Rediscovering a Prewar Jewish Community in Poland Through Three Minutes of Film

April 6 2022

In 2009, Glenn Kurtz discovered long-forgotten footage, taken by his grandfather, in a closet in his parent’s home. Stored in an aluminum can for 70 years, the film had deteriorated to the point of being almost unrecoverable. Kurtz managed to preserve three minutes of his grandfather’s silent home movie, which captures a 1938 summer trip to his hometown of Nasielsk in Poland. In 2014, Kurtz published a book about what he had learned through careful study of the film; for five years, he had assiduously examined details of the synagogue, the street, and the faces of the children playing. Kurtz also tells the stories of other survivors who helped him piece together the history of Nasielk’s Jewish community. Kurtz’s research is now the subject of a new documentary titled Three Minutes—A Lengthening, directed by the historian Bianca Stigter. As Kurtz writes, the film “asks one question over and over: ‘What do we see?’”

At the time [of my grandfather’s visit]—one year before the out­break of World War II—Nasiel­sk was home to a Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of about 3,000 peo­ple, rough­ly half the town’s pop­u­la­tion; few­er than 100 of Nasielsk’s Jews would sur­vive the Shoah. My grandfather’s three min­utes of film are the only known mov­ing images of this co­mmuni­ty pri­or to its destruction.

When I dis­cov­ered the film, how­ev­er, I knew noth­ing about it. I nev­er met my grand­fa­ther, who died before I was born, and my grand­moth­er, although she lived well into her nineties, nev­er spoke of their 1938 trip to Europe. I didn’t know why they went to Poland or what they did dur­ing their vis­it. I didn’t know what small Pol­ish town appeared in the film or the iden­ti­ties of any of the people.

My grandfather’s film is thus silent in more ways than one. There is no audio, and so we do not hear the con­ver­sa­tions or the com­mo­tion sur­round­ing him as he panned his cam­era across the crowd­ed mar­ket square. The film is also silent in a larg­er sense: it does not tell us what it is. The images are innocu­ous. Their poignance and pow­er are evi­dent only when we know the his­tor­i­cal fact that these peo­ple would soon be vic­tims of geno­cide. But just because we see these peo­ple does not mean we know them. And just because we know what hap­pened to them does not mean we know any­thing about their lives.

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Read more at Jewish Book Council

More about: Film, Jewish history, Polish Jewry

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy