I’m a fan of Storyville. There have been lots of documentaries on recently to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January. The date is chosen to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. There are two stories here which wind around three minutes of film, but which takes over sixty minutes to tell.
The first story is quite simple. How a piece of film celluloid was saved by Glen Kurtz (he’s listed as a writer) before it degraded and the images on it were lost. Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum were able use the latest technology to recreate frame by frame footage taken by David Kurtz of the Jewish community of Nasielsk, Poland in 1938.
A river separated Nasielsk from Soviet Russia, when Hitler and Stalin made a pact which divided up the Polish territory. 7000 residents,3000 of which were Jewish. Around 100 Jews survived the war when the Nazi came. The people on the film are dead. Identifying them and telling their stories is an act of homage and remembrance.
It also make nonsensical Poland’s nationalist government’s attempts to criminalise those that tell a story of Polish people helping the Nazis to murder, rape, torture and steal from Jewish victims of genocide. Here it was shown to the lie it is. Those in the film had ten minutes to assemble in the cobbled town square. Stripped naked and robbed. Whipped while they were marched to the synagogue where they were locked inside without water or food. Then they were put into cattle trucks and sent to their death. This was all done without Nazi help. The Holocaust was a team effort. The Poles player their part. Rewriting history is what winner do. Three minutes of footage stands as testament to different kinds of lies in different eras.
One Jewish resident of Nasielsk recounted how he’d saved his girlfriend from the Synagogue by borrowing the hat of a sympathetic German officer. Turning up and telling the guards on the door (fellow citizens) that he was here to arrest his girlfriend. She too didn’t recognise him until they were unsafely away. Both made it across the river to the Soviet side and survived the war. Around six million Jews didn’t. Their stories remain untold.