Family Film Offers Glimpse Of 'Three Minutes In Poland' Before Holocaust In 1938, Glenn Kurtz's grandfather went on vacation and filmed a few minutes of footage of his Polish hometown. Seventy years later, his grandson set out to find the people who appeared in that film.

Family Film Offers Glimpse Of 'Three Minutes In Poland' Before Holocaust

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Back in 2009, the author Glenn Kurtz went looking for some old family films piled in his parent's closet in Florida. What he found was a 70-year-old time capsule - a 1938 film shot by his grandparents who were on vacation in Europe at the time. And it included three minutes of footage from his grandfather's home town in Poland in luminous, shimmering color.

GLENN KURTZ: There's this extraordinary beautiful detail of the people, their faces, the clothing that they're wearing. There's lots of kids who kind of mob my grandfather and jump up-and-down and wave their arms and try and get into the frame. There's just the sort of commotion of these visitors from this mythical country, I suppose.

MARTIN: Kurtz was hooked. And he began to piece together a mystery which then became a book, "Three Minutes In Poland: Discovering A Lost World In A 1938 Family Film." When he first watched the film, Kurtz knew he was looking at something special.

KURTZ: As soon as I saw it, I was stunned. I mean, I think we had looked at it, maybe, when I was a kid. But it's, you know, grandma and grandpa's vacation pictures. You don't think about them.

And when I looked at it now as an adult, I realized that it was 1938. And there are all of these beautiful images of children and adults in this town one year before World War II begins. And I was just haunted by these faces. They're so happy to be filmed. They're so excited. And of course, I know something that they don't know which is what's about to happen. And I just became compelled. I wanted to know who they were.

MARTIN: So what did you do? You had this epiphany that this film opened a window to a world that existed before the Holocaust. What did you decide you needed to do with it?

KURTZ: When I found the film it was not in playable condition. It had fused into essentially a hockey puck. So I started hunting around, and I ultimately donated the film to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. And they were extraordinarily helpful. They gave the film to a film laboratory in Maryland, Colorlab. And they spent four months restoring the images.

MARTIN: So that leads us to a man named Maurice Chandler. Can you describe how you came into contact with him and his family and his significance?

KURTZ: Well, once the film had been restored and digitized, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum would put it on their website. It was part of their collection, and it was there with all of the other home movies that they have. And I received an e-mail one day from a woman I'd never heard of. And she said that someone had brought this film to her attention, and that she was sitting watching it with her father. The camera pans across the crowd. There are all these children jumping and waving. And suddenly a boy's face slipped out, and she saw her grandfather as a 13-year-old boy. And in this e-mail that she wrote to me she said he's still alive, and he'd very much like to talk to you because I believe he knew your family as a child.

MARTIN: Oh, man. What was it like to read that e-mail?

KURTZ: Oh, it was absolutely thrilling, even today. And I've told that story often. Even today I get shivers when I tell it.

MARTIN: So you met him - Morry Chandler. And you sat with him and watched the film.

KURTZ: I did. A few weeks later my family and his family gathered in Florida, and we watched the film together. And Mr. Chandler has a prodigious memory. I sometimes feel like he'd been waiting his whole life to talk about this town. And he was able to identify a number of people he recognized immediately. There were stories about those people, and then of course about his life, about people who didn't appear in the film. And it was just one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life.

MARTIN: You wrote in the book that as Morry is watching this, he's trying to kind of process what he's seeing. And he talks about how he felt for a long time that he had no history, that he's kind of telling these stories to his kids, but he's not quite sure if it ever happened. And seeing this film was a profound kind of validation of his own history.

KURTZ: Yeah. In fact, one of the first things that he said to me on the phone when we first spoke was you've given me back my childhood. And I think for someone who survived the Holocaust, the intense fear of that experience, makes what came before, in a sense, almost incomprehensible.

And when we were sitting and watching the film, one of the things that he said was I just can't believe that I was a kid. It was a part of his life that he couldn't even relate to any more. But here it was in these beautiful color images. And one of the things that he said to me was now I can show you that I'm not from Mars. He had felt that isolated in his family as if he had come from Mars.

MARTIN: How many of the residents of that town in 1938 survived the war?

KURTZ: Well, when my grandparents visited in 1938, there were approximately 3,000 Jews living in the town. And by the end of the war, fewer than 100 were still alive.

MARTIN: How many of those survivors did you end up getting in contact through this project?

KURTZ: Ultimately, I found seven survivors, and interviewed them all. And of course showed them the film, and there was one other woman named Figa Tik (ph) who lived in Toronto. She was 96-years-old when I met her. And she and her husband are both also in the film.

MARTIN: What did you take away from this project when you thought about how these survivors processed what had happened to them and compartmentalized, perhaps, these memories?

KURTZ: Well, when I started to research the project I thought that I was going to try and re-create what the town was like. But 75 years later, what you're left with are these fragments - not only documents, but also these memories. Some of these memories which the survivors have been willing to share with their families, you know, have become stories that are fairly polished. And they tend to share with their families stories that aren't too scary, things that are even amusing.

I was fortunate that the survivors were willing to share with me I think more, actually, than they'd shared with their own families. As an outsider, they weren't trying to protect me. Although they were still trying to protect themselves in some ways. And it took many, many times of speaking with people, sometimes, to get behind the polished stories that they were willing to share. And of course everything that they remember is intimately bound, inextricably bound, with loss.

MARTIN: The book is called "Three Minutes In Poland: Discovering A Lost World In A 1938 Family Film." It is written by Glenn Kurtz. Glenn, thank you so much for talking with us.

KURTZ: Thanks for having me.

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