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Alex Kurzem was 5 years old when, hiding in a nearby forest, he watched invading Nazis slaughter all the Jewish inhabitants of his Russian village. “The soldiers shot my mother,” he recalls. “They put the bayonet into my brother and sister. I cried out and then bit my hand to stop myself….I kept thinking, ‘Don’t let anyone hear you, or they’ll do the same to you.’” Decades later, having raised a family in Australia, he asks his son Mark for help in reconstructing his past. The only names Alex remembers from his pre-massacre days are “Koidanov” and “Panok,” while grainy pictures and faded documents chronicle his experiences thereafter. An emotionally shattering detective story, The Mascot is also a deeply personal project for author Mark Kurzem, who desperately wants to alleviate his father’s anguish. Forced to fend for himself after the massacre, the 5-year-old survives by foraging for food and acquiring the warm clothing of a dead German soldier. He eventually falls into the hands of a Latvian police unit charged by their Nazi allies with “hunting ‘partisans,’ an umbrella term used along with ‘Bolsheviks’ as a euphemism for the Jewish population.” The squad leader unexpectedly decides to protect the child, giving him a Latvian name—the boy has forgotten his real name—and indicating that he should never allow the other squad members to see his circumcised penis. “Uldis Kurzemnieks” (changed to ‘Alex Kurzem’ in Australia) quickly achieves minor celebrity as a “corporal” in what becomes a Latvian SS legion and stars in a Nazi propaganda film. Even more disturbing, he is present during a mass auto-da-fé of Russian Jews herded into their village synagogue. In Riga, the Latvian capital, he distributes chocolates to Jews destined for concentration camps: “It seemed that my job was to pacify them before their journey, especially the children, who loved the chocolates.” Understandably, Alex remains tormented by his actions. Given his age at the time of these events, gaps and even discrepancies in Alex’s story are inevitable. Yet chronological inconsistency in Mark Kurzem’s account of the extraordinary recovery of Alex’s past is less excusable. When Alex remembers a crucial encounter with his father decades earlier, the intended wallop fails to materialize, as the author has already mentioned the incident in passing. Similarly, Alex’s sudden recollection of an apple tree in his backyard—subsequently helpful when searching for his childhood home in a Belarusian village—is not as epiphanic as it’s made to appear, because Mark Kurzem has already quoted him on the subject. Such drawbacks notwithstanding, the author proves himself an indomitable investigator equal to the task of unearthing his father’s identity. Transcriptions of Alex’s harrowing recollections are augmented by research into his origins, a task in which his son is assisted by Holocaust experts from Melbourne to Minsk. The author also offers fascinating insights into his father’s psychology, including storytelling-as-catharsis; in regaling his children with fantastic tales of narrow escapes from pursuers in the Australian outback, Mark Kurzem realizes that his father “had found a way to tell us what had happened to him without telling us.” For decades, Alex Kurzem’s experiences found expression in an ingeniously mutated form. Yet “[t]o tell his most amazing story,” the true account of his life, “the consummate storyteller would have to abandon the tools of his trade.”