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Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  379 ratings  ·  60 reviews
Named one of the best books of 2014 by NPR, The New Yorker, and The Boston Globe

When Glenn Kurtz stumbles upon an old family film in his parents' closet in Florida, he has no inkling of its historical significance or of the impact it will have on his life. The film, shot long ago by his grandfather on a sightseeing trip to Europe, includes shaky footage of Paris and the Sw
Paperback, 432 pages
Published November 17th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published November 11th 2014)
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This book really hit me hard. I read most of it with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat for the Jewish history it contains, is my history. In World War II, in the Polish shtetl (town) of Nasielsk, the Nazis entered in September, 1939. Of the 3,000 Jews that lived there, only 80 survived. My family's hometown was Nesvizh, Poland which was only about 300 miles apart from Nasielsk.. Like the town Nasielsk, only 25 Jews out of 4,000, lived through the Nazi's reign of terror in my family's sht ...more
Nancy Oakes
I first read about this book in The New Yorker. After reading just a brief blurb, I knew I had to have it. After reading the book itself, I couldn't even talk for a while.

The longer version of my thoughts about this book is here.

David and Liza Kurtz returned from a six-week European vacation in 1938. Seventy-one years later, their grandson Glenn discovered some old film cans in his parents' closet. Luckily, some of those films had been transferred to video, and Glenn starts to watch one labele
Description: Glenn Kurtz discusses his book, “Three Minutes in Poland,“ inspired by a three minute film that his grandfather had made in a predominantly Jewish town in Poland one year before WWII broke out. The book consists of interviews, photographs, documents, and artifacts that tell the stories of seven survivors that lived in this town.

Everything you need to know here.

Sobering, those three minutes of ghosts. Unrateable.
Dec 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This will probably be my favorite book of the year. It starts as a historical detective tale - the author finds a homemade travel film made by his grandfather in 1938 that includes 3 minutes of film shot in the village of Nasielsk, Poland. These three minutes portray a small slice of life of the Jewish population that by the end of WWII will be reduced by the Holocaust to 100 people out of the town's 3,000 Jewish inhabitants.

The author begins a quest to figure as much as he can about the film an
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: holocaust, history
Here's a book where my interest in family history, archival photographs and films, writing and research all come together to explore the holocaust (yet another interest) in a most intriguing way. When writer Glenn Kurtz stumbles across the original of a home movie taken by his immigrant-American grandparents on a summer trip to Europe in 1938, now moldering slowly but surely in a canister deep in a closet in Florida, he recalls his family mentioning that it includes a sequence of footage from on ...more
David and Lena Kurtz, two Jewish Americans whose families had emigrated from Poland in the late nineteenth century, returned to their homeland while on a European vacation in 1938, a little over a year before Hitler invaded Poland. David Kurtz, now a successful businessman, had purchased a video camera for the trip and recorded three minutes of their stay in Nasielsk, Poland, where David had been born. The footage fragments, shot in colour and black-and-white, shows a small town full of children ...more
Beatrice Hogg
Jan 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this book! I first heard about it on NPR & when I went to LA a few weeks later in November 2014, I had planned to attend a reading with Kurtz in the Wilshire District, but I didn't make it. After reading the book, I wish that I had met the author. Kurtz's grandparents and their friends made a voyage to Europe in 1938, just before the start of World War II. They visited his grandfather's hometown, Nasielsk, Poland, where David Kurtz filmed three minutes of footage with a 16 mm home movie c ...more
Oct 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Adrienne by: Ileene Smith
Shelves: family-history
I read this book when I was asked to created the 1938 map frontispiece for the book. This is history up close. Glenn Kurtz folds time, forward and backwards, in many small stories told within the larger story of the second world war. A wonderful book.
Jul 30, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If you're at all interested in genealogy, particularly Eastern European (particularly Polish, Jewish) diaspora/holocaust survivorship, this seems like required reading. It's an impressive, highly detailed, personal journey (nay, quest), made accessible to the reader, and - if that's what you're looking for - I expect you'll find the experience hugely gratifying.

Personally, I thought the book was worth reading, but my (individual) frustrations with it made it less than fully satisfactory.

First -
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

To say this book (and the footage it chronicles) has haunted me sounds slightly dramatic, I know. But the fact is, it has. Several times a week for the last month or so, I find myself watching an 80 year old home movie of a stranger's sightseeing stop in Nasielsk, Poland. There is no audio. Some of it is very grainy, or damaged. It's only minutes long. Old women laugh. Young men stand around talking. Kids with missing front teeth smile and mug for the camera (this will always bother me the most)
The author discovered in a closet, old reels documenting his grandfather's own journey to Europe in 1938. Of these reels, three minutes documented his time spent visiting his childhood home town of Nasielsk, Poland. That the journey took place just before the town was taken over by Nazi's, and ultimately most of the Jewish residents killed, makes this documentation particularly relevant. The author began a search for the few survivors, most in their late eighties and nineties. Not only were thes ...more
Dec 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Glenn Kurtz discovers a family film taken in 1938, as his grandparents documented their holiday to Europe with friends. Within that movie, is three minutes of film taken in one of their home towns showing local people and businesses. Little did they know that most of the populations seen on the movie would be killed shortly in the next few years.

So Glenn sends the film to the Holocaust museum and is contacted by several people from that village, some of whom appear on the film as youngsters sev
Apr 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an amazing story! I must admit that I found the writing to be a bit tedious but I think that's because the author was very dedicated in documenting everything that he was told by the people whose stories he was listening to. The girl recognizing her grandfather's photograph when he was 13 years old was unforgettable. I also enjoyed watching the author discuss this book on YouTube. ...more
Melody Schwarting
If you read just one book about the Holocaust, let it be this one. Three Minutes in Poland details Glenn Kurtz’s discovery of a film his grandparents took on their 1938 trip to Europe. Three minutes of film capture the daily life of the Jewish community in Nasielsk, Poland. The film had been stored in a metal tin in a cardboard box in Florida, and he rescued it just months before the film decayed entirely. He journeys across America, to Canada, England, Poland, and Israel, discovering fragments ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From my own interest in discovering what I could about a couple uncles and an aunt and the circumstances of their lives, I had lots of interest in Kurtz's own efforts to unravel the people, places and relationships in a small town that his grandfather filmed during a visit from America in August 1938. Nasielsk was predominately Jewish and a year later those people were being murdered. Improbable as it is that Glenn found this film in a closet at his parents' when it was nearly disintegrated, eve ...more
Dec 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author finds three minutes of film, documenting his grandparent's visit to a small village in Poland in the late 1930s. Within a few years, nearly everyone was murdered by the Nazi Germans. If handled ineptly, this book could have been boring or depressing, but the execution is marvelous. The stories of the survivors themselves are engaging, but the book also raises bigger questions. How is your own existence documented? What are the limitations of some of our current forms of documenting a ...more
Jim McCarthy
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now, more than ever, we need to understand the history of the Nazi genocide. With this knowledge, we can do a better job of battling authoritarian, racist and anti-Semitic forces in our societies. "The Minutes in Poland" is set in the past, but is highly relevant for today.
Exhaustively researched and beautifully written, Glenn Kurtz has done us all a favor by writing this great book.
Jan 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
if judging by the fact that I cried six times, this book blew my mind. I loved every moment of the book, even while crying.
Judy Decaigny
Mar 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredible. Remarkable. Difficult read, but in the end, well worth reading.
Dec 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Glenn Kurtz is rummaging around in his parents' closets when he discovers an old family video shot by his long-deceased grandfather in Poland in 1938. The entire video lasts roughly 14 minutes, but it is the three minutes that capture life in a Jewish community destroyed in World War II that capture his attention. Through painstaking detective work, that leads him to a number of immigrants as well as Holocaust survivors, he learns more about the film, the town, and the people in it.

Admittedly, i
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would rate it 5 stars, but I thought some of it was long-winded and not the most linear (made it confusing at times). But, wow! Guy finds 3 minute video of his grandparents visit to Poland from the 1930s and it ends up as part of the museum display at Auschwitz. This brief glimpse of a small Jewish community of about 3,000 is cemented in time. They had no knowledge how important it would be and that almost all these people and their footprints would be erased in several years. Most of us might ...more
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An American tourist, in 1938, while visiting the small Polish town, Nasielsk, 35 miles northwest of Warsaw, shot three-minutes of 16 mm Kodachrome movie film. Those few moments show details of this small-town about a year before the Nazi blitzkrieg. The author's grandfather was the filmmaker. As it is, movies of pre-war Poland are rare, especially of this particular town. Seventy years after its making, the film made using a base of cellulose diacetate plastic had deteriorated and required exten ...more
Jun 24, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
This is an interesting story- the author discovered old film footage that his grandparents took while on vacation in Europe shortly before the start of WWII, and some of it captured life in a Polish town where the vast majority of the Jews were killed in the Holocaust, leading him to connect with the town's survivors to identify the people in the film. But the book is a lot longer than it needs to be, and there are a lot of boring details about film restoration that I had to skim. ...more
May 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read most of this book on trip to Poland where I learned even more about the country's tragic history especially for Polish Jews. The book succeeds in painting a picture of a community of people in a small village near Warsaw - those who escaped. suffered and perished.
Part of the book near the beginning when it covered film technical topics stalled a bit. I am glad I persisted. Truly a worthwhile read.
Thomas S
Nov 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Patient, persistent mental work unravels a series of reveals and insights that compare with Dickens for plot twists -- and it's not fiction. Kurtz unassumingly takes on a dutiful burden of effort, and produces a surprising -- to him, as well -- amount of new understandings. His methods remind me a good deal of some of Errol Morris's work -- especially in trusting the details as they become visible. ...more
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have had the privilege of being in Nasielsk, Poland with Glenn and other descendants of the town. Although there is no Jewish presence in Nasielsk today, Glenn's book made this small town come alive for me. I'm very versed in Polish Jewish history but the testimonies and remembrances in this book made me understand aspects of the Holocaust in new and impactful ways.

Well done, friend!
Nov 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I don't really have the words to do this book justice. It opened my eyes to a world that I was unfamiliar with and made me think deeply about the people of that world. I am so sad when I think of what hatred, blind, ignorant, self aggrandizing hatred did to decimate those people and to damage their few descendants. ...more
Edward Newman
Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This superb book is not only a recounting of the amazing detective work by the author to identify the Polish town and people caught in three minutes of home movie footage shot by his grandfather in 1938--but a moving reconstruction of an entire world, lost 75 years before.
Jul 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’m really a 4.5 — fascinating true story of finding people and history from a town all but wiped out in Poland during WWII. I’d give ‘The Lost’ a stronger nod, but it may be because I read that one first. I’m still teary eyed from Kurtz’s story.
May 23, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I started out liking this book, it's interesting and well-written, but it got bogged down in too many details and became tedious. ...more
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14 likes · 5 comments
“Of the approximately 2,900 Jewish Nasielskers who remained in Poland, fewer than ten survived the war.” 1 likes
“Both magnetic and optical storage formats—videotape, digital discs, and drives—decay much faster than commercial film stock. Despite living in the cloud, there is no heaven for digital data. And in fifty years, even if our CDs, DVDs, flash drives, and YouTube accounts retain their contents, which is unlikely, there will be no devices or software with which to read them. Skip even one generation of technological change and the precious photos, videos, or letters on the floppy disks in the closet become inaccessible or illegible.” 0 likes
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