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Partisans of Vilna
Partisans of Vilna
Actors: Roberta Wallach, Abba Kovner
Director: Joshua Waletzky
Genres: Documentary, Military & War
NR     2005     2hr 10min

An enormously riveting and inspirational tale of WWII and the Holocaust like no other, PARTISANS OF VILNA is the first documentary to chronicle the amazing endeavors of the Jewish resistance fighters, who courageously stag...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Roberta Wallach, Abba Kovner
Director: Joshua Waletzky
Creators: Daniel Schneor, Joshua Waletzky, Aviva Kempner
Genres: Documentary, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Biography, History, Jewish Heritage, Military & War, Military & War
Format: DVD - Black and White,Color
DVD Release Date: 04/26/2005
Original Release Date: 09/12/1986
Theatrical Release Date: 09/12/1986
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 2hr 10min
Screens: Black and White,Color
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 4
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

The battle for Vilna
James Ferguson | Vilnius, Lithuania | 05/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is the most thorough film of the resistance movement in Vilna, made in 1986 but only now getting widespread release on DVD. The documentary is told in retrospect by the survivors of the holocaust in Vilna, which resulted in the killing of over 90% of the Jews in what was regarded as the Jerusalem of Lithuania. For centuries Vilna had been a safe haven for Jews, a center of religious scholarship and a vibrant Yiddish community. As one survivor noted, Vilna isn't Vilna without its Jewish culture.

The film deals with the very troubling aspect of the Jewish police, or Judenrat, which was used by the Germans to keep the ghetto in line. Jacob Gens essentially served as the constable of the Jewish community during the German occupation, turning over members of the resistance with the false hope that this would spare the community at large. This led to horrible divisions within the crumbling Jewish community, which were painfully retold by the survivors.

The partisans took to the woods outside Vilna, joining up with Russian, Lithuanian and Polish partisan forces, and mounting a very effective resistance to German occupation until the Soviet tanks rolled in late in 1943. It was a tragic victory for the Jewish partisans, caught up in the wave of euphoria surrounding the defeat of the Germans, but having to bear witness to the destruction of the once proud Jewish quarter in Vilna.

Excellent documentary on tragically unknown subject
Brendan M. Howard | Kansas, USA | 10/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The well-known Warsaw Ghetto uprising was going to be producer Aviva Kempner's focus when she went to Israel to interview survivors, but a recommendation by a museum director turned her attention to a lesser-known partisan movement. In the Jewish-quarter-turned-ghetto of Vilna, the partisans -- mostly Socialist, Communist and Zionist youths -- unified and slowly came to the realization that the Nazis meant to exterminate the 20,000 Jews left.

Partisans of Vilna tells the story of these courageous men and women, many of whom fought and fought for years only to be rewarded with the fact at the end of the war that 20,000 Jews had dwindled to 3,000. They had no national army to back them and were even faced with antisemitism from their Russian, Polish and Lithuanian partisan tallies in the cold Eastern European forests. Their hardest conflict, however, came against the local Jewish police, who tried to appease the Nazis by letting them take small numbers of Jews to the death camps in order to save the majority. That was a hopeless idea, but the film demonstrates that a hope that time would save the Jews was not ridiculous and eventually made sure more of Vilna's Jews chose not to join the armed insurgents.

DVD Extras: Accompanying this 20th-anniversary edition are plenty of educational bonuses. An audio CD of Yiddish songs from the film, mostly inspired or written by the fighting partisans themselves, is accompanied by a 10-page Yiddish and English songbook with voluminous notes. Also here is a 29-page study guide, with historical background, questions for discussion, a timeline and a stellar bibliography that will be perfect for those whose curiosity is sparked. Commentaries include a filmmaking-focused one from director, co-writer and narrator Joseph Waltezsky, and another by producer and co-writer Aviva Kempner, who gives greater historical context and reveals tidbits of information about the people and places that didn't make it to the film.
Lost history
Roger W. Macdonald-evoy | Cheyenne, WY United States | 07/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There is not nearly as much of this kind of material as there could be available. I feel this dvd did a good job of showing that the Jwish community in Vilna put up a heroic resistance even with the local community and he Soviet Union putting roadblocks in their way. To many people can only look to Sobibar or Warsaw when this shows how wide spread the desire was to fight back.
The educational materials, the CD of partisian songs with translations make this an outstanding resource for teachers as well."
Not heros. They wanted to choose their own manner of death.
Paul Schwartzberg | Berlin, Germany | 05/30/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Waletzky's DVD in an excellent way, through interviews with still surviving Partisans, outlines the psychological stances of the victims of the extermination of nearly all jews in Vilnius during the German occupation there (1941-1944).

And Waletzky's commentary on the DVD adds significantly to the deapth of the film.

There are a few points that are often misunderstood concerning the participants in Ghetto uprisings - such as in Vilna or Warsaw.
For example, one reviewer of this DVD writes "The Jewish community in Vilna put up a heroic resistance". The didn't. Part of the tragedy is that the Partisans were an avant-guarde minority. The Jewish Community in Vilna (as almost most places in Europe) were totally unprepared to meet the magnitude - an even then unthinkable extermination that was approaching them with the stream of refugees from Poland that poured into Vilna and other Lithuanian towns. This, to an extent, is an unrecognized aspect of the tragedy. An additonal reason for this is because the jewish leadership were the first to be liquidated. And then there were the human psychological reasons, described in th film, for example, of the hope to "live it out". And armed resistance, due to tragic misunderstandings, was thought to increase the likelyhood of dying.

The witnesses in the film, clearly express their frustrations, concerning this and other things, and their own understanding of their hopeless situation. Nevertheless, that which set them apart from the overwhelming majority, decisive for their fate, was that rather than escape death they wanted to decided the when and where aspects of it. They were going to die anyway, they thought. Paradoxically, this psychological stance, dramatically increased their chance of surviving the genocide, even though, many did not.

As it turned out, fighting effectively back became a viable option towards the end of the occupation, but at that point, most of Lithuania's Jewery were already exterminated.

So the resistance had no effect on the genocide. Their actions were uncoordinated and often hindered by Jews in the Ghetto who tragically misunderstood their situation and thought they would possibly live out the occupation, and their extermination that came with it, or were often hindered by other (Russian and Polish) partisan groups. And the film describes why and how these things came about through the interviews with surviving partisans.

Most of the Jews in Vinius were exterminated in Ponar.

Ponar is the site where most of the Jews of Vilnius who could not escape before the German invasion in 1941, about 90,000 - 100,000 of them, where exterminated. Certainly this included the jews who were forced into the Vilna Ghetto, and in stages removed, and most shot at Ponar. Rumours and few eye-witness accounts did escape into the Jewish community. But the magnitude - was even then - nearly unbelieveable. Also it is estimated over 10000 further individuals were exterminated at Ponar, mostly none Jewish, Lithuanians, Russians, and Poles. As rumours in West-Europe concerning the extermination spread, and the Germans realized they might loose the war, from around the middle of 1942 onward in Poland and from 1943 on-ward in the Russian territories (including Lithuania) the bodies of murdered individuals were most often immediately burned to destroy the evidence.

The bodies of thousands of previously exterminated individuals from the previous year and half were dug out to be burned - mostly by forced jewish labor. On April 15, 1944, there was a mass escape of these prisoners from Ponar. 15 succeeded and joined Partisan units in the Rudninkai forest, to fight out the last 3 months of the German occupation. But survivors of this escape are not interviewed in Waletzky's film.

The Partisans, jewish or not, did not stage any raid against Ponar. There is no discussion of this by the Partisans in Waletzky's film. Nor BTW in Lanzman's Film, Shoah, where a couple of these escapees are interviewed."