Monday, May 22, 2017

Glenn Kurtz. Three Minutes in Poland. More Trails to the Past.

Continuing my reading jag. . . .

This is a fascinating book.  In August 1938, Glenn Kurtz's grandparents went to Europe, visiting famous European cities, such as Paris and Brussels.  As part of their trip they also visited a small city in Poland named Nasielsk.  While there, his grandfather shot about three minutes of film, both in black and white and in color, of the people of this town. By the next year, all the Jews in this town will have been deported, first to the Warsaw ghetto and then to the camps.  Of the town's three thousand Jewish inhabitants, less than 100 survived World War II.

Kurts finds this film and recognizes its  potential interest.  He sends it to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is able to salvage the film's images.  (Just in time, a few years later and it would have deteriorated beyond repair.)  Kurtz wonders who these people were.  The film is one of the very few home movies made of pre-WWII Poland, and one of the very few in color.

Kurtz wants to find out as much as he can about these people, but it isn't until someone sees the movie on the Holocaust Museum's website and sees her grandfather--whose face remains recognizable over 70 years later.  Once Kurtz meets the man in the movie, now the 80+ year old man named Maurice (Morrie) Chandler of Florida, Kurtz and Chandler try to name as many of the people in the film as they can.

Meeting Morrie, Kurtz begins to find connections and those connections spur further connections.  He travels to Canada, the UK, Israel and Poland.  He becomes, as he admits, obsessed with documenting as much as he can.  But as he eventually recognizes, each connection spins out and the connections almost become infinite.  

When I first viewed my grandfather's film, I imagined it might still be possible to identify a few of the individuals who appeared in the beautiful color images.  But my conversations with survivors quickly spilled over from the frame of the film, from individual identifications into much larger networks. . . .  Jewish Nasielsk  that exists in memory is the chance artifact of those who happened to live longest."

Kurtz recognizes how arbitrary it is that this remembered Nasielsk survived:  arbitrary that he found the film in time, arbitrary that someone happened to see it and recognize her father as a child.  But even more arbitrary, who survived, who lived long enough to tell the story.

Three Minutes in Poland is a glimpse into a lost world and a profound meditation on what makes "history,"  It is a narrative dream.

You can see the move here.


1 comment :

  1. Gads, this sounds fascinating!! Another addition to my list! Thnx, buddy!!!