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Wednesday, August 22, 2007The Secret History Of The Nazi
Alex Kurzem came to Australia in 1949 carrying just a small brown briefcase, but weighed down by some harrowing psychological and emotional baggage.
Tucked away in his briefcase were the secrets of his past - fragments of his life that he kept hidden for decades.
Black and white image of young Alex Kurzem in uniform, sitting on a soldier's knee
Alex was forced to keep his Jewish identity hidden
In 1997, after raising a family in Melbourne with his Australian bride, he finally revealed himself. He told how, at the age of five, he had been adopted by the SS and became a Nazi mascot.
His personal history, one of the most remarkable stories to emerge from World War II, was published recently in a book entitled The Mascot.
"They gave me a uniform, a little gun and little pistol," Alex told the BBC.
"They gave me little jobs to do - to polish shoes, carry water or light a fire. But my main job was to entertain the soldiers. To make them feel a bit happier."
In newsreels, he was paraded as 'the Reich's youngest Nazi' and he witnessed some unspeakable atrocities.
But his SS masters never discovered the most essential detail about his life: their little Nazi mascot was Jewish.
"They didn't know that I was a Jewish boy who had escaped a Nazi death squad. They thought I was a Russian orphan."
His story starts where his childhood memories begin - in a village in Belarus on 20 October 1941, the day it was invaded by the German army.
Black and white image of young Alex Kurzem in uniform
When the shooting stopped I had no idea where to go so I went to live in the forests, because I couldn't go back. I was the only one left
"I remember the German army invading the village, lining up all the men in the city square and shooting them. My mother told me that my father had been killed, and that we would all be killed."
"I didn't want to die, so in the middle of the night I tried to escape. I went to kiss my mother goodbye, and ran up into the hill overlooking the village until the morning came."
That was the day his family was massacred - his mother, his brother, his sister.
"I was very traumatised. I remember biting my hand so I couldn't cry out loud, because if I did they would have seen me hiding in the forest. I can't remember exactly what happened. I think I must have passed out a few times. It was terrible."
"When the shooting stopped I had no idea where to go so I went to live in the forests, because I couldn't go back. I was the only one left. I must have been five or six."
"I went into the forest but no-one wanted me. I knocked on peoples' doors and they gave me bits of bread but they told me to move on. Nobody took me in."
He survived by scavenging clothes from the bodies of dead soldiers.
After about nine months in the forest, a local man handed him over to the Latvian police brigade, which later became incorporated in the Nazi SS.
That very day, people were being lined up for execution, and Alex thought he, too, was about to die.
"There was a soldier near me and I said, 'Before you kill me, can you give me a bit of bread?' He looked at me, and took me around the back of the school. He examined me and saw that I was Jewish. "No good, no good," he said. 'Look I don't want to kill, but I can't leave you here because you will perish.
"'I'll take you with me, give you a new name and tell the other soldiers that you are a Russian orphan.'"