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Director: Paula Apsell + Kirk Wolfinger.

Runtime: 100 minutes.
Release Date: 04/12/24 [Cinemas] 

"Resistance: They Fought Back tells the largely unknown and incredibly courageous story of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust."


“Jews did not go to their death as sheep to the slaughter — they fought back.”


This is the premise of Resistance - They Fought Back, a new documentary feature from Paula S. Apsell and Kirk Wolfinger. Apsell and Jay Owens are credited as writers, with cinematography by Adam Costa and Ezra Wolfinger.


While news today is overflowing with stories of occupation and slaughter and war and genocide, what was different during World War II was the sheer scale: Six million Jewish people died in five years across the whole of the European continent.


Filmed in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Israel, and the U.S., Resistance – They Fought Back attempts to correct the myth that the Jewish people were largely passive during the war. Archival photos, videos, recovered letters and in some cases actual survivor accounts tell of uprisings large and small in some of the 1,200 Jewish ghettos established by the Nazis, and even in the death camps where many millions were murdered. 


Some of those recollections were recovered decades later, in literal messages in a bottle. Stories were recorded by people who knew they would not survive, so that history would not forget what happened. It was an attempt to grasp at hope, to hold onto dignity and humanity, and to imagine that a way of life could continue even when the storytellers knew their own lives would not. 


Many of the images are — understandably — extremely disturbing. They range from starvation, people forced to live on less than 200 calories a day, to bodies lying dead in the street. Even singular images of a pile of shoes can tell a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking story. Equally haunting are some of the spoken facts or flashes of text on the screen, not the least of which was that only 11% of Jewish children who were alive in 1939 were still alive in 1945.


According to the documentary, the Jewish opposition was often muted because they knew if a single person resisted, hundreds and sometimes thousands more were arrested as a form of collective punishment. So, instead, many took to passive resistance. Some painstakingly recorded in writing what was happening. Others started underground schools, youth groups, even art galleries, concerts, and theaters.


Some of the Jewish people, sensing their impending slaughter, did take up arms. During the Vilna resistance in Lithuania, they built makeshift bombs using recipes found in forbidden pamphlets and fought back, bombing German trains, and eventually sparking an armed opposition. Others smuggled weapons using underground couriers to communicate between the ghettos. 


One recurring and powerful thread follows Bela Hazan, a Jewish woman born in Poland who joined a resistance movement as a teenager. Hazan worked as a smuggler in Vilna and was eventually caught by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz, but she continued to resist and eventually helped evacuate 140 sick inmates to U.S. forces. Her son, fighting back tears, tells her story. 


Ultimately, these are tales of hope and perseverance, triumphs of the spirit in the face of some of the harshest evils that ever existed. It’s a painful and necessary reminder that, in any conflict, there are real, human lives on the line – often innocent, very young or very old, or sick, or otherwise unable to fight back. 


At a time when so many similar things are happening in the world, it’s vitally important to remember that, less than a century ago, this was happening across an entire continent and claimed the lives of millions of innocent people. And with that comes the hard but appropriate question: what stories will people tell about what’s happening today in 100 years?

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