A Film Captures Jewish Life in a Polish Town Before the Nazis Arrived

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tags: Holocaust, Jewish history, documentary

AMSTERDAM — Glenn Kurtz found the film reel in a corner of his parents’ closet in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., in 2009. It was in a dented aluminum canister.

Florida’s heat and humidity had nearly solidified the celluloid into a mass “like a hockey puck,” Kurtz said. But someone had transferred part of it onto VHS tape in the 1980s, so Kurtz could see what it contained: a home movie titled “Our Trip to Holland, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, France and England, 1938.”

The 16-millimeter film, made by his grandfather, David Kurtz, on the eve of World War II, showed the Alps, quaint Dutch villages and three minutes of footage of a vibrant Jewish community in a Polish town.

Old men in yarmulkes, skinny boys in caps, girls with long braids. Smiling and joking. People pour through the large doors of a synagogue. There’s some shoving in a cafe and then, that’s it. The footage ends abruptly.

Kurtz, nevertheless, understood the value of the material as evidence of Jewish life in Poland just before the Holocaust. It would take him nearly a year to figure it out, but he discovered that the footage depicted Nasielsk, his grandfather’s birthplace, a town about 30 miles northwest of Warsaw that some 3,000 Jews called home before the war.

Fewer than 100 would survive it.

Now, the Dutch filmmaker Bianca Stigter has used the fragmentary, ephemeral footage to create “Three Minutes: A Lengthening,” a 70-minute feature film that helps to further define what and who were lost.

“It’s a short piece of footage, but it’s amazing how much it yields,” Stigter said in an interview in Amsterdam recently. “Every time I see it, I see something I haven’t really seen before. I must have seen it thousands and thousands of times, but still, I can always see a detail that has escaped my attention before.”

Read entire article at New York Times