“You can show what’s lost by showing how rich some tiny little fragment was.”
With Bianca Stigter’s documentary, Three Minutes: A Lengthening, on the festival circuit, author and inadvertent historian Glenn Kurtz joins the show to for a conversation about his 2014 book, Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film (FSG). We talk about the vibrant prewar Jewish life in Nasielsk captured by his grandfather’s camera, the process of restoring the home movie, his Grail-like quest to find the few surviving Jews from the town to record their stories and find out what was really in that brief movie. We get into how long it took him to recover from writing Three Minutes in Poland, what it was like returning to it for the documentary, how the book changed his approach to memory, and the fearsome responsibility and wonderful gift of restoring to the survivors a few moments of their childhoods. We also discuss what interviewing Holocaust survivors taught him, how he learned to accept that there are so many stories he’ll never know, how it felt to visit Poland as part of his research, and some non-Holocaust topics, like how music led to Glenn’s literary career, what he learned from his interview series with writers about their writing practice, and more. Give it a listen! And go read Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film!
“The urgency to understand ‘What are we looking at?’ in this pre-Holocaust view of Jewish Poland is what motivated me. What am I seeing? It’s a silly question, but if you ask it often enough, it’s unanswerable in the end. The film just keeps opening and opening to you as you ask that question.”
“So much can be excavated if you just pause and focus on something.”
“It demanded an openness and strength to listen to the stories that people had to tell me, and to bear witness to their inconceivable pain.”
About our Guest
Glenn Kurtz is the author of Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music, and Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film. He was the host of Conversations on Practice, a series of public conversations about writing held at McNally Jackson Books in New York City.
There’s a more extensive bio on his site.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Glenn by someone else. It’s on my instagram.