
While this brought her recognition abroad, she became the target of revisionists and anti-Semites at home. A memoir written by Fania’s friend Rachel Margolis was exploited by the Lithuanian right-wing media. The memoir mentions that Fania took part in the battle of Kaniukai, a village that opposed the anti-Nazi partisans; a battle in which 38 people were killed. A low point was reached in 2008 when the public prosecutor interrogated the then-86-year-old Fania as part of a war crimes investigation. Only after an international outcry were the investigations suspended. Soon after Lithuanian politicians discovered they use Fania for their own purposes.
Ever since, Fania’s struggle for commemoration has turned into a complex balancing act. While her commitment to do memory-work is threatened by depoliticization and alienation from her former fellow partisans, she remains in constant danger of renewed anti-Semitic attacks and a resumption of the legal proceedings.
Through interviews with Fania Brantsovskaya, her loved ones and former fellow partians, “Liza ruft!” creates an intimate and vivid picture of an outstanding woman who continues to be both a victim of persecution as well as an agent of history with a mind of her own.
The first-ever portrait of a Jewish woman partisan