The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood
One man’s struggle with memory and prejudice on the way to recovering his past
Mark Kurzem was happily ensconced in his academic life at Oxford when his father, Alex, showed up on his doorstep with a terrible secret to tell. When a Nazi death squad raided his village at the outset of World War II, Jewish five-year-old Alex Kurzem escaped. After surviving the Russian winter by foraging for food and stealing clothes off dead soldiers, he was discovered by a Nazi-led Latvian police brigade that later became an SS unit. Not knowing he was Jewish, they made him their mascot, dressing the little “corporal” in uniform and toting him from massacre to massacre. Terrified, the resourceful Alex charmed the highest echelons of the Latvian Third Reich, eventually starring in a Nazi propaganda film. When the war ended he was sent to Australia with a family of Latvian refugees.
Fearful of being discovered—as either a Jew or a Nazi—Alex kept the secret of his childhood, even from his loving wife and children. But he grew increasingly tormented and became determined to uncover his Jewish roots and the story of his past. Shunned by a local Holocaust organization, he reached out to his son Mark for help in reclaiming his identity. A survival story, a grim fairy-tale, and a psychological drama, this remarkable memoir asks provocative questions about identity, complicity, and forgiveness.