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The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood Hardcover – November 1, 2007

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 18 and up
  • Grade Level: 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1ST edition (November 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670018260
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670018260
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #823,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Part mystery, part memory puzzle, it is written in the polished style of a good thriller, and it is spellbinding."
—Dinitia Smith, The New York Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Mark Kurzem studied at Melbourne, Tokyo, and Oxford universities. He served as international relations adviser to the mayor of Osaka in Japan. This is his first book. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

It is like reading a mystery novel, only this story is sadly true.
Rebecca Winter
As you read, you can visualize your being in his place, thinking, what would I had done in a situation like this.
Richard J. Duhe
This is the story of how Alex Kurzem turns to his son to help him unravel the mystery of his past.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By T. Kunikov VINE VOICE on January 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Many times I'm asked why I study history, specifically that of the Second World War. This book is what they should read if they want to understand my answer. Even today, over half a century later, the Second World War affects lives and more so helps make up national character for a multitude of countries throughout the world. This story first attracted me when I read an article about it online, a Jewish child used as a Mascot by those fighting on the side of Nazi Germany? Was I surprised? No, reading "Europa Europa" was more than enough to convince me that history is more powerful than any human imagination. Thus, while I wasn't surprised I was intrigued, how did the child survive?

This book, while starting out slowly (I kept yelling at it to pick up the pace and get to the point within the first hundred or so pages) picks up pretty quickly after that, 2-3 days reading is more than enough to tackle all of its 400 pages. The beginning of the book is mainly a rendition of memories, by bits and pieces, of a man who is trying to recall who he was in an almost past life. By the time one gets to the end, much of what seemed like it couldn't possibly mean anything takes on a whole new meaning. I would hate to ruin any of it for future readers so I'll only say a few words.

A boy escapes into the forest and witnesses the death of his mother, brother, and sister. He survives to be found by Latvian soldiers in the service of the Germans and is raised partly by them and partly by a rich Latvian and his family who owns a chocolate factory. It took him over half a century to finally tell his story to his family and with the help of a few people the mysteries that he could never understand, words he could never put into context, were all solved for him.
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39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Zinta Aistars on December 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A mesmerizing read, thorougly engaging, painfully revealing of the dark that lurks inside each and every one of us, and right beside that shadow, the light. I first heard about "The Mascot" on an NPR station, with both son and father being interviewed--and I knew this was a story I needed to read and ponder. After all, it touched upon some part of my own heritage as a Latvian born of immigrant parents, come to the United States during WWII as refugees fleeing the Soviet occupation in Latvia.

This is the story of Uldis Kurzemnieks, by birth Ilya Galperin, a Jewish boy caught in the turning wheels of the Nazi onslaught and Holocaust. To the best of his memory, Uldis/Ilya tells his story to his son, the book's author, Mark Kurzem, and his memory seems remarkable indeed for one so very young. In bits and puzzle pieces, the now elderly man recalls his childhood of close escape from Nazis executing Jews in Belarus, his mother and siblings of those who did not survive. After six months wandering in the woods, eating berries, wrapping himself in the coat of a dead soldier, the boy is rescued by a group of Latvian SS soldiers who subsequently transform him into something of a miniature soldier-mascot. They treat him well. But here is the flux of the circumstance: the very ones who save his life are also the same who execute more Jews, and not all of them realize that the boy is Jewish, too. This is the story of extreme paradox, in which we see that one man, one group of soldiers, can exhibit mercy just as they exhibit unspeakable cruelty. Perhaps all soldiers can say the same.

The horror of the Holocaust is incomprehensible and unforgivable. Many are accountable, by commission just as by ommission of deed.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 27, 2008
Format: Paperback
There are many stories to come out of World War II, both told and untold, this is surely one of the most remarkable. It is a tale of survival but not without cost.

As a five-year-old boy Alex Kurzem saw his mother and father as well as neighbors shot by the Nazis. For some inexplicable reason his life was spared and he ran to hide in a dense Russian forest. Amazingly he did not freeze to death during the unrelenting cold but existed by searching for food and taking the clothes of dead soldiers.

When he is found by a group of Latvian SS soldiers they never imagine he is Jewish but believe he is Russian and more or less adopt him, making him a little corporal in the SS with his own uniform. Young Alex fears for his life, of course, and does as he is told, even to repeatedly watching repetitions of the same fate that befell his parents and starring in a Nazi propaganda film.

What price survival? What he has done will haunt Alex for the rest of his days. He is so troubled by his past that he does not even tell his wife and only later reveals his entire story to his son, the author of this memoir, Mark Kurzem.

The Mascot is not only a reminder of one of history's darkest times but testimony to the dramatic effects it may have on those who are not killed but sorely injured in their hearts and souls.

- Gail Cooke
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alter Wiener on July 28, 2010
Format: Paperback
During World War Two, Sergeant Jekabs Kulis, a Latvian SS soldier had taken five-year old Alex Kurzem out of a firing line. Later on, Kulis received permission from his commander Karl Lobe to adopt Alex as the troop's mascot. Kulis new that Alex was Jewish, but Lobe did not. Alex wondered why Kulis risked his freedom to save him. "Perhaps I reminded him of another boy he knew. Perhaps he pitted me. After all, what decent person would let harm come to a child? He saw that I was a human being...This episode and Alex's other experiences during the War are being relayed to his oldest son Mark in the book THE MASCOT. I have not found an explanation why Kulis had decided to save Alex's life" It is very perplexing reading that the same Kulis, later on, took part in burning a synagogue with hundreds of innocent men women and children in it. "He'd done what other soldiers had done to my family. He was no different from them (p79)."

In the memoir "A Lucky Child" a Holocaust survivor describes his unbelievable tribulations and his survival tactics in concentration camps, as a pre-teen age boy. His survival was due to his own cunning and help from others. Courage and kindness exist in the most fearful and abominable surroundings. In the autobiography "From A name to a Number", a Holocaust survivor describes how a German woman brought sandwiches for him every day, for thirty days. The survivor has been wondering, till this very day, what motivated the German woman to risk her life thirty times. He writes "I was only a young Jewish boy, an untermentch (a subhuman) by Nazi criterion. She ignored the daily propagandized odium, quivering inside, while helping me. Why? Did she have a son at my age and felt sorry for me?
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