SYDNEY (JTA) — A war crimes investigator cast fresh doubts on the account of a purported Holocaust survivor who says he was a child mascot for Nazis.
Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, wrote to officials last week at the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany contesting the miraculous survival story of Alex Kurzem, an elderly man who now lives in Melbourne.
“Everything in this case appears to point to a scam, but only a comprehensive investigation can finally determine whether Kurzem is indeed a Holocaust survivor, which I very much doubt, or an impostor whose main motivation was to gain fortune and fame by distorting his unusual wartime experiences,” Zuroff wrote.
Zuroff’s intervention came just after the Claims Conference, which approved reparations payments for Kurzem in 1999, handed over the case to its ombudsman, Shmuel Hollander.
Hollander is now sifting through a dossier of claims, including those by two American investigators, Barry Resnick and Colleen Fitzpatrick, who have doubted Kurzem’s story since seeing a feature on him on the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes” in 2009.
Kurzem claims he witnessed his mother, brother and sister being massacred in 1941 in Koidanov, or Dzyarzhynsk, in Belarus before escaping and being adopted by a Latvian SS guard who gave him a new name (Uldis Kurzemnieks) and made him his battalion’s mascot.
The Americans do not dispute he was a child mascot, but they do contest his claim that he witnessed his family being murdered and that he was born a Jew.
Kurzem, who has vehemently denied the allegations, told his story in a best-selling book and an award-winning film, both titled “The Mascot” and written by his now deceased son, Mark.
The Claims Conference, which recently was embroiled in a nearly $60 million fraud, said it was treating the investigation with the “utmost of seriousness."