Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Mascot

My wife recently gave me a copy of The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood, by Mark Kurzem. The book, which came out in 2007, is the story of Alex Kurzem, a man who, at the age of 5, watched his family being murdered by a death squad in Koidanov (now Dziarzynsk, Belarus) during World War II, then escaped to the woods where he was "adopted" by Latvian SS soldiers. The soldiers treated him as a "mascot", made him a child-sized SS uniform, and featured him in propaganda videos -- all without apparently realizing that he was Jewish. Alex kept his past hidden from his family for 50 years until he revealed it to his son, the author of the book (who tragically passed away quite recently). Eventually Alex tracks down what was probably his family and learns his true name.

Since some other recent Holocaust memoirs, such as Binjamin Wilkomirski's Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood, Herman Rosenblat's Angel at the Fence, and Misha Defonseca's Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, have proven to be false in part or in full, it is not surprising that Kurzem's amazing story would be greeted with some skepticism. And indeed, I was initially skeptical. After all, part of the story is based on a 70-year-old man's recollection of events when he was 5 years old. But the documentation provided, including photographs, convinces me that the main lines of the story are genuine, although some minor details may be incorrect.

The book depicts Latvian fascists in a rather unflattering light, so it is not surprising that some far right and Latvian groups want to cast doubt on Kurzem's story. For example, 60 Minutes did a segment on Kurzem, and some of the comments are nasty and anti-Semitic:

Jerzy Ulicki-Rek, for example, says "As 56 years old sane man who studies "holo-history" and "holo-miracles" since over 20 years I do not believe in yours crazy story", while an anonymous commenter writes "Z.O.G. is at it again." (Z.O.G., in case you didn't know, is a neo-Nazi abbreviation for "Zionist Occupation Government", the supposed control of the government by Jews.)

Edith S. Kubicek on amazon writes "For the past year grave doubts have been raised concerning the veracity of this compelling tale. The doubts were first initiated by the Latvian community in Australia and a number of U.S. researchers now agree that this book may be a complete hoax." But she does not mention any of these "U.S. researchers" by name, and the book is so well-documented it seems difficult to doubt large parts of the story.

The book is well-written, almost like a mystery. I'd definitely recommend this surprising and unsettling book to anyone interested in World War II or Holocaust history.

27 comments:

Pierre said...

In today's post about "The Mascot, Jeffrey Shallit quotes Edith Kubicek's previous comment, but complains that she does not mention by name any of the U.S. researchers who have cast serious doubts on the veracity of this book.

OK, here is one: Colleen Fitzpatrick is a forensic genealogist who was the principal architect who debunked Misha Defonseca's phony memoir. She was also one of the small band of researchers who exposed Herman Rosenblat's memoir as a hoax. She has recently been working on "The Mascot" and has tons of material exposing the book's falsehoods. You can Google her and e-mail her, if you are interested.

And please do not confuse any of us with the anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers who reflexively attack anything dealing with that dark period of history. Our aim is precisely that this history not be polluted by spurious material and that the record is confined to nothing but the truth.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

You can Google her and e-mail her, if you are interested.

No need to be coy here: just give us the URL of what she's found, if it's available. Or maybe there isn't much?

Our aim is precisely that this history not be polluted by spurious material and that the record is confined to nothing but the truth.


And who exactly are you speaking for when you say "our"?

Pierre said...

You can e-mail: colleen@forensicgenealogy.info.
She has tons of material on "The Mascot," some of it available on the web. You can read it if you have an open mind, or forget about it if your mind is made up and closed. Nobody here is being "coy."

When I say "our aim," I am speaking for those of us who are duty-bound to protect the truth about the Holocaust. I became acquainted with Colleen when we were part of a small, dedicated band working on exposing the Rosenblat "Apples Over The Fence" hoax. I was in the thick of that one and was frequently savaged for my efforts to debunk this compelling, but fake tale of romance.

As an 80-year old survivor of six German concentration camps and a long-time student of the Holocaust, I have no need of proving my credibility. I am not involved in "The Mascot" controversy beyond my interest in the truth.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

She has tons of material on "The Mascot," some of it available on the web.

Then give me the URL. You are being coy. Just saying the material is "available on the web" doesn't help me find it.

Pierre said...

I am giving you an e-mail address of a highly respected researcher from whom you can find out whatever you wish to know. So, it requires just a tiny bit of effort on your part to get what are after.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Ah, I see. So your claim about "some of it available on the web" was a lie, then?

If there material debunking The Mascot, publish it online. What are you afraid of?

Veronica said...

Whether it's Alex Haley's Roots, or Rigoberta Menchu's An Indian Woman in Guatemala, or a Holocaust memoir, it's a shame (nay, worse) that anyone would falsify a story of such historical importance.

But this "Mascot" book looks like a good one. Thanks for the recommendation.

Pierre said...

OK, Jeffrey, so now I am a liar.

I am used to be called names by people who are not interested in the truth, but only in what they believe.

As I suspected, you have a closed mind. The discussion is closed, as far as I am concerned.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

so now I am a liar.

If you say so. I only asked a question.

You made a claim - about the material in question - "some of it available on the web".

I asked, where?

You did not provide a URL, despite repeated requests to do so.

What am I to conclude?

Veronica said...

Jeff: "So your claim about "some of it available on the web" was a lie, then?"

Pierre: "so now I am a liar."

Jeff: "I only asked a question."

Some question!!

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Veronica:

I hit the wrong key and accidently deleted the URL you provided. I thank you for providing it and apologize for my mistake. Why Pierre couldn't have provided it is a mystery.

But here it is:

http://www.forensicgenealogy.info/contest_236_results.html

All I can say is, this page does not remotely cast "serious doubts" on the veracity of the book. She offers no "glaring contradictions" as claimed; at best it is a list of minor discrepancies. What does she have?

1. Kurzem refuses to comply with her demands. Not that surprising - she has no right to make demands of him, and perhaps she phrased her request in an offensive way.

2. She writes, "After several hours thinking about it, I have concluded it would be impossible to list the numerous discrepancies between the documentary and the various versions of the
book." That doesn't sound like someone who has an actual argument to present.

3. "Cousin Luba" plays a large role in the documentary but not the book. And? What's the point? Books and films emphasize different things. Does the film version of The Longest Day contain exactly the same material as the book?

4. The book has "a very different description of the massacre." But the massacre occurred when Alex Kurzem was 5 years old - of course he is not going to remember the details with any accuracy.

5. A photo has been altered. But the original photo was old and damaged, and the supposed "alteration" is completely trivial; to me the two photos look essentially identical.

This is pretty thin evidence to claim, as Fitzpatrick does at the bottom that "N.B. This is Penguin's fourth non-fiction fraud in the last 18 months."
Fitzpatrick has not demonstrated to my satisfaction that the book is a "fraud".

Has she to yours?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I should add that for me, the essential aspects of the story are:

1. A young boy's family is murdered by death squads, but he escapes.

2. He is adopted by the Latvian SS.

3. He is paraded as a mascot, used in propaganda films.

4. He survives the war, and keeps the secret for many years.

5. He returns to his village as an old man, and, with the help of his son, tries to find his original house and members of his family.

To me, the exact relationship of Alex Kurzem to the people in his town is not essential to his story. And as far as I can see, no one is casting doubts on points 2 through 5. Point 1 may be contested, but Kurzem was a very small boy when the events occurrend, and his recounting could well be wrong in some details. How much can you remember about what happened when you were 5?

Anonymous said...

Because you talk about me let me say two words personally.
Yes,indeed , I'm 56 years old and more than 20 years I spend on searching and re-searching the holo-story.
I do not have ANY doubts that the official version is a lie with a capital "I".
No matter how many drums of verbal fekalia you will empty on my head the fact is a fact;there is NONE ,SINGLE shred of evidence supporting the mythical :electric chambers,vacuum chambers,STEM chambers, gas -diesel -engine chambers or gas-Cyclone B chambers.

99.9 % of so called witness are on the same level as :Regina Bialek,Abraham Bomba,Zofia Litwinska,Moshe PEER,Ada Bimko, and many others.
Sorry...I forgot dr Tadeusz CYPRIAN who -during the Nuremberg Trials presented irrefutable evidence in relation to STEAM CHAMBERS.

If you have something better-you are welcome:)

If you like the information instead pf propaganda -feel invited :


http://www.polskawalczaca.com/viewtopic.php?f=36&t=6722

Jerzy Ulicki-Rek

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Jerzy:

Anti-semitic holocaust-denying morons get exactly one chance on my blog. You've used yours up. Now get lost.

Pierre said...

Jeffrey, I am glad to be finally able to agree with you on one thing: Jerzy Ulicki-Rek is a moron who appears to have just crawled up from under a rock.

Incidentally, when you kept asking me for a URL rather than a website I had no idea what you were talking about. Some of us simple folk are not used to discourse and high-falutin' expressions favored by a Ph.D. like you.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Pierre:

The term "URL" is not a "high falutin' expression", but the standard term. But if you didn't understand what I meant, why didn't you just say so?

By the way, by now you have seen my discussion of Colleen Fitzpatrick's analysis of The Mascot. There may be legitimate questions about parts of The Mascot, but labeling it as a fraud is, I think, quite premature.

Pierre, I admire your work debunking previous Holocaust hoaxes, and I respect your difficult ordeal during World War II. But I fear that in the Mascot case, you may have been too hasty to dismiss it.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Jerzy:

Since you didn't seem to understand, here it is again:

Your Holocaust-denying shenanigans are not welcome here. I will not post anything you say.

Now get lost.

Anonymous said...

This Jerzy Ulicki-Rek has unfortunately also been spamming my website with his hate.
He claimed that diesel does not kill, when I quoted a report from a US environmental organisation showing how many accidental deaths per year occur in the US by diesel poisoning he claimed that this was just another Jewish fraud.
I think he is the perfect example of the holocaust denier liar. A psychiatrically sick hater, probably whose only purpose in life is hatred and blaming others for his own mistakes.

Back to the history, I find the story a little far fetched but remain with an open mind. One remembers the similar story of Mr Perel who ended up fighting in the Wehrmacht at Leningrad and was featured in the Polish film Europa Europa.

Alan Heath
www.youtube.com/alanheath

Anonymous said...

Dr Shallit, i am late to dinner, but as 2011 draws to a close, get ready for a major newspaper scoop that will blow this Mascot book and movie hoax fraud to Kingdon Come. re: ''Edith S. Kubicek on amazon writes "For the past year grave doubts have been raised concerning the veracity of this compelling tale. The doubts were first initiated by the Latvian community in Australia and a number of U.S. researchers now agree that this book may be a complete hoax." But she does not mention any of these "U.S. researchers" by name, and the book is so well-documented it seems difficult to doubt large parts of the story.

In a few short weeks, the truth shall be revaaled and Kurzem will run tale. Are you prepared for the truth or do youstill want to believe this FiCTION? come to think of it, what exactly is your own personal interest in wanting to believe this fiction?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous has left a new comment on the post "Did Alex Kurzem embellish his Holocaust novel cal...":


In my opinion, Alex Kurzem's behavior is despicable. I don't care that he's an old man, lost his parents in the war or suffered as a child. What I care about is he claims to be a Holocaust survivor, but will not prove his claim unless he is paid. Is this what a Holocaust survivor does? Kurzem to me is no worse than the scumbags who preach there was no Holocaust.

Alex Kurzem you have capitalized on the death and suffering of millions - shame on you for asking for money to prove you are a survivor.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

"get ready for a major newspaper scoop that will blow this Mascot book and movie hoax fraud to Kingdon Come"

We've heard that for 4 years now. More allegations of "fraud" without a shred of evidence.

If it's a fraud, let's see some evidence. If it is, I'll gladly admit I'm wrong. But remember - the word "hoax" means a conscious intent to deceive. You've got a big hurdle to jump there.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anonymous:

This kind of anonymous, over-the-top slander is why many people find the behavior of Kurzem-debunkers outrageous. Comparing him to a Holocaust denier is absurd and offensive. And your refusal to present evidence, and lack of courage in using your real name, speaks volumes.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

what exactly is your own personal interest in wanting to believe this fiction?

More innuendo and no evidence.

Anonymous said...

A quote from an Anonomous
Blog 3:50 AM, October 10, 2011

"In a few short weeks, the truth shall be revealed and Kurzem will run tale. Are you prepared for the truth or do youstill want to believe this FiCTION"

Been more than a few weeks ( almost eight months), just wondering when all will be revealed??? or has Colleen Fitzpatrick and her Associates come up with any real evidance or is everything still just allegations and nothing more.

These allegations have been going for almost 5 years now , WHERE IS THE REAL EVIDENCE???

Anonymous said...

A quote from Anonomous blog on

"3:50 AM, October 10,2011
In a few short weeks, the truth shall be revealed and Kurzem will run tale. Are you prepared for the truth or do you still want to believe this FiCTION?"

Well ,It's been more than a few weeks and still nothing. Has Colleen and her Associates made any headway and come up with any real evidence or is all their allegation still all based on assumptions and no real FACT.

It has been almost 5 years now since the allegations????

Timothy FIdler said...

I came here looking for details on this as the story in Haaretz is locked for us who don't pay.
My tuppence worth is
1. There is / was a lot of material for Kurzen to work with in the Europa Europa story which is as old as the hills and may or may not be true.
2. oz has a long history of various immigrant bludgers with tall stories. This may or may not be one of them but if hes bludging on Shoah survivor money IF he is then he needs to be horse whipped.
3. Oz authorities don't like stir up ethnic trouble (bad for votes and voting blocs and so on) - you would be amazed at the stuff that gets swept under the carpet here for that sort of reason.
4. That Hand the signed the Paper. Helen Demidenko or some such (assumed name) Classic Piltdown man case Look it up on google, should be there. Here ya go

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Darville

so you can all go off to the races on that one, as it were.

Jeff, once the truth comes out , I would love to hear it via email (you can find me easily - I just don't want spam emails..). I suspect it will be headline material in Oz in any case....

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Kurzem skeptics have been claiming that "the truth will come out" for years now. But still nothing.