A deeply intimate, rigorously detailed study of a lost Jewish world revealed within three minutes of a home movie shot in a small Polish town in 1938.
In 2008, Kurtz (Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music, 2007) was sidetracked from writing a novel after the discovery of a short 16mm film made by his grandparents Liza and David Kurtz of Flatbush, Brooklyn, on their vacation to Europe with another couple in 1938. Between their visits to Belgium and Switzerland, there is a three-minute interlude when the American tourists were ambling about a small Polish town attracting all kinds of delighted attention from the native onlookers. The Kurtz family lore was that the grandparents (both now deceased) were visiting Liza’s hometown of Berezne, Poland. However, as the author began to research the details of architecture and street life evident in the film—and thanks to help from Holocaust archivists in Washington—he learned that the town being filmed was not Berezne but David’s hometown of Nasielsk, residence to approximately 3,000 Jews in 1938—of whom only 80 survived the war. Gradually, the author tracked down several native Nasielskers who had recorded their stories. After incredible detective work, he also discovered the identity of the 13-year-old boy mugging most visibly for the camera in the Kurtz film: a certain Maurice Chandler of Boca Raton, Florida, who saw most of his family perish when the Nazis invaded in September 1939. He survived the horrific ordeal of the Warsaw Ghetto and was still alive to tell the tale into his 80s. The degree of detail in this work is staggering: The closer Kurtz peered, the more he learned of a rich, vibrant world on the brink of extinction.
An exhaustive, dogged work of genealogical research.