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The Mascot: The Extraordinary Story of a Jewish Boy and an SS Extermination Squad [Hardcover]

Mark Kurzem
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 Jun 2007
Part thriller, part psychological drama, part puzzle with a strange twist, "The Mascot" is one of the most astonishing stories to emerge from the Second World War. It tells the remarkable true story of how Alex Kurzem unravelled the shocking secrets of his wartime past. With the support of Mark, his son, Alex began to recall how he evaded the German-led execution squad that decimated his village, but witnessed the murder of his Jewish mother and siblings. He scavenged amongst the trees and protected himself from wolves, before falling into the hands of a Latvian police battalion. The soldiers adopted him as their mascot and Alex accompanied the unit everywhere as it changed its identity and duties to those of an SS unit on the rampage. He even appeared in propaganda films and newspaper articles, riding into Riga in a military parade...yet he was Jewish. At the age of five, was Alex Kurzem a collaborator or just a lost little boy? Caught up in a world of war-crime hunters, former war criminals and security agents with unclear agendas, he has since been threatened by many who believe he has betrayed them.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Rider & Co; First edition edition (7 Jun 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846040361
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846040368
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 11 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 512,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"One of the most remarkable stories of the Second World War...and ultimately inspiring" (The Sun)

"A powerful book...revealing his father's remarkable and horrific story" (Sunday Telegraph)

"Compelling" (Jeremy Isaacs Jewish Chronicle) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

An astonishing and award-winning piece of World War 2 history, now in paperback. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The revelence of history 28 Feb 2008
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly amazing true story, very well told 24 Nov 2007
By Andy
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Amazing book! Gripped me from start to finish. On the one hand a fascinating and harrowing account of the atrocities that went on eastern Europe in the early 1940s. On another level, a highly intelligent psychological insight into a man who has lived a whole lifetime fighting the demons of his childhood, and the pain of the struggle to come to terms with these memories. This tells the story of one of the less obvious, yet most tragic victims of the war. Well worth a read. The personal expressions of emotion by the author enhance the power of the narrative.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Story!!! 25 Jun 2007
By John B
I have read many books about the WW2 period and found this book informative and captivating. The struggle of Alex seeing his family murdered and then being picked up by an SS extermination squad is a story of survival and human cruelty at its worst. As a young Jewish boy mixed up in the world of Nazism and ethnic cleansing this story is both shocking and impossible not to put down. Alex's memory is all that he has to go by and it shows just how much children remember in the most horrendous conditions.

An amazing read.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars WHAT PRICE SURVIVAL? 27 Aug 2008
By Gail Cooke TOP 500 REVIEWER
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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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars FASCINATING STORY ....but is it true ? 2 Aug 2011
I've been reading Holocaust memoirs for over thirty years giving me a good ear for authenticity , but this book doesn't quite have the ring of truth to it in certain parts ...specifically , the claim that a 6 year old boy wandered out in the forests for months without food and shelter in a russian winter ??? would take a grown man with survivalist training to survive in that harsh enviroment
Anyway , I'd like to give him the benifit of the doubt and think that it a traumatised young boys mind, months was really 5-10 days OK
His story about being a mascot for the SS is clearly true , backed up with photo evidence , but what's hard to believe that he was jewish.....I MEAN , AT THAT AGE ,HOW COULD HE POSSIBLY KEEP THE SECRET OF CIRCUMCISION FROM HIS ADOPTED FAMILY ETC. ?.....I know it happened with the teenager in EUROPA EUROPA , but he was at a later age when a boy has more privacy
I suspect that the ''mascot'' is not jewish , but desires to be so to gain sympathy and sooth a troubled concience ...but wishing it so , doesn't make it so , DOES IT ??
I read recently that he has refused to provide a DNA sample to the Holocaust Center in Melbourne ....I WONDER WHY ?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant book
i just could not put this book down it was so good i spent hours reading this from cover to cover
Published 4 months ago by steve pearce
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow!
wonderful story writtem extremely well. Would like to be entertained like this daily.
I read it in less than two days.
Published 10 months ago by park lane
1.0 out of 5 stars The deception chronicle
Noting the reviews above, readers should be warned that serious doubt has been raised about the credibility of this work, not enhanced by the subject's defensive and uncooperative... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Leon Trotsky
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing
Don't let the Sun's positive review put you off. This is a completely astonishing story, brilliantly told - very harrowing in places, but inspirational in other ways. Read more
Published on 13 Jun 2012 by DCollins77
4.0 out of 5 stars The Mascot
This is a most interesting story not only for the narrative of what is said, but for the way 'The Mascot' eventually told his son the story, over a period of time. Read more
Published on 13 Feb 2012 by DAVID ISHERWOOD
5.0 out of 5 stars Trully enlightening
I read this book some time ago,as i have read extensively on the holocaust,like all the above recommendations i totally agree,a must read. Read more
Published on 2 Sep 2010 by S. I. Sleep
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping
As this story unfolds, the reader is taken on a journey as gripping as any 'whodunit'. Mark Kurzem's battered suitcase leaks and dripfeeds his son with the jigsaw parts of life as... Read more
Published on 29 May 2010 by N. M. Allen
4.0 out of 5 stars A stolen childhood
This book had me gripped from the first to the last page and it read more like a novel than a biographical account of a father and son working together to unlock the father's early... Read more
Published on 20 Jan 2010 by J. Cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars Heart Rending
A wonderful book, arrived quickly. I actually cried at one point while I read it, what that little boy went through was horrifying.
Published on 2 Nov 2009 by Ms. R. Robertson
4.0 out of 5 stars The Mascot
If you are interested in a personal account of the effects of WWII on 2nd and 3rd generation people, then this book is compelling reading. Read more
Published on 11 July 2009 by L. A. OConnor
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