|Born||1935 or 1936|
|Known for||Holocaust memoir The Mascot|
Alex (Uldis) Kurzem (born 1935 or 1936) is an Australian pensioner originally from Eastern Europe, living in Melbourne; a centre-point of a long-standing controversy regarding his Holocaust memoir which has led to a financial windfall in the early 21st century. He was the subject of a TV documentary and a best-selling book by his own son, translated into 13 languages; both entitled The Mascot.
According to the story (described as spellbinding by The New York Times), Alex Kurzem is the former boy mascot (hence the book title) of a Latvian police Schutzmannschaft Battalion 18, who witnessed the massacre of his Jewish mother as a five-year-old boy and subsequently emigrated to Australia. Kurzem maintained that he is a Holocaust survivor from Belarus. However the authenticity of his account has been challenged in 2009 by Dr Barry Resnick among others. When put under further scrutiny by the Jewish-American scholars, and asked to prove his survivor's tale by taking a DNA test, Kurzem refused. He also dismissed out of hand the archival records of the Hoover Institution at Stanford as allegedly falsified; but eventually admitted: "I might be anybody, but I have got no proof who I am."
Kurzem claimed that his parents were Solomon Galperin and Chana Gildenberg, who were Jewish. On October 21, 1941, Gildenberg and her son and daughter were murdered along with approximately 1,600 other Russian Jews in Koidanov (now Dzyarzhynsk, Belarus). Solomon Galperin escaped extermination and joined a group of Soviet partisans. He was later caught and sent to Auschwitz, returning to Dzyarzhynsk after the war. He remarried, and died in 1975 without ever knowing that Kurzem had survived.
Kurzem says that he escaped, and that after months of living in the forests and begging for food, he was rescued (he does not give a precise date). He was saved from probable death by Jekabs Kulis, a sergeant of a Latvian police battalion, who adopted him as the battalion's mascot, and who secretly warned him never to reveal his Jewish identity. Latvian and German soldiers knew him as a Russian orphan who had lost his parents in the forest. Throughout his childhood, Kurzem appeared in Nazi propaganda media as an Aryan mascot, including at least one newsreel. Kurzem says that on one occasion his commanding officer, Karlis Lobe, ordered him to hand out chocolates to other Jews to calm them as they boarded trucks that took them to be exterminated. In 1944, with the Nazis facing almost certain defeat, the commander of the Latvian SS unit sent Kurzem to live with a Latvian family.
Kurzem immigrated to Australia from a displaced persons camp in Hamburg, Germany, in 1949. He worked in a circus and eventually became a television repair man in Melbourne. He had three sons with his wife Patricia (died 2003). All the time, he kept his past life to himself, not even telling his wife or children. It was not until 1997 that he finally told his family, and along with his son, Mark, set about discovering more about his past.
In 2002, Kurzem's son Mark (died 2010) wrote and produced a documentary (with Lina Caneva) entitled The Mascot, which tells his father's story of his childhood among the Latvian SS. Mark subsequently wrote a book, The Mascot, Unravelling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood, which tells the same story. It was reported his story has inspired a full-length Hollywood feature film. Kurzem has received reparations from the Jewish Claims Conference as a victim of Nazi persecution.
On May 19, 2011, Melbourne reporter Keith Moor published an article that questions the veracity of Kurzem's story and reports of simultaneous investigations by the German and U.S. governments as well as the Jewish Claims Conference into Mr. Kurzem's claims of actually being Jewish and a victim of Nazi persecution. On September 21, 2012, Dan Goldman, a reporter for Israel's daily newspaper Haaretz, published an article about the investigation into Kurzem's story. Kurzem was quoted in the article that he "never said" he was Ilya Galperin. Despite previously asking for $100,000 to take a DNA test as reported by Keith Moor in 2011, Goldberg reports that Kurzem will take the test.
Suspicions about the accuracy and authenticity of Mr. Kurzem's story were first raised in the late 1990s at the Melbourne Holocaust Centre. The Testimonies Director at the Centre, Mr Phillip Maisel, who recorded Kurzem’s story formed the impression that his interviewee was not being entirely truthful: "There was something strange about his story, something didn't add up." Researcher Colleen Fitzpatrick, concerned with preserving an accurate history of the Jewish Holocaust, has written: "Mr. Kurzem not only has and will continue to experience substantial financial gain and recognition from his books and his movie, he also lectures internationally to school children, thereby feeding the next generation with what may be distortions of the truth."
In 2013, Alex Kurzem has been cleared to continue receiving compensation from the German Government. The Jewish Claims Conference ordered the investigation. The report of the ombudsman was "satisfied Mr Kurzem was Jewish; was separated from his parents during the war; lived under a false identity for at least 18 months, and; that his life had been in danger".
- Misha Defonseca (Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, 1997)
- Martin Grey (Au nom de tous les miens)
- Herman Rosenblat (Angel at the Fence)
- Rosemarie Pence (Hannah: From Dachau to the Olympics and Beyond, 2005)
- Enric Marco (Memorias del infierno, 1978)
- Donald J. Watt (Stoker, 1995)
- Denis Avey (The Man who Broke into Auschwitz, 2011)
- Binjamin Wilkomirski (Fragments, 1995)
- Solomon Perel
- Dan Goldberg, "Holocaust Survivor in Australia Faces Questions of Authenticity". Haaretz.com.
- Dan Goldberg (2012-09-27). "Australian man's Holocaust story labelled a 'lie'". THE JEWISH CHRONICLE ONLINE. Retrieved 2013-02-14.
- Christopher Martin, Michigan War Studies Review - book reviews, literature surveys, essays, and commentary.
- Herald Sun, "Holocaust survivor's tale under scrutiny." Australia.
- "Nothing to Hide Holocaust Survivor" | Herald Sun. Victoria.
- Mark Kurzem obituary | From the Guardian | The Guardian
- Mark Kurzem (2002). The Mascot, Unravelling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood. ISBN 9780670018260.
- "Alex Kurzem - making peace with Ilya Galperin".
- ""The Mascot" – Truth or Fiction?". J-Wire. 2012-09-16. Archived from the original on 2012-11-03. Retrieved 2013-02-14.
- "Compensation claim upheld as Holocaust story believed" | Herald Sun. Victoria.
- Mark Kurzem & Lina Caneva, The Mascot (Australian documentary for ABC television, 2002)
- Mark Kurzem, The Mascot (2007)