The Mascot

Discussions on the Holocaust and 20th Century War Crimes. Note that Holocaust denial is not allowed. Hosted by David Thompson.
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Peter H
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The Mascot

Post by Peter H » 09 Jan 2008 13:34

http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/Book ... 18260.html#
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 by a Nazi-led Latvian police brigade that later became an SS unit. Not knowing he was Jewish, they made him their mascot, dressing the little “corporal” in uniform and toting him from massacre to massacre. Terrified, the resourceful Alex charmed the highest echelons of the Latvian Third Reich, eventually starring in a Nazi propaganda film. When the war ended he was sent to Australia with a family of Latvian refugees.



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Peter H
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Post by Peter H » 09 Jan 2008 13:37


michael mills
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Post by michael mills » 09 Jan 2008 23:41

My guess is that this guy was a Belorussian orphan who was adopted by a Latvian police unit and later by a Latvian family.

The evidence uncovered shows the factuality of his having been, as a young boy, the mascot of a Latvian police unit.

Whether the other claims made by him, such as his Jewish origin, his having witnessed numerous atrocities etc etc, are true, is anybody's guess.

Whether he is the same person as a child given the name Ilya Galperin would depend, I suppose, on DNA evidence. It is not clear from the articles quoted whether a DNA comparison with proved relatives of the real Ilya Galperin has been carried out.

Certainly, a story about being a secret Jew hiding out with a group of Nazis is far more dramatic than one about being one of what must have been a huge number of Belorussian orphan children, singled out only by the good fortune of being adopted by a group of kindly Latvians. One wonders how many orphans were adopted as mascots by various police and military units in Eastern Europe during the war.

In the absence of further evidence, I remain skeptical, not in regard to this person's having been the mascot of a Latvian police unit, but in regard to certain details of his tale, such as his claimed Jewish origin.

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query

Post by PF » 17 Jan 2008 17:09

IS the 3rd from left a German Police Uniform?
What is the white stripe on black on the collor insignia on 2 on left and one on far right? Is that a white "Summer" uniform on right?
Latavian/German uniform mixtures?

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JägerMarty
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Re: The Mascot

Post by JägerMarty » 08 Mar 2009 10:26

I have just finished reading The Mascot, was a fascinating book, couldn't put it down.
A bit hard to understand why he stayed quiet with his family so long but that was his choice

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Marcus
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Re: The Mascot

Post by Marcus » 08 Mar 2009 15:19

Has it been confirmed which Polizei and which SS/Waffen-SS unit he writes about?

/Marcus

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Peter H
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Re: The Mascot

Post by Peter H » 13 Mar 2009 07:58

As indicated here ( http://latviansonline.com/forum/viewthread/32934/ ) its said to have been the 18th Schuma Battalion.Later part of the 2 SS Latvian Brigade ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2_SS_Infantry_Brigade ).

/Peter

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Re: The Mascot

Post by michael mills » 18 Mar 2009 03:42

I have just finished reading The Mascot, was a fascinating book, couldn't put it down.
A bit hard to understand why he stayed quiet with his family so long but that was his choice
I don't think it is hard to understand at all.

His experience of having been, as a young boy of 5-7 years, the mascot of a Latvian police unit working for the Germans would not have been something to boast about in post-war Australia, to which he had been sent with a Latvian refugee family.

Furthermore, his own memories of the time might have been rather vague. In any case, he had a new life in Australia, he grew up there, and no doubt simply wanted to forget about his boyhood in wartime Belarusia.

Or are you asking why this person did not reveal to his family that he actually was not a Latvian at all, but rather the child of a Belarusian Jewish family, and that he had survived a massacre,and lived alone through the winter of 1941-42?

Most probably the reason is that he had not yet invented that story, which is highly implausible. In my opinion, the only part of his story that is likely to be true is that he was adopted as a mascot by a Latvian police unit in 1942. What his life had really been before that event, where he really originated, is anybody's guess.

The tale that he survived the winter of 1941-42 as a 5-year old boy on his own is highly improbable. It is more likely that someone was caring for him prior to his adoption by the Latvian police unit. He may well have been part of a large group of Belarusian orphans of various ages, and that is what enabled him to survive the winter.

Just as unlikely is the story of his being really the child of a Jewish family and having survived a massacre. It seems to me that a probable psychological motive for inventing such a story would be his shame (which probably arose in later life) at having been connected to a Nazi-allied unit.

I strongly suspect that we have another "Wilkomirski" here.

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Re: The Mascot

Post by Le Page » 27 May 2009 19:13

I just viewed a 60 Minutes segment on YouTube about this story. Apparently the guy could only recall the name of his village which had since changed names, but with the help of a historian was able to find it; this led to a KZ photo of his father who had been interned at one of the camps and who had survived the war. The thing is, his purported father bore a striking resemblance to him. I'd imagine his story is essentially true.

The chap in the white uniform tunic was with a short-lived ROA unit. Also, in that 60 Minutes piece, there's a photo of the kid posing with some other soldiers who are wearing Czech helmets and non-German uniforms, who must have been ROA or maybe a Slovak unit.

EDIT: I forgot to mention that the records of a Latvian police battalion did make mention of collecting an orphan in that area. Also, in the original photo shown in post #1, a soldier with a Latvian armshield can be seen next to the ROA man in the white tunic, but he's cropped out in this one.

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Re: The Mascot

Post by michael mills » 06 Jun 2009 01:50

Does anyone know whether anything further has been done to establish the reality or otherwise of his claimed familial connection to certain Jewish survivors from the Belorusian village in which he claims to have lived as a child?

For example a DNA test?

In the absence of such hard evidence that he is genetically linked to that Jewish family, his story about being the survivor of a massacre of Jews in that Belarusian village must continue to be regarded as wishful thinking at best, or a deliberate falsification (perhaps on the part of this person's son) at worst.

The story consists of two parts:

1. The account of his being adopted as a mascot by a Latvian police unit in 1942, then taken into a Latvian family and migrating with that family to Australia after the war. That part seems to be adequately documented.

2. The account of his having been born into a Jewish family living in a Belarusian village, and surviving a massacre in that village in 1941. The existence of a Jewish family in that village has been documented, and survivors of that family have been located, but the question of whether this person really is linked to it remains open.

The two parts are bound together by his tale of surviving the winter of 1941-42 as a five-year-old boy on his own, wandering through the Belarusian forests. Frankly, I find that account totally unbelievable, and simply a fictional device invented to link the two parts of his story. The implausibility of this story of survival is the great weakness in the whole account, and casts doubt on the veracity of his claim to be a survivor from a slaughtered Jewish family.

The most plausible version of events is that prior to his adoption by the Latvian police unit, he must been being cared for by somone, perhaps a Belarusian family, perhaps an orphanage or some similar institution, or perhaps he was part of a gang of children including older teenagers. The example of conditions in Third-World countries of today show that it is possible for groups of abandoned children to survive on the streets, provided that they stick together and have some older members to lead them.

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Re: The Mascot

Post by michael mills » 06 Jun 2009 03:09

It appears that some Latvians living in Australia have a different approach to this whole issue:

http://latviansonline.com/index.php/for ... ead/32906/

It seems that the book was written by the son of this guy, and that it was the son who imposed a political interpretation on the stories his father told him.

It also appears that the original story told by this guy to his children about his wartime experiences was that he was the son of Russian pig-farmers, and that he got lost in the forest before being picked up by the Latvian police unit.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/30/books/30book.html

Could it be that that original story was the true one? Being the survivor of a slaughtered Jewish family, and hiding one's Jewish identity from a band of malevolent anti-Semitic Latvians, makes a far more dramatic story than merely being the lost child of humble Russian pig-farmers.

it seems that the original name of thsi guy when he migrated to Australia with his adoptive Latvian parents was Uldis Kurzemnieks. One useful path of enquiry would be where this name came from.

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Re: The Mascot

Post by michael mills » 06 Jun 2009 03:59

Here is a critical analysis of Mark Kurzem's book by a historian of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia:

http://www.am.gov.lv/data/prague/files/ ... t_2007.doc

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Re: The Mascot

Post by Rob - wssob2 » 28 Nov 2009 23:48

Here is a critical analysis of Mark Kurzem's book by a historian of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia:
The link is to a Word document; here is the actual text (note,minus the extensive bookmarking):
Mark Kurzem’s The Mascot: Between facts and myths

ULDIS NEIBURGS * - The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia

Kurzem, Mark. The Mascot. The extraordinary story of a young Jewish boy and an SS extermination squad. London: Rider, 2007. 340 pages.

The Western world’s extensive historical-literary writings have very recently been augmented by The Mascot, whose recounted events are linked in the closest possible way to Latvian history in the period of German National Socialist occupation. History books not uncommonly provide the basis for many films, but the present case presents the reverse: this published work continues the path of the 2002 documentary film of the same name , screened at several film festivals in Australia, the USA and Europe, and repeats the film’s sensational story of the fate of a young boy in World War II and his secret that was only revealed half a century later. The book’s author Mark Kurzem is the son of the main hero of that story, Australian resident Uldis Kurzemnieks (Alex Kurzem), and who has now set a permanent record of his father’s story in a history book.

According to this book‘s version, only in 1997 did Uldis reveal to Mark and his other close relatives that he was not a Russian boy, who had lost his family in the war and had emigrated to Australia post-war along with his adopting family, but was instead a Jewish boy, whose family had been killed in the Holocaust and who only though amazing circumstances had managed to save his own life. (By other accounts Uldis’ adoptive father’s family had known the full details much earlier). In the Summer of 1942 the young boy was saved by soldiers of the 18th Courland [in Latvian - Kurzeme] –Latvian Schutzmannschaft (Police) Battalion. [In World War II police units were formed of various nationalities in Eastern Europe to assist in internal security in German held areas; battalion-size units were variously employed as combat troops, used for guard duties or for "cleanup" operations]. Paradoxically, it was precisely members of this battalion who were put on trial by the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic’s High Court in 1961, charged with the extermination of Jews in the Belarus city of Slonim. Five of those found guilty were shot, while another four were given 15-year prison sentences. Historian Andrew Ezergailis has repeatedly stressed that the trial was fabricated by the KGB, his argument being that the charges were based on contradictory testimony, including self-indictment. The trial did not even attempt to determine the date of the mass killing; the descriptions given of the charged crime differed from the standard organising pattern by which the Germans exterminated Jews, and so on . By contrast, upon release of the film and publication of The Mascot, various Western mass media now carry the story that its hero was saved by those who killed his family and at any moment could have killed him also. Uldis Kurzemnieks’ story had been long known in the exile Latvian community, but only in the last few years has it become clear that the main details of the story were quite different to what was believed.

We can read in the book how even until the end of the 1990s Uldis Kurzemnieks did not have a clue as to his origins. Two words had been deeply etched into his memory – Koidanov and Panok – because he had quietly recited these words to himself at the time when as a young boy he lost his family. He was around five years old when the town in which he lived was stormed by soldiers who moved the local residents to an enclosure. One night his mother had told him that they would die the next day, so he had to be stout-hearted. That night the boy arose, dressed, kissed his sleeping mother, went out of the house and snuck out through a hole in the enclosure. At dawn he awoke to the sound of gunshots. He saw how his mother and younger brother and sister were killed. He ran into the forest and for a long time wandered there. Once he found a soldier’s corpse and removed its coat and boots. He fed on berries and whatever else he could find, at times he even sucked on his coat cuffs, imagining they were bread. Even though he was small he had learnt to climb trees, which helped him now to avoid the wolves by tying himself to tree branches before falling asleep,. From time to time he was fortunate enough to have a farmer agree to his sleeping in their farmhouse. In such circumstances of war, stress and hunger the boy even forgot his own name and where he came from.

Contemporary historical research has clarified that after the invasion of the USSR by Nazi Germany on June 22, 1941, the destruction of Jews, communists and other ‘dangerous elements’ in Belarus was carried out by the German security service [SD - Sicherheitsdienst] Operational Group (Einsatzgruppe) "B". Koidanov‘s Jewish population was exterminated on October 21, 1941, when in a few hours 1000 people were killed (other accounts say 1,920 people – U.N.). The 11th German Reserve Police Battalion operated in that area under the command of Major Franz Lechthaler, who also had under his command the 2nd (later 12th) Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion, led by Captain A. Impulevičius. The Koidanov shootings were carried out by this battalion’s 1st Company led by Lieutenant Z.Kemzura. However, a different version is also available, that part of Koidanov’s Jews were moved as early as Summer 1941 to the Minsk ghetto. Therefore its not possible to definitively exclude the possibility that the boy may have escaped from the Minsk ghetto in the Spring of 1942, as the likelihood of his being able to survive several months in the forest in bitter winter conditions seems rather doubtful; moreover, this period is recounted rather vaguely in the book.

Various descriptions of Uldis’ further activites are carried in wartime publications, but they should preferably be seen as only approximate accounts, and were to a greater or lesser extent influenced by propaganda or censorship. However, contrary to his father’s long-recounted version that he was found by soldiers who were searching for partisans in the forest, Mark Kurzem writes that the reality was otherwise. A Belarus farmer had sighted the boy in the forest and considered him Jewish. He had brutally beaten the boy, then dragged him to a village and given him to soldiers who had been killing Jews and partisans. One of these soldiers was Corporal Jēkabs Kūlis (1914 - ?) (In the book he is called a Sergeant, but this rank was given to him only on January 1, 1944). Kūlis had taken the boy to a nearby schoolhouse and stressed to the boy he must not tell anyone he is Jewish, thus saving his life. The log book of the 18th Police Battalion has survived to our day, and in it Kūlis is first mentioned on July 7, 1942 , which makes it plausible that Uldis came to be with Latvian soldiers at this time.

However, there is no basis for author Mark Kurzem’s claim that Uldis was taken in by those persons who had, very likely, exterminated his family . Our currently available 18th Police Battalion wartime records clearly show that the Battalion was formed on Janury 5, 1942 in Riga. Commanded by Captain Fridrichs Rubenis and consisting of 429 men, it was deployed to Minsk only on May 4, 1942, already several months after the the destruction of Jews in Koidanov. On June 4 the 18th Battalion went to Stolbtsi, where it took up guard duty and participated in battles against Soviet partisans around Naliboki and Derevno villages. On August 15 it returned to Stolbtsi, but on August 19 it arrived in Slonim, where it remained until August 22. Certain sections of the Battalion were involved in guarding the perimeter of the Slonim ghetto on August 20, when 400 of the remaining Jews in the ghetto were killed; however it is more unlikely than likely that members of this battalion themselves possibly engaged in the shooting. Apart from that, together with Belarus self-defence units the battalion fought against Soviet partisans, some of whom were in Jewish units. According to A.Ezergailis, if any Latvians had participated in the Slonim murders, most likely they could have been Latvian SD units that at that time were operating in the Minsk district.

In order to understand the events described in the book, it is important to determine if the 18th Battalion was directly involved with the German security police and SD Operational Group ‘B’ and the extermination of Jews, and what was its role in battling partisans. Furthermore it must be remembered that, unlike crimes against civilians, combat action against Soviet partisans is not regarded as a war crime from the perspective of international law. The protagonist of the book Uldis Kurzemnieks a few years ago claimed that at the time when he was found by Latvian soldiers, he did not speak Latvian and did not know that such a country as Latvia existed. At the time he was in Belarus there were numerous battalions stationed there, not only Latvian but also German, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Belarusian, Lithuanian and others: “Who was shooting people, I can’t precisely say. Yes, Latvians were also doing so, but really I think they were shooting partisans, not Jews.” The work of the 18th Battalion in Belarus had been clearly described by Corporal Kārlis Zirnis on August 14, 1945, while a POW of the English:
From here we commenced operations against bandits, involving long marches, which often amounted to 50 to 60km a day […] Latvians had commanded respect through their fearlessness. We were called the ‘green death’ in the region, so that it often happened that when inhabitants of a village saw us coming they would flee their houses and run into the forest, and we had to get them to return home by force […] We were relocated to Slonim, where we took up guard duty, because the SD men liquidated the ghetto, here we had to be eye witnesses to the SD men’s pitilessness.
On the other hand, in post-war publications issued in exile it was stressed that it was a substantial relief that Belarusians, like Ukrainians, were disposed to be friendly towards Latvian soldiers and in all ways supported them. It was different with the Germans.

The 18th Police Battalion was also involved in the anti-partisan operation ‘Swamp Fever’ (Sumpffieber), which lasted from August 22 to September 21, 1942 to the north of Minsk. Historian Kārlis Kangeris has written about this and similar actions in these terms:
On the whole it should be concluded that the story of Latvian Police battalions, at least in the context of the large-scale operations against partisans, is not as unequivocal as, for example, Soviet history long maintained - that they were mass murderer units - or, as Holocaust research still always maintains, that the main role of the Police battalions in these anti-partisan operations was the killing of Jews. Likewise it is not possible to maintain the view that the Latvian Police battalions’ war was ‘clean’.
Documents show that from August 28-29, 1942 the 18th Police Battalion together with the 1st SS Infantry Brigade participated in the burning down of a village and the shooting of all its inhabitants, but they do not show the role of each of the units in this operation. To perhaps better clarify what was done by the Germans and what had to be done by the Latvians we are helped by the previously mentioned writing of Kārlis Zirnis:
The forays to clear the forests [of partisans] continued, and accompanying us were German Gestapo and SD men, who punished disobedient villages, using various techniques. The most usual punishment was to drive all the people into farm sheds, raking them with gunfire and afterwards setting fire to them so they would burn; they also used even more brutal methods […] In all a disquiet started to develop about the German actions, against which we could not do anything. Rubenis had been sidelined as an Officer going against the Germans, and we were now subordinated directly to Major Erzum, a Baltic German, and we saw through his actions what we did not want to see and which we should not have seen with our eyes.
We can only guess how much of this also had to be seen by Uldis’ eyes.

After returning to Stolbtsi, in October 1942 the 18th Police Battalion was sent to Hansevichi, where it continued to participate in actions against partisans. At the beginning of May 1943 the battalion returned to Riga and was quartered at the Church of the Cross Barracks. On June 1 of the same year it was incorporated as the 3rd battalion of the Latvian Legion 2nd Brigade 2 (40th) Infantry Regiment (later the 19th Division, 43rd Regiment). [The Latvian Legion was the military force formed by the Germans mainly from conscripted Latvians to fight the Soviets on the Eastern front]. The Legion was engaged in front-line action from the Volkhov swamps South-east of Leningrad to the siege of Courland [a number of German and Latvian divisions defended an enclave on the Courland peninsula against the Soviet advance until the end of the War]. Uldis remembers that he was together with Latvian soldiers in Belarus, then after the battalion was incorporated into the Legion, in training in Velikiye Luki, and at the Volkhov front, but in October 1943 he was sent back to Riga, which Uldis had on a few occasions already visited with Kūlis during periods of leave. However, Mark Kurzem seems exaggerated and not always truthful when he claims that he will never understand why the soldiers decided to allow the boy to remain alive, perhaps they had a moment’s inkling of their own humanity, while they were drinking and killing.

In the book particular attention is paid to Latvian Legion Colonel Kārlis Lobe (1895–1985) who, according Mark Kurzem’s thinking, had a significant role in determining Uldis’ fate. However the facts do not accord with the oft-repeated claim in the book that Lobe had been the commander of the 18th Battalion or even of a Latvian Police Brigade at the time the Battalion was in Belarus. If Uldis’ first meeting with Lobe really did take place already in Belarus in 1942, and not later in Riga or Volkhov, that could better be explained by the fact that, from February 21 to November 21, 1942 as the Chief of Staff of Riga Order Police Headquarters, but after that until February 1943 as the Adviser to the Directorate of Internal Security for the Self-Administration of the Land [a German-controlled institution with restricted authority], Lobe could have travelled to inspect Latvian Police battalions located on the Eastern front. Fundamentally, Mark Kurzem uncritically repeats the accusations against Lobe made in the then Soviet propaganda publications, whose accord with historical reality is rather limited. Although in the book’s introduction Mark thanks Latvian historian A. Ezergailis for support that has helped him to better understand the structure and activities of the Latvian Police during the period of German occupation, many of the descriptions in the book show that the author’s understanding was only partial. It is difficult to concur with Mark’s view that it was precisely the Baltic volunteer Police brigades and other units that had constituted the German security Police and SD operative groups, or that the 18th Police Battalion had been an ‘SS extermination squad’, which had in the beginning existed as a Police Brigade, after that was incorporated in the Wehrmacht, but later became an SS unit. Mark also without foundation regards Lobe as belonging to the Latvian Nazi elite and being a member of the SS organisation responsible for the destruction of several tens of thousands of Jews in Slonim, in Rumbula [a forest near Riga that was the scene of mass killings of Jews in November and December 1941] and elsewhere.

In regard to Lobe it cannot be denied that from July 9, 1941 to August 29 he was the self-defence forces commander in Ventspils and that these units’ members during that time participated in the German SD organised imprisonment and then consequent extermination of Jewish males in the Ventspils city and environs. Likewise Lobe for a while also commanded the 280th (Bolderāja) Latvian Police battalion, which was formed on January 23, 1943 in Bolderāja (a suburb of Riga) and then again dissolved on April 9 after it had participated in the German-organised anti-partisan campaign ‘Winter Magic’ (Winterzauber) in Belarus. Notwithstanding that while residing in Stockholm in the 1960s-1970s, Lobe was forced to both give evidence to various investigations, and turn to the courts himself to sue for defamation from accusations he had participated in war crimes, his direct participation in such crimes had never been proven and more likely is to be doubted. Deeper and more precise research into Lobe’s wartime activities was also not helped by the fact that the accusations against him had largely Soviet origins and as such had arisen for political purposes, as well as the fact that the late 1960s saw the 25 year statute of limitations, which by Swedish law meant that formal proceedings against him were no longer possible. In discussions with Uldis himself, he remembered that he met Colonel Lobe in Volkhov and was also with him in Latvia, when they visited wounded soldiers in hospital, as well as stating: “I cannot say anything bad about him. At the time I signed and sent to Stockholm a declaration that Lobe had been a good person.” Nevertheless Mark writes that Uldis had been forced into doing this by his adoptive father Jēkabs Dzenis (1893--1979), whose importance in Uldis’ later life was to be even greater than that of Lobe.

Captain Dzenis had fought in World War I and Latvia’s War of Independence, for which he was decorated in 1922 with Latvia’s highest military decoration - the ‘Lāčplēša Kara ordenis’ 3rd class [‘Bearslayer military medal’ named after a mythical Latvian hero]. During the German Occupation he was Director of the ‘Laima’ confectionery factory. It was this ‘Laima’ which took into its care the 18th Police Battalion (later the Latvian Legion’s 2nd (43rd) regiment) following the tradition that larger enterprises would take a Latvian military unit under their wing, preparing parcels for them and looking after soldiers’ families. In Riga Uldis came into the Dzenis family and later became a full-fledged member of it. Uldis began his education at Riga 49th Primary School, but spent his free time at Dzenis’ apartment in Valdemara Street as well as at his seaside summer house in Carnikava and at the ‘Laima’ factory children’s camp in Dzintari at Riga’s seashore. Evidence for this can be found in the edition of the documentary film series "Ausland Woche" [The Week Abroad] of October 2 1943, which shows children of the Latvian Legion soldiers at a vacation home in Riga’s seaside district Jūrmala. Playing with them is Uldis, dressed in a stylised Waffen-SS uniform with the red-white-red Latvian flag emblem and the rank of a decorated soldier. News of Uldis’ life in the Dzenis family is also to be found in the wartime press, and the boy is well remembered by witnesses at this time.

Meanwhile, as author Mark poorly understands what was the actual disposition of Latvian society at the time, his father’s wartime wearing of the uniform seemingly has been the reason to erroneously write that Latvians had thus flirted with Nazism, etc. No less absurd are other comments made in the book, for example, that the emblem of the 1918 War of Independence and of the Latvian army – a sunrise – is called the Latvian SS symbol; likewise the comment that ‘Lāčplēsis’ (meaning the organisation of those who had received the ‘Bearslayer’ military decoration) had been a Latvian fascist organisation; Latvians are called Nazis and anti-semites, who had welcomed the German occupation, and their going into exile as refugees towards the end of World War II was done with the intent of “covering their tracks” and hiding their participation in war crimes etc.

In October 1944, as the Red Army was approaching Riga, the Dzenis family including Uldis fled as refugees to Germany. After the end of World War II they spent several years in the Geesthacht Displaced Persons camp near Hamburg, where Uldis finished Latvian primary school and together with Latvian children was confirmed in the local church. In 1949 the Dzenis family took the opportunity to leave for Australia, where after their steamer Nelly dropped anchor in Melbourne, the family went first of all to the Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre. After that Uldis for a while worked on the railways, then as an elephant keeper in a travelling circus, but later as an electrician and TV repairman. In 1956 Uldis married Patricia, an Australian, and they brought three sons into the world. Today Uldis is over 70 and lives in the Melbourne suburb of Altona. However in the content of The Mascot, both as documentary film and book, numerous imprecisions have crept in, not only regarding the 18th Police Battalion and the activities of Latvian soldiers during World War II, but also regarding Uldis’ life in the Dzenis family in Latvia and later going into exile in Germany and Australia, which have repeatedly been identified by eyewitnesses to these events.

After long remaining silent, in 1998 for the first time Uldis together with his eldest son Mark travelled to Belarus in search of the truth. They found that Koidanov was a small town in pre-war Belarus that is now called Dzershinsk. Arriving there, they found the place where the town’s inhabitants were exterrninated on October 21, 1941. They were able to meet a person, Erik Galperin, who later turned out to be Uldis’ half-brother since his father had, despite all, managed to survive both Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps and after the war returned to his homeland. In Koidanov Uldis managed to find a house that looked exactly like the one the lad had maintained among his childhood memories. An apple tree was still growing in the garden, the one he had climbed as a boy. Uldis looked through Erik’s family photos and saw faces that were very like his own. Erik recounted that ‘Panok’ was the name of the family that had lived in the neighbouring house, all of whom had perished in the war. After this trip, Uldis is convinced that his real name was Ilja, son of Solomon and Hanna Galperin, who lived in Koidanov. On that day he placed a wreath on the mass cemetery, believing that his mother and other family members lay there.

After the revelations of his past and the filming of The Mascot, Uldis has encountered the most divergent responses – some of his friends have distanced themselves from him, and his story has been interpreted in contradictory ways by the local Latvian community. When he gave his testimony to the Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, many responded not with sympathy but with criticism. There were even people who said that if this story is true, he should remain silent and be ashamed, for he had volunteered for an SS battalion at the age of five and shares the guilt for the murder of six million Jews. Today Uldis says that “at times he feels like there are two people within him, who had remained silent for many years, but who now have awoken and don’t get on particularly well together.” Responding to remarks that he should hate the Nazis, Uldis says of himself “Hatred will not help me” and “I am what I am […] I was born a Jew, I was raised by Nazis and Latvians, and I married in the Catholic Church.” Talking about the documentary The Mascot, Uldis admits that the film-makers in some parts did not depict events as they really were, because “Australians did not have much knowledge of World War II in Europe. Yes, they know something of Japan, but not of Europe. There are a few mistakes, perhaps not large ones, but they are there. Those films after all are made so that they would be somewhat more sensational.” Uldis stresses that in all the interviews where he has been asked, he has said that he is grateful to Latvians for saving him. “I have nothing against Latvians, but you hear many say, that Latvians are bad. But all I can reply is that they have always behaved well towards me. They took the place of my father and mother.”

To sum up, in evaluating The Mascot as a book, we can note that it is a competently and interestingly written story about an atypical Holocaust survivor, which undoubtedly can arouse considerable interest in Western society. It would seem that this has also been the aim of the book – not only to reveal Uldis Kurzemnieks’ wartime experiences, but to do so if possible dramatically and sensationally. At the same time it must be admitted that the book’s author Mark Kurzem has often enough not at all come close to objectively understanding wartime events in Eastern Europe. Being poorly acquainted with and making little use of original Latvian historical materials, which could have at least partly altered his assumptions about events, the books’ author all too often presents a very subjective and only partially historically realistic view of his father’s wartime experiences. Unfortunately the many errors and factual mistakes not only diminish the quality of the book’s contents, but also without basis cast a shadow over Latvian society. It is paradoxical that, even though the book devotes much space to Latvians and Latvians, it has not appeared in a Latvian translation and its authors have not been motivated involve Latvian historians in the controversial questions the book touches upon.

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Hundi
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Re: The Mascot

Post by Hundi » 29 Nov 2009 00:37

hello

Rob - wssob2, where can i find the source of the text above?

Hundi

michael mills
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Re: The Mascot

Post by michael mills » 29 Nov 2009 01:24

Hundi,

If you open your eyes, you will see that I posted a link to the source in my message of 6 June.

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