Synopses & Reviews
Ellen Cassedyand#8217;s longing to recover the Yiddish sheand#8217;d lost with her motherand#8217;s death eventually led her to Lithuania, once the and#8220;Jerusalem of the North.and#8221; As she prepared for her journey, her uncle, sixty years after heand#8217;d left Lithuania in a boxcar, made a shocking disclosure about his wartime experience, and an elderly man from her ancestral town made an unsettling request. Gradually, what had begun as a personal journey broadened into a larger exploration of how the people of this country, Jews and non-Jews alike, are confronting their past in order to move forward into the future. How does a nationand#8212;how do successor generations, moral beingsand#8212;overcome a bloody past? How do we judge the bystanders, collaborators, perpetrators, rescuers, and ourselves? These are the questions Cassedy confronts in We Are Here
, one womanand#8217;s exploration of Lithuaniaand#8217;s Jewish history combined with a personal exploration of her own familyand#8217;s place in it.
Digging through archives with the help of a local whose motives are puzzling to her; interviewing natives, including an old man who wants to and#8220;speak to a Jewand#8221; before he dies; discovering the complications encountered by a country that endured both Nazi and Soviet occupationand#8212;Cassedy finds that itand#8217;s not just the facts of history that matter, but what we choose to do with them.
powerful subject matter.
and#8220;Pioneering. . . . [We Are Here] will reach out to . . . all those who care about not replaying in this new century the disasters of the century that has just ended.and#8221;and#8212;Michael Steinlauf, author of Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust
and#8220;This eloquent book can help us to reach out, open our hearts, and rediscover one another in a spirit of mutual understanding.and#8221;and#8212;Hon. Valdas Adamkus, former president of Lithuania
and#8220;A most captivating read. Cassedy offers an extraordinary perspective, human and moving, to concerns that often are hidden by tired clichand#233;s, sentimentality, or anger. A rare document.and#8221;and#8212;Samuel Bak, survivor of the Vilna ghetto and author of Painted in Words
"Uncovering this history with an intimate, personal and investigative approach, Cassedy explores how the people of this country, Jews and non-Jews, are confronting their marred past and moving onward."and#8212;Jerusalem Post
"All answers are tentative. All questions are crucial. Cassedy's quest is brilliantly balanced, totally engaging, and constantly penetrating."and#8212;Philip K. Jason, Jewish Book World
"Ellen Cassedy's We Are Here challenges us to think again about what it means to remember the Holocaust in the present. . . . The struggle Cassedy so eloquently engages in to resist the logic of competing memory may be only that much more urgent today than when she was there."and#8212;Laura Levitt, H Net
One mans struggle with memory and prejudice on the way to recovering his past
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.
Fearful of being discoveredas either a Jew or a NaziAlex kept the secret of his childhood, even from his loving wife and children. But he grew increasingly tormented and became determined to uncover his Jewish roots and the story of his past. Shunned by a local Holocaust organization, he reached out to his son Mark for help in reclaiming his identity. A survival story, a grim fairy-tale, and a psychological drama, this remarkable memoir asks provocative questions about identity, complicity, and forgiveness.
A survival story, a grim fairy-tale, and a psychological drama, this remarkable memoir about a Jewish boy's Nazi past asks provocative questions about identity, complicity, and forgiveness.
The ?spellbinding? (The New York Times) true story of a Jewish boy who became the darling of the Nazis
When a Nazi death squad massacred his mother and fellow villagers, five-year-old Alex Kurzem escaped, hiding in the freezing Russian forest until he was picked up by a group of Latvian SS soldiers. Alex was able to hide his Jewish identity and win over the soldiers, becoming their mascot and an honorary ?corporal? in the SS with his own uniform. But what began as a desperate bid for survival became a performance that delighted the highest ranks of the Nazi elite. And so a young Jewish boy ended up starring in a Nazi propaganda film.
After sixty-three years of silence, Alex revealed his terrible secret to his son Mark. With his son?s help, Alex retraced his past in search of answers and vindication. His story is at once a terrifying account of survival and its psychological cost as well as a brutally honest examination of identity, complicity, and memory.
About the Author
Mark Kurzem grew up in Melbourne, Australia. He studied anthropology at the University of Oxford, where he was a Commonwealth Scholar, and also studied at Melbourne, Jochi, and Tokyo universities, where he was a Monbusho Research Scholar; his academic research focused on Japanese society. He has worked in the fields of political research, international relations, teaching, and filmmaking in Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom. He was also an international relations adviser to the mayor of Osaka. In 2002, he coproduced and wrote a documentary about his father’s life, also titled The Mascot, which was the subject of international attention. He lives in Oxford.