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Hardcover The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood Book

ISBN: 0670018260

ISBN13: 9780670018260

The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood

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Format: Hardcover

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Book Overview

One man’s struggle with memory and prejudice on the way to recovering his past Mark Kurzem was happily ensconced in his academic life at Oxford when his father, Alex, showed up on his doorstep with a terrible secret to tell. When a Nazi death squad raided his village at the outset of World War II, Jewish five-year-old Alex Kurzem escaped. After surviving the Russian winter by foraging for food and stealing clothes off dead soldiers, he was discovered...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

The Tragedy of Latvia

This is an exceptionally well-written book that tells an amazing story. Since other reviewers have given the details of the story, I will not rehash them. Suffice to say that Alex Kurzem's story is a good example of the terrible suffering innocent individuals have had to endure (a suffering that may even be worse than death itself) as a result of Nazi cruelty. Some reviewers have said this book is unfair to the Latvian people and tarnishes the entire nation with the same brush. I beg to differ. I believe the author went out of his way to distinguish between those Latvians (police and troops) who committed war crimes and those Latvians who did not (such as the family that took in his father). Even with regard to Commander Lobe, whose soldiers did commit atrocities, the author is careful to indicate he can not say for certain that the commander participated in those war crimes although he may have. It would have helped to set the stage for his story if the author had included a brief introductory chapter on the history of Latvia during World War II. Nazi Germany and the USSR divided Poland between themselves in 1939. Then, in the spring of 1940, with no pretext or justification, Stalin swallowed up the three Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Naturally, the Latvians were outraged at this groundless conquest of their country and communization of their economy. Most Latvian Jews, however, were more willing to accommodate themselves to life under Soviet rule, even if it meant giving up personal property, because they felt they were now safe from the Nazis. In June 1941, however, Hitler broke his alliance with Stalin and turned on Russia. When the Nazis conquered Latvia, most Latvians saw them as liberators from the hated Russians, especially since they restored the Latvians' private property (that is, other than the Latvian Jews' property). One thing the Nazis did not restore, however, was Latvia's independence. The more thoughtful Latvians realized this. To them the Nazis may have been the lesser of the two evils, but they were still evil. Other Latvians, however, saw the Nazis as their friends, protectors and allies. This was unfortunate, and both the Latvians and the Latvian Jews ended up paying a terrible price. Close to 90 percent of all Latvian Jews were killed by the Nazis and those Latvians who made common cause with them. In addition, some Latvians even went into other countries (including Alex Kurzen's village in what is now Belarus) to help the Nazis commit their evil atrocities. Toward the end of the war, the USSR took over Latvia and annexed it. For the next 45 years the Latvians knew no freedom and the Soviets settled many Russians in their country, who live there to this day. The Latvians should have at least tried to follow the example of the nearby Finns. The Russians also wanted to conquer Finland and as a result Finland allied itself with Nazi Germany. But the Finns fought only to regain the land Russia had tak

The ultimate survival story

Without reciting all of the details, this is a must read for people interested in understanding the Holocaust.

The revelence of history

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. Easily one of the better books I've read in a long time about the Holocaust, even though the concentration is less the Holocaust as a whole and more a struggle of one 6 year old boy to survive and over 60 years later to find out his true past and identity. Highly recommended.

The Survivor,the survival,the impact

"The Mascot"makes for rivetting reading. It really tells three stories which are inticately intertwined:The story of a child survivor under horrendous circumstances, the story of the survivor's struggle as an ageing father of adult children to come to terms with his past and how that impacts on his family relations and the story of retracing the past and finding remenants of that troubled childhood. What makes this book such fascinating reading is it's style. The author is the son of that child survivor who had never told his story, but for some reason now feels compelled to tell one of his sons, Mark. Mark writes this story almost without analysis or comment. He simply lets us readers sit at the kitchen table late at night and listen to the intimate and difficult conversations with his father. He let's us be there when his father struggles with himself to tell his story and he takes us with them on a journey to the locations of the child's survival. As a child survior of the Holocaust myself (although my storyis comletely different) I can so well identify with the internal struggles, the nightmares,the emotional turbulence... This book makes such an important contribution to the need for survivors to know that they are neither alone nor unique. Most importantly, it provides an insight to others, especially those born after WW II into the horrors of that period and how ordinary people were forced to find extraordinary strength and means to survive.

An incredible story, a book you won't be able to put down

I read this book in one day. Truly. I just couldn't put it down. The story of a 5-year old child in Eastern Europe (to give away details of exactly where the story begins is to give away a big revelation in the story itself) who survives a mass killing by Nazis and is then "rescued" by an SS brigade and adopted as its mascot, this book is a provocative look at memory and identity. What really distinguishes this book is that it is two parallel stories: the story of the boy and the story of the writer uncovering the truth about his subject, who also happens to be his father. I highly recommend this book.
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