How a Jewish boy Ilya Halperin became the son of an SS regiment and "the youngest Nazi of the Reich"By Pictolic https://pictolic.com/en/article/how-a-jewish-boy-ilya-halperin-became-the-son-of-an-ss-regiment-and-the-youngest-nazi-of-the-reich
In October 1941, five-year-old Ilya Galperin witnessed the execution of the people closest to him — his mother, sister and brother. The Nazis executed them along with hundreds of other Jews in the small Belarusian city of Dzerzhinsk, Minsk region. He himself miraculously escaped the massacre by hiding in the forest, but for a Jewish child who found himself in the deep German occupation, this meant only a postponement of death. Fortunately for Ilya, fate decided otherwise and he had to live a long and unusual life.
Left alone, Ilya Galperin wandered through the cold autumn forests, ate berries and spent the night in trees so as not to become prey to wolves or feral dogs. The nights were cold, but the child managed to get some warm clothes, removing them from the corpses found near the roads.
When the boy met farms and villages on the way, he knocked on the doors, sometimes getting a bed and food, but more often a refusal. People were afraid to let a child into the house, guessing that he might be a Jew. Taking care of the baby, you could lose your life, because it was forbidden to give shelter and food to Jews and the punishment for violators was death.
Ilya did not remember how long his wanderings lasted — in the mind of an exhausted and hungry child, all the days merged into one hopeless escape from death, in which there were no hours, days and weeks. Perhaps the boy would have perished like thousands of other orphans, freezing in the forest, field or on the porch of careful farmers, if he had not been saved by... misfortune.
In one of the villages in a small tramp, one of the peasants recognized a Jewish boy and, wanting to curry favor with the Nazis, took Ilya to the battalion headquarters located in the school building. On the way, the scoundrel severely beat the child and took away from him those few warm clothes that saved the unfortunate from the cold.
The unit, in the headquarters of which the boy was, was called the 18th Latvian battalion of the Schutzmannschaft "Kurzemes". It was a police unit consisting of Latvians, whose task was punitive operations against civilians, the extermination of Jews and the fight against partisan detachments. In general, for Ilya, acquaintance with the Latvian Nazis did not bode well.
For everyone, Ilya became Alexey — a Russian boy who lost his parents in the turmoil of the war and did not even remember his last name. In the battalion, he was given the name Alex Kurzem, in honor of Kurzeme-the western province of Latvia, where the personnel of the Kurzemes battalion were recruited.
Alex Kurzem even received new documents, in which the date of his birth was October 18. It was on this day, in 1918, that Latvia first gained independence, and this date had a special significance for Latvian nationalists. In the battalion, Alex did not just eat soldiers ' bread for nothing, but worked to the best of his childish strength. He helped the cooks in the kitchen, cleaned the soldiers ' boots and buckles, heated the stoves and carried water.
After a while, the baby Alex Kurzem began to be considered his own — he learned the Latvian language well and even sang sad songs about the motherland and the sea together with the soldiers. The boy was sewn a real uniform and given a weapon — a small-caliber rifle and a miniature ladies ' pistol. So the Jewish boy Ilya Halperin became the son of the regiment and the living mascot of the Latvian Nazis from the Kurzemes battalion.
Of course, the child was not involved in mass executions, but nevertheless Alex Kurzem could not help but get dirty while serving in the battalion. The boy was often sent to the platforms of railway stations, where Jews were loaded onto trains to be sent to death camps. His task was to distribute sweets and chocolates to the unfortunate-the Nazis believed that this had an encouraging effect on the doomed people and made them give up resistance and escape.
On June 1, 1943, the 18th police battalion "Kurzemes" was rewarded for special success in conducting punitive operations by being included in the Latvian SS Volunteer Legion. Together with the soldiers of his battalion, Alex Kurzem received an SS uniform.
The round-faced, cute boy soon caught the eyes of Nazi journalists and German publications were full of portraits of "the youngest Nazi of the Reich" and his story, colorfully painted by Goebbels propagandists. German frau in Berlin and Hamburg were touched by the patriotic kid and sent him parcels to the front, and schoolchildren wrote pompous letters filled with ideological nonsense to Alex.
But in The SS Jewish boy Ilya Halperin did not serve for long — soon the luck turned against the Nazis and hard times came for his battalion. The Germans retreated, plugging holes in the fairly sagging front with battalions recruited from Latvian, Russian and Ukrainian collaborators. The battalion began to suffer heavy losses and young Alex Kurzeme was sent to the deep rear.
Alex Kurzem kept the secret of his childhood all his life. Even his wife and children did not know that he served in the SS. He told everyone that he had lost his family and was adopted by Latvians. In 1997, a man decided and revealed his unsightly secret. A little later, he wrote the book "The Maskot" ("Talisman"), which changed his measured life as an Australian pensioner.
Alex lost many friends, and the Jewish community of Melbourne accused him of aiding the Nazis. Most of the opponents were annoyed by the fact that Kurzem did not hate his former colleagues and always spoke and wrote about them as front-line comrades who were deceived and only for this reason did monstrous things.
Already in his old age, Alex Kurzem learned that his last name was actually Halperin. To do this, he had to go home with his eldest son Mark and visit his native village, located near the Belarusian Dzerzhinsk. Alex Kurzem-Halperin still lives in Melbourne and is raising grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He talks about his past without shame and does not understand why he is cursed and called an old Nazi.