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  1. Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Posts
    4,488
    #1
    'Nazi mascot' ends almost 60 years of silence



    Agence France-Presse
    Last updated 09:50am (Mla time) 09/23/2007


    MELBOURNE--As a five-year-old, Alex Kurzem watched Nazi soldiers slaughter members of his Jewish family in 1941, little realizing that he would spend the rest of World War II acting as a child mascot for the Latvian SS.
    Forced to hide his Jewish background from the terrifying stormtroopers who became his protectors, Kurzem told no one of his wartime experiences for more than 50 years before finally unburdening himself to his son.
    After revealing the secrets he said were eating away at him "like vipers in my bones," Kurzem's tale has been published in Australia, the country where he sought refuge from the turmoil of post-war Europe.
    His book "The Mascot" details a story so remarkable that Holocaust authorities initially dismissed it as nonsense, until research by Kurzem's son Mark unearthed documents, photographs and film footage to back its accuracy.
    Part of the evidence is a confronting image from a newsreel that shows Kurzem as an impish six-year-old in a miniature SS uniform, complete with jackboots and tiny toy machine gun, posing with grinning Nazi soldiers.
    It contrasts with a photograph showing Kurzem in late 1944, at a party for what he calls the "pretend birthday" given to him by the Nazis, where he appears blank and exhausted by the horrors witnessed in the intervening years.
    "I just switched off the whole time I was with them, I couldn't think about what I saw because I would have gone mad," Kurzem told AFP in his adopted hometown of Melbourne.
    "Every moment I was terrified they would find out I was a Jew and that would have been the end of me. I was totally alone and I could never relax."
    Kurzem, who believes he is 72 but is unsure because precise records of his birth have never been found, was born in the village of Koidanov in Belarus, where he lived until the Nazis came on October 20, 1941.
    He fled to a nearby forest, watching from a treetop as the soldiers shot his mother then bayoneted his sister and brother.
    The boy lived wild in the forest for months, clothing himself in oversized garments taken from dead bodies and climbing trees to avoid packs of wolves on the hunt.
    Eventually, a woodsman caught him and turned him over to a Latvian police patrol in a bid to curry favor with the Nazis who were eliminating Jews in the area as part of Hitler's Final Solution.
    But a sergeant with the patrol, Jekabs Kulis, separated Kurzem from a group of Jews bound for the extermination camps and told him never to reveal his background.
    The reason for Kulis' action still mystifies Kurzem.
    "Perhaps he had seen so much killing and took pity on a small child? Maybe it was because I looked Aryan, not Jewish?" he said in a voice still bearing a heavy European accent.
    "I've often thought that it is simply because I looked Aryan that I survived."
    Kulis' patrol adopted Kurzem as a mascot, providing him first with a police uniform, then with an SS outfit when the unit was seconded into Hitler's feared paramilitary force later in the war.
    "I was an amusement for them, they liked to laugh when I saluted in my little uniform," he said. "I helped relieve the tension of being on the frontline."
    A plaything for the Nazis -- and a witness to atrocity
    As the soldiers' plaything, Kurzem witnessed the atrocities committed by Nazi troops on the Russian front, including seeing Jews herded into a synagogue then burned alive.
    The soldiers also made him hand out chocolates to help calm crowds of anxious Jews gathered at a Latvian railway station. The trains were destined for Hitler's extermination camps.
    On one occasion, the soldiers gave the child flowers and sent him into a village to lure women to their camp, then brutally raped them as he hid in a corner.
    Eventually, a high-ranking officer spotted the mascot's propaganda potential for the fascist regime and he was featured in newsreels and newspaper stories as a miniature model Nazi.
    The Nazis said he was a Russian orphan rescued by the stormtroopers and Kurzem said, despite his tender years, he was fully aware of the dangers he faced because of his Jewish heritage.
    "I was a Jew, I knew these were not my people.
    "But I couldn't do anything to stop them. What could I do? I was just a little boy trying to survive. I just lived from moment to moment."
    He was adopted by a Latvian family and became a refugee when the war finished, eventually ending up on the other side of the world as part of Australia's substantial post-war migrant intake.
    Determined to forge a new life, Kurzem buried memories of his war-time experiences and married an Australian woman, raising three sons and settling down to life as an electrician in suburban Melbourne.
    But his past continued to haunt him and Kurzem said he often struggled to cope.
    "I had to get on with life and look to the future. I wouldn't let what happened destroy me," he said. "I saw too many men become alcoholics after the war because of what they'd seen and I said I would not do that."
    Finally, in the late 1990s, he could no longer bear the secrets alone and haltingly confided in his son Mark, who began to research his father's past.
    Many of Kurzem's recollections about the location and timing of the events he saw as a child were hazy, he could not even remember his birth name, leading to skepticism about his story.
    The breakthrough came when Kurzem's son found a newsreel in the Latvian state archives showing his father being feted by the Nazis in his uniform.
    The mascot felt vindicated but there was another twist to his story.
    It turned out his birth name was Ilya Galperin and his father, who was not in the family village when the massacre occurred, survived the Nazi death camps and remarried, leaving a son named Erich. Kurzem has since met his half-brother.
    "In some ways that was the strangest thing of all for me," said Kurzem, who remains spritely and alert despite his age.
    "I'd spent so much time thinking I had no family except for the one I raised in Australia, I thought they'd all been killed by the Nazis but I'd had a half-brother all this time in Europe."
    Kurzem said telling his story laid the ghosts of his past to rest, allowing him to finally place a rose on the grave of his mother, who urged him to flee when the Nazis approached their village more than half a century earlier.


    Pwedeng gawing pelikula buhay nya!

  2. Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    10,603
    #2
    uhm... okay.

Nazi Mascot