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Haunting 3-minute film features a Jewish community in Poland before the Holocaust

Prewar Nasielsk

TIFF Trailers | YouTube | Fair Use

Zelda Caldwell - published on 01/27/22

The snapshot of life as it existed before the war was found among the travel souvenirs of a Polish-American family.

A short film featuring actual footage of the Jewish quarter of a Polish town, one year before the Nazis invaded, has inspired a new documentary set to be released in the US later this year.

Glenn Kurtz discovered the home movie in 2009, while visiting his parents’ house in Florida. Stuffed in the back of a closet was a film canister titled, “Our Trip to Holland, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, France and England 1938.”

The 16-millimeter color film was made by his grandfather, David Kurtz, while on vacation in Europe just before the start of World War II. Kurtz’s family had emigrated to the US from Poland in the 1890s.

The younger Kurtz was stunned when he saw that scenes of quaint Alpine villages were followed by footage of life in a Jewish community in Poland a year before the Holocaust.

The film, which the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum restored and put on its website, is a snapshot of life as it existed before the war. It helps keep alive the memory of the 6 million European Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Filmed in the Jewish quarter of the town of Nasielsk in central Poland, the movie captures a moment of great excitement — the visit of an American with a movie camera.

There’s a great commotion as people seem to be running into the streets, and leaning out of windows to see what’s going on. Some smile shyly, some laugh at the wonder of being filmed. 

A teenager girl attempts to rein in an exuberant younger sibling jockeying to be in the movie.

Another boy sticks his tongue out.

A young girl stops and looks directly at the camera as a crowd spills out of a synagogue. The color film brings the scene to life, and her expression and gestures are so familiar, so modern, and so heartbreaking.

A year after these scenes were filmed, the Nazis invaded Poland and the Jews in the town were rounded up and deported to the Treblinka extermination camp. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, only 80 of the 3,000 Jews living in Nasielsk in 1939 survived the war.

The short film has now been turned into a 70-minute long documentary created by Dutch filmmaker Bianca Stiger, and narrated by Helena Bonham Carter and Holocaust survivor Maurice Chandler. 

Now in his 90s, Chandler grew up in Nasielsk and is one of the smiling teenagers seen in the film. According to an article on the film in the New York Times, his granddaughter in Detroit recognized him when she saw the film on the Holocaust Museum’s website.

Entitled Three Minutes: A Lengthening, the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September of 2021, and is expected to be released in the United States sometime in 2022.

Watch a trailer for the film here:

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