A variety of Jewish institutions around the world are investigating an alleged Holocaust survivor whose life story was made into a bestselling book and documentary titled “The Mascot”.
The Claims Conference has passed the case of Australian pensioner Uldis (Alex) Kurzem to its ombudsman, Shmuel Hollander. Mr Kurzem is believed to have received more than $50,000 since 1999 from the international restitution body, which pays reparations to Jewish victims of Nazism.
In a letter to the Claims Conference, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem alleged: “Everything in this case appears to point to a scam, but only a comprehensive investigation can finally determine whether Kurzem is indeed a Holocaust survivor.”
Executive director of the Wiesenthal Center Efraim Zuroff said: “Kurzem’s refusal to take a DNA test or reveal whether he is circumcised strengthens the doubts about his narrative. I believe that there is a strong possibility that he is not Jewish.”
Dr Zuroff flagged up Mr Kurzem’s claim to have survived alone for months in the Latvian woods as cause for suspicion, asking: “How can a five year old kid survive the worst winter in Eastern Europe in decades?”
“The most important issue, from the point of view of the Claims Conference, is that there’s a high likelihood that they may have been duped. Money that is supposed to be going to Jewish survivors is going to a charlatan.”
But, as Dan Goldberg reported in Ha’aretz, Mr Kurzem said that he is “a million per cent” sure that he is Jewish, adding: “I wish I wasn’t when I was a little boy. It was a curse. Now it’s big evidence.”
He claimed that after his mother, brother and sister were killed in the village of Koidanov in 1941, he hid in the forest where a Latvian Nazi found him, adopted him and made him a child mascot.
Now approaching his 80th year, Melbourne-based Mr Kurzem said that he managed to hide his Jewish identity from the SS guard who gave him a Nazi uniform and a new name.
Mr Kurzem’s son Mark, now dead, published a book entitled “The Mascot” in 2007 about his father’s alleged experiences. Then six years old, Mr Kurzam was described in a Nazi propaganda film as the “Reich’s youngest Nazi”.
Californian scholars Dr Barry Resnick and Dr Colleen Fitzpatrick last year presented the Claims Conference with a dossier of evidence pointing to inconsistencies in Mr Kurzem’s testimony.
The academics do not dispute that Mr Kurzem was a Nazi mascot. Rather, they say that he has not proved that he is Jewish, nor that he witnessed the massacre of his family.
Dr Resnick told Ha’aretz: “After watching the broadcast and reading the book, I had serious doubts – nothing specific, but I just thought the story was far-fetched.”