Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador Blog

Creative Interpretations of 'Ordinary People'

With the theme of ‘Ordinary People’ for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, we focused on photos and videos of pre-war Jewish life and explored the themes that these present through the documentary film, 3 Minutes a lengthening.

Pre-War Jewish life photos

Many of us have seen photos of pre-war Jewish life whilst taking part in the Trust’s projects, here we wanted to think about the people in those photos as the ordinary people they are. You can access these photos here.

The photos look at diverse ideas of Jewish identity – those that had a religious identity e.g. those in Kraków in photograph 2 as well as those who had a secular identify e.g. the members of the socialist Bund political part in Białystok, Poland (photograph 11). Photograph 4 also shows the relationship between Jewish identity and country, the group are together to open a memorial for Jewish soldiers who died fighting for Hungary in the first world war.

Another aspect we can relate to come from the collection of family photographs. These were ordinary people in ordinary families all undertaking ordinary activities. For examples, photo 6 is a couple called Ota and Katerina Margolius from Prague in Czechoslovakia seemingly on a date at a café and photo 15 shows Jacob Mordo and his children in Corfu, Greece taking a family photo. In this photo we can particularly see Jacob’s expression – seemingly tired as he tries to get a nice group photo and the expressions of his children, who look like they didn’t want to sit still. These are photographs we can relate to and have themes that parallel our daily lives.

A last aspect we wanted to focus on was that of young people, like us. They are pictured having fun and enjoying their ordinary lives – much like we do today. For example, photo 3 shows a group at school in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and photo 12 shows a group belonging to a youth movement in Zagreb in Yugoslavia creating a Star of David with their arms and having fun. Photo 13 shows Berta Rosenhein, holding a Schultüte (school cone) which German children receive on their first day of school. She looks happy and excited, and it is yet another reminder that these children and young people were just ‘ordinary people’. When we think about our daily lives, and the time we spend at school or university, the time we spend with our friends and family, the times when we wish we had more independence, or enjoy time without responsibility: this was the same for Jewish young people before it was all taken away in the Holocaust.

Pre-war Jewish life film - Three Minutes: a lengthening

The film is a collection of footage captured by David Kurtz in 1938 (though not discovered until 2009) and was shot in his home town, Nasielsk (Poland). Nasielsk had an estimated Jewish population of 3,000 - of which fewer than 100 survived the Holocaust. Thanks to this film, the town and the people in it can continue to be seen to exist in moving pictures, and now in colour.

When he discovered the film, Glen Kurtz (David’s grandson) began searching for survivors but it took 2 years before he got anywhere. He then got an email from a woman who recognised her grandfather in the film. Her grandfather subsequently recognised a couple of the other children in the film, one of whom he remembered well, the others he just knew their face.

Together, survivors Maurice Chandler and Lesley Guadek identified 11 people from the film. The names of these 11 people are read out while the original film plays again. This really gives the audience time to reflect and it feels like a personal memorial to the individuals and townspeople as the ordinary people they were, rather than just statistics.

“In this way, we might succeed in keeping the memory of the dead alive and remembering them despite the fact that they are dead”.

By Amelia Trencher, Jasper Hawkes and Niall Windass