Patterico's Pontifications

9/23/2007

The Littlest Nazi

Filed under: International — DRJ @ 5:54 pm



[Guest post by DRJ]

Here’s an amazing Nazi story that I had never heard before:

As a five-year-old, Alex Kurzem watched Nazi soldiers slaughter members of his Jewish family in 1941, little realising 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 favour 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.”
***
“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.”

What a testament to human survival.

Update: This BBC version has more details and pictures.

— DRJ

18 Responses to “The Littlest Nazi”

  1. Every time I think of the number of nazis that escaped justice it makes me sick.

    dave (381bcc)

  2. Every time I see some Bu$Hitler comparision, it makes me want to puke. It takes a complete lack of perspective and ignorance of history to even make that comparison. Stories like this, unfortunately, do not deter the mental midgets from proceeding down this path.

    JD (c3bb88)

  3. I doubt that these “Nazis” escaped justice. They were Belarussians and Stalin dealt with them, eventually. Actually, better to say that Mongols, Tartars and Turks from Russia’s Eastern provinces dealt with them. Barbarian versus barbarian. We should have given all of Germany, Austria and parts of France to them.

    nk (7c7414)

  4. I’m sorry, “Latvians” not “Belarussians”.

    nk (7c7414)

  5. DRJ:

    Have you ever seen Europa Europa ?

    Itsme (6c8eb9)

  6. Itsme,

    I knew this story sounded familiar and I think Europa Europa must be why.

    DRJ (ec59b5)

  7. It was really a heartbreaking movie, as I recall.

    Itsme (6c8eb9)

  8. The amusement when the Jewish boy saluted seems to come from Schinlder’s list.

    j curtis (ecc9cc)

  9. The reason for Kulis’ action still mystifies Kurzem. “Perhaps he had seen so much killing and took pity on a small child?

    They used the boy to lure Jews to their deaths and women to their camp to be raped while he watched. Some pity!

    dave (381bcc)

  10. Dave,

    I agree with you that the wickedness of man knows few bounds, but it is still possible that Kulis saved the child for honorable reasons, even if to assauge his own guilt. But as only one soldier he did not have influence to safely intervene where the boy was used in such ways.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  11. But as only one soldier he did not have influence to safely intervene where the boy was used in such ways.

    How do you know that? You don’t.

    dave (381bcc)

  12. I guess I’m probably just morally inferior to most people, since just about everybody I’ve ever heard discuss the matter assured me that they’d stand up to those mean nazis, and me, I’m not so sure I’d have had the stones to do so. I suspect that a lot of Nazis were really morally culpable for a whole lot of things, but that a much larger number of Nazis and Germans generally were morally culpable to the extent that not getting themselves martyred makes one morally culpable.

    Al Maviva (74248f)

  13. Al Maviva, I’m sorry to say that a large number of Germans were willing participants in the Nazi schemes, as were large numbers of Latvians, Croats, Austrians, etc. Fortunately, there were also Germans and many others who did stand up to the Nazis.

    kishnevi (1a726d)

  14. But, will you stand up to the IslamoFascists?

    Another Drew (758608)

  15. Dave,

    You’re right, I don’t know for sure. My phrase “it is still possible” was meant to categorize my entire comment, not just the first sentence.

    I had already agreed with you that the wickedness of man knows few (and I’ll add if any) bounds. That does not mean that every act is evil until proven otherwise. The child did not seem to recall the individual that saved him as one who was specifically reponsible for “using” him. I’m not saying I know you are wrong, I am just saying that even monsters can occasionally show a flicker of kindness.

    Pharaoh’s daughter saved Moses out of pity, even though there is no record she ever did anything else on behalf of the Hebrew people in exile.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  16. MD in Philly #15:

    Pharaoh’s daughter saved Moses out of pity, even though there is no record she ever did anything else on behalf of the Hebrew people in exile.

    Good example.

    Itsme (db44bf)

  17. This ABC Blotter story about Iraqi child insurgents reminded me of this post:

    “A new propaganda video from the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) features small children with AK-47 assault rifles. The narrator of the video refers to these young boys as the “new generation” of mujahedeen.”

    DRJ (ec59b5)

  18. Thank you, Itsme.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)


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