Sunday, May 10, 2015

Incredible Story - 3 Minutes of 1938 Film And Glenn Kurtz' Quest To Find Out More

A talk in the UAA library, Sunday afternoon.  When J asked what it was, I said what I knew.  "Some guy went to Poland to discover his relatives." 

How little I knew that I was to be transported on an amazing story of perseverance, history, and discovery. 

Glenn Kurtz finds a cache of old movies in his parents' home.  He seeks out the oldest one.  He could smell the vinegar of the decomposing film.   It's a short film, partly in black and white and partly in color. 

On the right is the opening scene of the movie.

Then there is this shot.

His grandmother is on the far left and the other three people are their traveling companions for this adventure. 

His grandparents had come to the US from Poland in the 1880's.  Kurtz never met his grandfather, but he did know his grandmother.  They had done well in the US and all he knew about this trip was this film. 

There's typical tourist footage of the travelers in the countries they visited. 

Men with beards

But then, there is three minutes filmed in a small town, more a village, in Poland.  A Jewish community a year before the Germans invaded.  Kurtz knew immediately this was important footage - probably the only film of this town, of these people, before  most of them were swept up by the Nazis and sent to die.  People crowd before the camera - lots of people.  Kids hamming it up, no different from kids today.  But who are they?  What happened to them?

But  he didn't know anything more than the film.  He knew 1938 because it was on the film.  But when?  What ship?

An aunt, moving to a nursing home, later discovered a box of post cards from the trip, including the one below.

Kurtz went in search for names of the people in the film.  But how do you find them.  He donated the film to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and a woman recognized her grandfather - he was 13 in the film - and called Kurtz.  He visited the grandfather Maurice Chandler (his American name) in Florida and he was able to identify a lot of people in the film.  This led to others.

And eventually, many of the nameless faces came to life.  They got names, the birth and death dates and little bits of curious details.   For example, in the picture above that I labeled men with beards, he learned that the man with the dark beard had been the headstone carver at the cemetery and kids would come by his shop after school and start throwing the chipped stone around.  He would kick them out by threatening that the Angel of Death, whom they assumed he had some connection with, would get them.  This story, if I recall, came from Maurice Chandler. 

from the book's jacket

It's an incredible story of sleuthing and bringing to life an almost vanished piece of film that is a unique documentation of a lost world.  And, fortunately, Kurtz has written a book about both the people in the town and how he found out who they were.  A great afternoon adventure to hear from the author's mouth this story. 

Here's the book.  

 I was so wrapped up in the story, I forgot to take pictures until it was mostly over.  And even then I didn't take a picture of Glenn Kurtz.  And J bought a copy of the book, so it was easier to take pictures from the book for this post.  I look forward to reading the book. 


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