FOUR WINTERS – movie review


New Moon Films
Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Julia Mintz
Screenwriter: Julia Mintz
Cast: Michael Stoll, Isadore Farbstein, Chayele Palevsky, Sara Ginaite, Faye Shulman, Shalom Yoran, Moshe Baran, Frank Blaichman, Luba Abramowitz, Gertrude Boyarski
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/9/22
Opens: September 16, 2022 at New York’s Film Forum

Imagine this. You are a Jewish woman living in Poland. For your prom, your date is a Polish Christian. World War 2 breaks out. You are captured by the enemy, by the Nazis. Then, mirabile dictu, your prom date shows up! Is he going to be a hero and rescue you from these bad men? Think again. He tells you, this prom date of yours, “You are a Jew. You must die.” Sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel? Could be, but this actually happened. And if you recall one of the great classic horror films, “Carrie,” you become like a prequel of Carrie and you get revenge on this miserable, sick-in-the-head Pole. When that man is captured, you are given the opportunity to take revenge, but you’re a woman, so you’re going to let him go. Nope. You kill him. Why? Because you are no longer a woman you are a soldier. Therein lie the most dramatic pieces of dialogue in the documentary “Four Winters,” which is one more movie overthrowing the passive-aggressive comment from people who wonder: Why didn’t the Jews fight back?

To be sure, many Jews were in no condition when the Final Solution is declared by Germany. They were shot on sight, they were put on trains with the big lie that they were going to be treated well, that Germany needed them for work. By the time they arrived at a concentration camp, maybe Auschwitz-Birkenau, maybe Treblinka, and if they were “lucky,” to Theresienstadt. Women who were either too young or too old were stripped naked and sent to the “showers.” However, some Jews were fortunate in jumping from the death trains and racing to the large Eastern European forests. “Four Winters” is the story of a handful of survivors, still alive today, enlightening us about the incredible but true four years that they spent in the forest, meeting up with Polish and later Russian resistors, some forming their own company of Jewish partisans.

With guns and bullets that they smuggled out of a makeshift factory where they were working for the Nazis and later with weapons that they captured from those left behind, they survived and killed as many Germans as they could. In one instance, they acted not like folks to be pitied but with toxic masculinity because this was the time that such behavior was called for. They stole pigs from farmers. They threatened a rich farmer: “turn over your stock of weapons or we will burn this village down.” They got what they came for.

With black-and-white photographs that one woman took while hiding in the woods using a blanket as a darkroom, we get an inkling of what it’s like to be them. Director Julia Mintz, whose short film “Wait for Me” is a psychological character study of a woman who needed to kill only her past rather than German soldiers, brings in some archival films of the period before and during World War 2, but gives these survivors, all of whom speaking fluent albeit accented English, most of the time. This is wise because some of their testimony is riveting. We do not know, however, where they are living today; most likely America or Israel, but imagine them taking part not simply escaping from the ovens, the gas chambers, the mass shootings, but having the chutzpah to sabotage the Nazi war effort—to derail and dynamite trains (which somehow our President FDR forgot to do, allowing the Nazis the freedom to load millions of Jews onto the cattle cars and into the camps).

Twenty-five thousand Jews took part as partisans, most of whom, of course, cannot be seen in this film including two of my brave ancestors, Isidore and Hersch Karten who escaped from the village of Swirz, sneaking into ghettoes urging Jews behind barbed wire to escape with them and join the partisans. See the Wikipedia article Isidore Karten.

Credit Faye Schulman in her leopard coat acting as photographer, the one mentioned above who used a blanket for her darkroom, allowing her to share her experience with us today. “Four Winters” will doubtless have a largely Jewish audience at New York’s Film Forum, though the film should be shared nationally to educate the one in ten Americans who never heard the word “Holocaust”; the sixty-three percent of those surveyed who did not know that six million Jews were murdered in said Holocaust; the fifty percent of the “enlightened” who believe that the death toll was fewer than two million. And of over forty thousand concentration camps and ghettos that were established during World War 2, half of respondents in a poll could not name a single one. Can you get a high-school diploma without taking a single course in world history?

Even if you know nothing about the Nazi resolve to kill all Jews, if you see this film you will see the fierce spirit, the determination, the will to survive of these partisans; these attributes will give you an idea of the resolution of an oppressed people to create the state of Israel three years after the war and make it thrive.

All testimony is in English.

96 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online