Thursday, December 27, 2012

Holocaust frauds

There are some people, often anti-Semites, who criticize the exploitation of the Holocaust as a Jewish business.  There are another group of people, Jewish or not, who seek to gain financially from the Holocaust mainly by pretending to be Holocaust survivors.  They seek payments and pensions from organizations that provide for survivors or from writing books.  These people are Holocaust frauds.
There are several well-documented cases of such fraud that have been exposed in recent years.  For example, in "The angel at the fence" Herman Rosenblat claimed that when he was a boy in Buchenwald, a girl came and threw apples and bread over the barbed wire fence to him.  This food saved his life and when the war was over he found  her in the US and married her.  This story turned out to be a fabrication and the book was withdrawn prior to publication by Penguin Books. 
"Surviving with wolves" by Misha Defonseca was published in 2005.  The author claimed to have been a Jewish child who escaped to the forest and was fed by wolves that saved her life.  After the book was published the author admitted that it was a complete fabrication, she had never been in the forest and she isn't Jewish (see ).  Such cases should sensitize editors to be very wary of publishing Holocaust memoirs without excellent documentation.  There are plenty of unscrupulous people out there ready to make a buck on the backs of other people's suffering.  Note that pure fiction, such as "The boy in the striped pyjamas," are not covered by this criticism, only fraudulent memoirs.
On Tues there was a lecture at Beth Israel in Netanya by Barry Resnick, an academic from California, who discussed the book "The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood " by Mark Kurzem,  published by Penguin Books. In this book, based on his father Alex's reminiscences, it is claimed that Alex was a Jewish boy, who could not remember his real name, who escaped the massacre of Jews in a suburb of Minsk, Belarus, and after living in the forest for 9 months was adopted by soldiers of a Latvian SS regiment, that had carried out the massacre.  The cover shows a picture of the boy dressed in an SS uniform with other SS soldiers.  It seems that the boy took the name Kurzem from the name of the regiment.  Subsequently he was sent to Lativa where he was adopted by a family that then emigrated to Melbourne, Australia. 
Prof. Resnick pointed out several striking inconsistences in this story: the age of the boy at the time varies in different tellings; he claims to be circumsized, but such Latvian SS soldiers would have undoubtedly killed a circumcized Jewish boy; there was no hint that Alex Kurzem showed any interest in his Jewishness before the book was written (when he was in his 50's); he gave testimony at the Melbourne Holocaust Center twice, but refuses to allow these transcripts to be viewed; the Latvian SS unit was not formed until after the massacre; he thinks his name was Galperin, but refuses to have a DNA test to see if he is related to other Jews with this name from that area.   Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick is Prof. Resnick's collaborator and runs a DNA lab named Identifinders that specializes in authenticating such stories.  In the Australian version of the book there is a photo of him with a girl that had been copied from a Latvian newspaper.  When this old article was tracked down it gave a version of his story with a different surname, but says nothing about him being Jewish. 
There are three damning aspects of this story: 1. That the US TV magazine "Sixty Minutes" did an interview of Alex Kursem and when approached it seems they did no fact-checking on his story whatsoever, they took him at face value; 2.  Penguin Books likewise, first refused to talk to Prof. Resnick and Dr. Fitzpatrick, but when they did they could offer no factual evidence for the story; 3. Alex Kurzem claims to be receiving reparations from the Jewish Claims Conference and he uses this to authenticate his claims.  But there has been an extensive investigation showing that employees of the Claims Conf. have been notoriously embezzling money, at least m$60, and one way they did this was to enlist false claimants willing to give kickbacks ( ).  Therefore being recognized by the Claims Conf. is hardly a valid verification. 
On May 19, 2011, Melbourne reporter Keith Moor published an article that questions the veracity of Kurzem's story and reports simultaneous investigations by the German and U.S. governments as well as the Jewish Claims Conference into Mr. Kurzem's claims of actually being Jewish and a victim of Nazi persecution ( ).  On September 21, 2012, Dan Goldman, a reporter for Haaretz, published an article about the investigation into Kurzem's story ( ).
Barry Resnick posed the question, is this another case of Holocast fraud?  It seems that a man who had a strange story as an SS mascot saw that he could make money by claiming that he was originally Jewish.  So far he has succeeded.


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