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Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost…

Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film

by Glenn Kurtz

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Here is a treasure of a lost world! I saw the author Glenn Kurtz at the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge. He did a fascinating presentation about his grandparents' sightseeing trip to Europe in 1938, which included a trip to the town in Poland where David Kurtz had been raised and lived until emigrating to the US. Most of the 3000 Jewish residents were murdered by Germans and their homes and possessions stolen by the non-Jewish residents of the town, Nasielsk. The author's quest to identify the people of the town seen in a 3 minute home movie clip leads him all over the US, Poland, and Israel. He reconnects neighbors, friends, and family and even digs up his own roots in his noble quest.

The book is perhaps a bit too detailed, and names blur. The photos are heart wrenching as townspeople flock to the American's camera as the reader sees the gathering shadows behind them, the soon to be exterminated. The courage of the few who escape is overmatched by their neighbors, who do nothing to stop the slaughter and enjoy the tainted fruit with seemingly no guilt or regret.

This is an invaluable addition to Holocaust literature. All credit goes to the survivors as well as the writer, to dredge up the pain for the reward of seeing their loved ones again in a three minute film that is all but silent. ( )
1 vote froxgirl | Jan 6, 2015 |
David and Lena Kurtz, two Jewish Americans whose families had emigrated from Poland in the late nineteenth century, returned to their homeland while on a European vacation in 1938, a little over a year before Hitler invaded Poland. David Kurtz, now a successful businessman, had purchased a video camera for the trip and recorded three minutes of their stay in Nasielsk, Poland, where David had been born. The footage fragments, shot in colour and black-and-white, shows a small town full of children and Jewish life. In only a few years, most of the people in this short film would be dead, victims of the Shoah (Holocaust).

The film sat in storage for decades, nearly forgotten, before Glenn Kurtz, David and Lena's grandson, found it and donated it to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The film, which would have been irreparably damaged in only a few more months, was painstakingly restored, and David became obsessed with piecing together his grandparents' trip and what happened to Nasielsk and the people in the film. He found a handful of Nasielsk survivors still living, carefully collecting their memories and piecing them together to attempt to create a narrative of Nasielsk before the Shoah and the Nasielsk Jewish population's destruction.

I first heard about this book on the NPR Facebook page, and I instantly purchased it. The Shoah is one of those periods in history that has always captured my attention; I've relatives who span the breadth of the Shoah - (barely) pre-war immigrants, survivors, and victims. And, also, it's still utterly amazing to me that this could happen in the twentieth century in Europe, that people could turn against the Jewish population and virtually eradicate them. On the day that Poland was invaded by Germany (September 1, 1939), there were about 3,500,000 Jews. Approximately 3,000,000 of them were killed in the next six years. That is mind-boggling. I still can't comprehend it. Most of those who survived did so in Soviet-occupied Poland or Siberia; in the forests; or as partisans. Those Polish Jews who ended up in the ghettos and camps overwhelmingly did not survive. Nasielsk Jews fared even worse than Poland over all. Of approximately 3500 Nasielsk Jews, less than 100 survived the war, and virtually all of those either lived in Soviet-occupied areas or escaped from the camps or ghettos. Those who stayed in the ghettos and were taken to the camps and survived number less than ten. There are no Jews living in Nasielsk today, and only about 25,000 Jews living in the entirety of Poland today.

The first portion of the book was a little dry to me - it mostly discussed how the film was found and restored, the process of decay of film, how film at this time was made and where the decay happens, etc. As I'm not all that interested in the mechanics of film, I skimmed this portion. But once the author starts talking to the survivors (particularly Morry) and travels to Nasielsk, the United Kingdom, and Israel, the book is absolutely fascinating. There are a lot of names to remember, along with place names and Yiddish and Polish words (most of which have a translation). The author is almost fanatical in tracking down every last lead and thread that can tie into the story of Nasielsk and the fate of its Jewish residents. He combs through archives, travels around the world to view documents and to meet descendants of survivors, and paints an incredible look at the town before the war came and changed everything. The result is heartbreaking, as well as, at times, uplifting - he manages to reunite some of the scattered people from Nasielsk once more and helps shed some light on what happened to distant relatives.

And what happened to the Nasielsk Jews was incredibly bleak. If they survived the German occupation of their town, they were herded up and sent to the Warsaw Ghetto, where they were slowly starved and mistreated until being rounded up once more, this time to Treblinka, a notorious death camp where they were murdered shortly after disembarking from the train that took them there. Meanwhile, back in Nasielsk, the headstones from the Jewish cemetery were used to pave the roads of the town. Any Jewish-owned property was confiscated, never to be returned to their rightful heirs (if they had survived, which most did not). The Poles, who the Jews had considered their neighbors and, sometimes, friends, had ratted them out to the Germans and had no place for them in post-war life. The synagogue was torn down and its bricks were used to build a dairy farm. Even to this day, there is distrust of the Jews, with some Poles worrying that the "Jews will come back" (nevermind that most of them are dead) and take what was rightfully theirs.

I highly recommend this book. ( )
3 vote schatzi | Nov 30, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374276773, Hardcover)

The author’s search for the annihilated Polish community captured in his grandfather’s 1938 home movie

Traveling in Europe in August 1938, one year before the outbreak of World War II, David Kurtz, the author’s grandfather, captured three minutes of ordinary life in a small, predominantly Jewish town in Poland on 16 mm Kodachrome color film. More than seventy years later, through the brutal twists of history, these few minutes of home-movie footage would become a memorial to an entire community—an entire culture—that was annihilated in the Holocaust.
     Three Minutes in Poland traces Glenn Kurtz’s remarkable four-year journey to identify the people in his grandfather’s haunting images. His search takes him across the United States; to Canada, England, Poland, and Israel; to archives, film preservation laboratories, and an abandoned Luftwaffe airfield. Ultimately, Kurtz locates seven living survivors from this lost town, including an eighty-six-year-old man who appears in the film as a thirteen-year-old boy.
     Painstakingly assembled from interviews, photographs, documents, and artifacts, Three Minutes in Poland tells the rich, funny, harrowing, and surprisingly intertwined stories of these seven survivors and their Polish hometown. Originally a travel souvenir, David Kurtz’s home movie became the sole remaining record of a vibrant town on the brink of catastrophe. From this brief film, Glenn Kurtz creates a riveting exploration of memory, loss, and improbable survival—a monument to a lost world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:20 -0400)

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