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

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.

Read more at Jewish Book Council

More about: Film, Jewish history, Polish Jewry


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict