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.