10 January 2009

The Mascot: A different Holocaust book

This week's Philadelphia Jewish Exponent carries Robert Leiter's review of The Mascot, by Mark Kurzem, now available in paperback (Plume).

Leiter says it is unlike any Holocaust book he's ever run across, and asks if the past was all worth retrieving.

The story relayed in its pages is so remarkable, so astonishing in its details, that at first glance you might assume that it's all some evil fairy tale come to life. But the human drama that unfolds in its pages is far too convincing and the portrait of the survivor at its center so piercing that you are not only convinced of its truth, but remain in awe that these events ever transpired in any sort of form whatsoever.
Australian Mark Kurzem, an Oxford University (UK) student, headed to his apartment in May 1997, and discovered his father had arrived from Melbourne and was at a neighbor's home. He'd spoken to his parents a few days earlier and knew his father was bothered by something but hadn't said anything. His father had left Europe in 1949 and hadn't been back since, always insisting that the past was the past.

As they returned to Mark's apartment, he reached for his father's case - one that he always carried, but his father grabbed it first.

Continues the author: "He had always been protective of his case -- it was an unstated rule that nobody apart from him should ever lay hands upon it. He took it with him everywhere, clasping it so closely under his arm it might have been grafted to his rib cage.

"It was all he'd brought with him from Europe at the end of the Second World War. In it he carried his few meager belongings: mementos from his childhood in Russia and Latvia."

Mark and his brothers knew it held photos and documents but no one had seen what they were. When his father was home, the locked case was in the bottom of his closet, and his father held the keys in his pocket.

After a few days, his father said he was leaving as Mark's mother thought he was only in Sydney and would worry. He added that he had begun to remember things from his childhood. Previously, he had only remembered running into the forest at age 5, while his mother, brother and other residents were murdered by the Nazis.

He told his son he remembered two words - "Panok" and "Koidanov" - but didn't know if they were locations or people. He believed they were keys to the past and told his son because he thought he could help him find more information.

On the road to discovery, he finds that his father was picked up by Latvian SS soldiers and, that despite fears he would be immediately killed, one of them "took a shine" to him and the young boy was made into the group's mascot, complete with tailed Nazi uniform. He even appeared in a Nazi propaganda film.

Writes Leitner, "Both the past and how it is slowly uncovered are tales of unending drama with truly tragic implications. "

The portrait he gives us of his father -- awakened at nights, pacing the floor, literally racked by memories -- is both harrowing and unforgettable. And though not a practiced nonfiction writer, he was smart enough to know that the story had a propulsion all its own, and that he should follow its momentum. Some veterans writers don't know to do that.

In the end, The Mascot is as much a Holocaust story as it is a tale about identity, about learning just who and what you're made of, no matter how rigidly you've tried to reimagine yourself in a sunny new country. And this search for identity does not end in triumph.

Would it have been better if he had not remembered his past?

Learn more by reading the complete review at the link above (with additional photographs).


  1. That's another book I need to add to my list. Currently reading "The Lost" and next up is "Defiance".

  2. OUCH. oi. This is another book that is now being investigated as being a hugely fabricated HOAX of a literary sort, with the son of the Holocaust survivor committing the hoax now, not the father. There is a huge dossier now online, you can read the truth here, Ken W is looking into this as is the same team that looked into the Rosenblat hoax of the FENCE story. --- DANNY in Tawian



    and ask Ken W if I am right here....he knows...one of his assistants has already been alerted to his....