December 1, 2022 – This very unusual documentary gives the viewer a haunting glimpse into a world just before its destruction. It is like seeing video of Pompeii just before the eruption.
In 1938 Polish-born American, David Kurtz, went on a long European vacation with his family. During the trip he visited the Jewish village of Nasielsk where he was born. There, he shot some color and black and white film with a 16mm home movie camera he had brought with him. The event was a sensation in the village as people gathered around to see this new fangled movie camera, the first ever seen in the village. Children kept moving in front of the camera, looking at the lens, smiling. This is the only surviving film of that village from before the war.
Kurtz shot interiors, street scenes, and he filmed a crowd of people pouring out of the Nasielsk synagogue following some unknown event, perhaps a visit by renowned cantor Moshe Koussevitzky, regarded as one of the greatest cantors of the 20th Century. He was known to have performed in Nasielsk around this time.
Kurtz filmed a lot of his European vacation, visiting England, France, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany, but only shot a little less than four minutes of film in Nasielsk. The film of this 1938 trip was rediscovered in 2009, by Kurtz' grandson, Glenn Kurtz, who realized the significance of this short bit of filmed history.
The film was badly damaged by age, but thanks to the work of experts in film restoration, it was brought back to life. At first, nobody even knew where this footage was shot, but by using visual clues in the film itself, based on period photographs of a carving on the door of the Nasielsk Synagogue, the location of the scenes were successfully identified.
Next came attempts to identify people in the film. This proved to be near impossible until the video from the film was put online. Once the video was on the internet, people started to come forward who recognized people in the video. One of them was Maurice Chandler, who recognized himself in the film as a child. He was then known as Moszek Tuchendler. He also recognized others in the film. He is one of the people interviewed for this film.
Most of the people who appeared in this film would be, within a few months, murdered in the Treblinka extermination camp near Warsaw. The film includes a harrowing tale of survival in Nasielsk in 1939, told by survivor Andrzej Lubieneicki. He escaped the village with his girlfriend, Maria Wlosko thanks to the aid of a sympathetic German officer. When they returned to Poland in 1946, they could not find anyone from her family.
Nearly the entirety of the film's visuals are made up of imaginatively edited images found in those precious three plus minutes of film. We hear the narrators (including famed actress Helena Bonham Carter) and we hear others interviewed for this film, but we don't see them until their photographs appear in the credits at the end of the movie.
The following credit appears at the end of the film, “Images from our trip to Holland, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, France and England, 1938. A Film by David Kurtz. Courtesy of Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Gift of Glenn Kurtz in memory of David and Liza Kurtz.” This movie rates a B.
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