Claims Conference says compensation to Kurzem to continue

July 19, 2013 by J-Wire Staff
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The facts behind  The Mascot, Unravelling the Mystery of my Jewish Father’s Nazi Boyhood, a best-selling book about Alex Kurzem who survived WWII having been adopted by a Latvian police battalion were challenged  and the Claims Conference has made public its ombudsman’s report which recommends that “payment of compensation should continue”.

Alex Kurzem

Alex Kurzem

alex-smallJ-Wire published its story on the case in September 2012. It related how Ilya Galperin was the survivor of his family massacred in 1941 in Koldanov, Belarus. Other unsubstantiated reports state that his father survived the war but died in 1975 without ever meeting his son.

The book, written in 2002 by Kurzem’s late son Mark, tells of how the boy escaped and was finally adopted by the sergeant of a police battalion. The young Galperin/Kurzem had his own uniform and according to the book carried a weapon. After the war, Kurzem’s adopted father took him to Melbourne to establish a new home.

Following the publication of the report published  in full and in summary form, a relieved Alex Kurzem spoke to J-Wire from his Melbourne home this morning. He said that he remained willing to take a DNA test to prove his identity. “But I will do it when I visit Belarus where my family was murdered.” When asked about those who had been calling for the investigation he said: “I’ve got all the things I needed. I feel very happy about the report. It has been very stressful until it was all cleared up. They can carry on as much as they like. No-one can stop them from looking.” When asked when he would visit Belarus he relied that he was not sure.

A film is in the planning stages based  on “The Mascot”

The summary of the Claims Conference report handed down by it ombudsman:

The Claims Conference requested that the Ombudsman investigate a complaint concerning the allegation that Mr. Uldis Kurzemnieks of Melbourne, Australia, (hereinafter “Mr. Kurzemnieks”) is not entitled to the monthly Claims Conference Article 2 Fund pension that he receives under the program’s criteria.
The complainants argue that Mr. Kurzemnieks, whose survival story was told in a book, is an impostor, is not Jewish, and accordingly is not entitled to receive compensation from the Article 2 Fund.

Since the receipt of recognition from the Claims Conference has served Mr. Kurzemnieks as ostensible confirmation of the authenticity of his story, the complainants asked the Claims Conference to investigate the matter and withdraw his pension.

The book

The book

In his application to the Article 2 Fund, Mr. Kurzemnieks claimed that he grew up in a small town called Koydenov and managed to escape the massacre committed against the local Jewish population. To the best of his knowledge his father was killed, while his mother and younger brothers were slaughtered in front of his eyes while he was hiding in the forest. After hiding in the forest for some five months he was found and handed over to a unit of the Latvian army that was collaborating with the Nazis. The commander of the unit took pity on the boy and decided to adopt him and keep him in the unit as a boy soldier.

Mr. Kurzemnieks moved around Latvia and Belarus with the military unit, serving as its mascot and thereby surviving the war. The soldiers saw him as one of their own, adopted him and attended to all his needs. For his part Mr. Kurzemnieks helped the unit in its tasks, within his limited capacity as a child. He wore a uniform specially made to fit him and even carried a weapon.

At a certain stage the front line became too dangerous for a child. Karlis Lobe, one of the commanders of the unit who had personally cared for Kurzemnieks, transferred him to a family of collaborators in Riga who adopted him and saw to his education. He accompanied this family on its wanderings and eventually reached Australia together with the family. In Australia he married and established a family.

With the assistance of the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, it emerged that Mr. Kurzemnieks is, in all probability, Mr. Ilya Galperin, his mother’s name was Hannah, and his father did not die in the war as he believed but managed to survive and establish a second family.
After receiving this information, Kurzemnieks traveled to the areas where he spent his childhood and found the remnants of his family and the home he left.

The Claims Conference approved his Article 2 Fund application in 1999.

As noted, following the publication of Kurzemnieks’ book, various persons contacted the Claims Conference and demanded that the organization re-examine Mr. Kurzemnieks’ eligibility since, they argued, he is an impostor.
The complainants essentially raise three claims:

A. Firstly, that in their opinion the story as related in the book contains historical and logical contradictions negating its veracity.
B. Secondly, that the approval of Mr. Kurzemnieks’ application was procedurally flawed, and that his application constitutes part of the fraud exposed by the organization in 2009.
C. Thirdly, that in light of Mr. Kurzemnieks’ behavior in the past he is to be considered a collaborator with the Nazis for every purpose and matter and, accordingly, his eligibility for compensation is to be denied. In addition the complainants demand the withdrawal of Mr.
Kurzemnieks’ pension if only because of his affidavit of support for Karlis Lobe’s1 legal challenge to his extradition.

Having examined the evidence, the Ombudsman has found as follows:

Historical and logical contradictions – An examination of all the complainants’ claims did not produce any conclusive evidence fundamentally negating the veracity of the story. Their claims cannot meet the burden of proof required in order to deny Mr. Kurzemnieks compensation today.

•    The claims are purely circumstantial. None of these pieces of evidence, nor all of them together, can negate the feasibility of the story.
•    This is particularly true given that the events of the Holocaust in general are implausible and contradict common sense – this is true both of the cruelty of the murderers and of the extraordinary stories of survival in impossible circumstances.

It is true that many details in the story are difficult to understand, but we would not claim to judge the feasibility of exceptional events that occurred during this terrible period. We should recall that these events occurred many decades ago and are the product of Mr. Kurzemnieks’ memory from the time when he was not yet 10 years old. It is not impossible – and, indeed, it is more than likely – that the passage of time and the force of the events have led to certain inaccuracies in his story. 
Procedural Propriety – Despite our in-depth examination, we have not found any evidence suggesting that the application was accepted fraudulently or was fundamentally flawed in a 
manner justifying the withdrawal of compensation after 16 years. In addition we negated a connection between Mr. Kurzemnieks’ application and the fraud cases.

The Demand to Withdraw Compensation due to his “collaboration” and the Affidavit in Support of Karlis Lobe – Due to his young age and no real capability to make a choice in that circumstances (and according to Claims Conference regulations regarding this issue), we did not find it appropriate to condemn Mr. Kurzemnieks on this account and to order the withdrawal of the compensation due to his so cold “collaboration” during the war.

In addition, it was Lobe who transferred Mr. Kurzemnieks from the front line to Mr. Deniz, the owner of the Laima chocolate factory, who adopted Kurzemnieks as his son and even took him with him to Australia. Mr. Kurzemnieks lived in Deniz’s home as his son and as a member of the Latvian community in Australia.

In our conversation with Mr. Kurzemnieks, we asked him about this matter. He explained that under pressure from the community he agreed to show gratitude toward a man who, despite his crimes as noted, had saved his life. We did not find it appropriate to condemn Mr. Kurzemnieks on this account and to order the withdrawal of the compensation due to him solely on this account.

Our conclusion is that there are no legal grounds for discontinuing the payments to Mr. Kurzemnieks.

In light of the above, and since we did not find any flaw in the procedure for the approval of the application or evidence that the application was approved fraudulently, unlawfully and/or contrary to the usual rules, our recommendation is that payment of compensation to Mr. Kurzemnieks should continue.

But Colleen Fitzpatrick and Barry Resnick had brought the Kurzem case to the Claims Conference’s attention and had this to say after they read the ombudsman’s report: “The Claims Conference has taken a predictable self-justifying approach in its recent examination of the approval of Alex Kurzem’s application for reparations. No outside experts were consulted on major issues.
The most important of these is the authenticity of the Reizman GILF certificate, that formed the basis of the Conference’s original approval of Kurzem’s reparations, and that was used to leverage his documentary, book, and movie.  According to what Mr. Hollander told us at the outset of his investigation, Kurzem’s original application consisted only
of the GILF certificate.  Mr. Hollander agreed that it was a forgery, yet he did not consult forensic experts to confirm it, rather, he consulted Frida Reizman, the source of the document.  It would be surprising if Ms. Reizman would voluntarily offer the information that she had been involved in forging the certificate or that the Ilya Galperin story was fabricated.
Whether the Conference now has additional evidence showing Kurzem is Jewish and entitled to compensation, is not relevant.  Neither is the fact that the US Attorney General’s investigation showed no link with the present US-based fraudulent applications.  If the Reizman certificate is a forgery, there is no reason to believe it was the only forgery-based foreign approval.  Furthermore, the fact that the US Attorney General’s office did not see a connection between Kurzem’s application and the NY-based fraud cases does not negate a connection between his application and perhaps many more foreign-based fraudulent approvals. Such international cases are not within the jurisdiction of U.S. authorities.
Mr. Hollander’s report is meaningless since he did not independently investigate the authenticity of the Reizman certificate nor did he attempt to investigate whether there are many more fraudulently-approved international applications.”

 

THE FULL REPORT

 

Comments

3 Responses to “Claims Conference says compensation to Kurzem to continue”
  1. bernhard says:

    I have read the report. The issue isn’t Mr. Kurzem’s “Jewishness”. Rather it’s the fact he claims to have witnessed his family massacred by the same Nazi battalion that adopted him. He also claims to have found a long-lost half-brother in Belarus. It’s these facts that his best-selling book and soon to be movie are based on. The Claims Conference refused to take a stand on these outlandish claims. Mr. Kurzem is a fraud.

    Sincerely,

    Rabbi Bernhnard Rosenberg

  2. BERNHARD says:

    Is It True the Claims Conference May Be Paying Reparations to an alleged Nazi sympathizer?

    An Open Letter to Claims Conference Chairman, Rabbi Julius Berman.

    by Rabbi Dr. Berhnard Rosenberg

    Two years ago, I read an article about Alex Kurzem in a Melbourne newspaper. Having watched the “60 minutes” segment in horror and disbelief, I’ve followed this story and the Jewish Claims Conference’s involvement.

    As a Rabbi, I am ashamed by the Conference’s lack of scrutiny in its determination of Kurzem’s eligibility for reparations – based purely on a tall tale, which now appears even to have included a fraudulent document! Surely, the Conference has a fiduciary responsibility and owes those who truly were persecuted by the Nazis, to be thorough and discriminating in its validation of veracity. It did not fulfill that responsibility.

    Please explain to me, how it is you have been aware of the doubts and inaccuracies of Mr. Kurzem’s story since 2009, yet have done nothing about rescinding his reparations?

    How does the Claims Conference accept, tolerate, and apparently condone, that in 1972, Kurzem provided an affidavit endorsing the good character of Nazi SS Colonel Karlis Lobe?

    Please help me understand the inconsistency in the Haaretz article appearing last year, where Greg Schneider was quoted as saying no fraud was found in Kurzem’s application.Yet in the same article, Kurzem claims he never said he “was Ilya Galperin” , the person he claimed to be when filling out his application for reparations.

    How does the Conference define persecution? In a 2008 Penthouse article Kurzem is quoted as saying, the Nazis were “my family”, “I felt safe; I wasn’t hungry and I was looked after”. Please tell me, Rabbi Berman, that cannot possibly qualify as persecution by the Conference’s criteria, can it?

    A multi-million dollar fraud was committed on your watch already. Isn’t that enough embarrassment to the Jewish community? I don’t need to remind you of the higher standard to which we, as Jews are always held, and that the Conference cannot afford its integrity to be doubted or compromised.

    Six million are owed so much more. Isn’t it time, Rabbi Berman the Claims Conference came clean on Kurzem?

    (The Testimonies Director at the Centre, Mr Phillip Maisel, who recorded Kurzem’s story formed the impression that his interviewee was not being entirely truthful: “There was something strange about his story, something didn’t add up.” Researcher Colleen Fitzpatrick, concerned with preserving an accurate history of the Jewish Holocaust, has written: “Mr. Kurzem not only has and will continue to experience substantial financial gain and recognition from his books and his movie, he also lectures internationally to school children, thereby feeding the next generation with what may be distortions of the truth.”).See More

    Reply · Like · Follow Post · July 9 at 2:47pm

  3. Ronald says:

    The report concluded there is nothing unlawful about the circumstances related to the approval of Mr.
    Kurzem’s application. Since when is the Claims Conference concerned about following any type of law?

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