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Three Minutes in Poland

Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film

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Selected as one of the "Best Books of 2014" by
The New Yorker, The Boston Globe, and National Public Radio.

Honorable Mention Winner of the Kulczycki Book Prize.

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Traveling in Europe in August 1938, one year before the outbreak of World War II, David Kurtz, my grandfather, captured three minutes of ordinary life in a small, predominantly Jewish town in Poland on 16mm Kodachrome color film. More than seventy years later, through the brutal twists of history, these few minutes of home movie footage would become a memorial to an entire community—an entire culture—annihilated in the Holocaust.

Three Minutes in Poland traces my four-year journey to identify the people in my grandfather’s haunting images. My search took me across the United States, to Canada, England, Poland and Israel, to archives, film preservation laboratories, and an abandoned Luftwaffe airfield. Ultimately, I encountered seven living survivors from this lost town, including an eighty-six-year-old man who appears in the film as a thirteen-year-old boy.

Painstakingly assembled from interviews, photographs, documents, and artifacts, Three Minutes in Poland tells the rich, funny, harrowing, and surprisingly intertwined stories of these seven survivors and their Polish hometown. Originally a travel souvenir, David Kurtz’s home movie became the sole remaining record of a vibrant town on the brink of catastrophe. Pursuing the significance of this brief film became a riveting exploration of memory, loss, and improbable survival.

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View a brief video about one extraordinary discovery.

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Advance Praise for Three Minutes in Poland.

"Three Minutes in Poland begins as the story of an old family film rediscovered and veers into an important tale of Polish shtetls during World War II. It is intensely moving and brilliantly researched, and it reads like a thriller."

—Elie Wiesel

"Glenn Kurtz has meticulously pieced together a luminous, searing story of a place and its people. Three Minutes in Poland is not only a magnificent literary achievement, but a human one."

—Dani Shapiro

"A masterpiece. With scrupulous intelligence and deep compassion, Glenn Kurtz tells this stupendous, terrifying, and ultimately consoling story…. Three Minutes In Poland is destined to be a classic."

—Teju Cole

"Glenn Kurtz sets out to reknit the texture of a destroyed world, and ends by reknitting the living across generations.”

—Jay Cantor

"Glenn Kurtz’s beautifully written book is many things at once: a family memoir, a page-turning mystery, a penetrating look at one of the darkest chapters in human history. Above all, it's a powerful testament to the singular worth of every life.”

—Rebecca Goldstein

"Glenn Kurtz leads the reader on an inspiring journey through the forgotten past in this meticulous work of historical reconstruction. I was amazed by the patient, forensic skill with which he followed the trail of a handful of images into a vibrant array of voices and visual memories.”

—George Prochnik

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Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.