The Youngest Corporal In The Nazi Army

How A Young Jewish Boy Escaped Death And Became A Mascot For Nazi Soldiers

CBS All Access
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This is a story of survival - the incredible story of how a six-year-old Jewish boy survived the Nazis' final solution and kept how he survived a secret for more than 50 years.

It's the story of Alex Kurzem, who at the age of six watched his family being shot by the Nazis. He escaped and wandered alone for months until he was captured by Nazi soldiers. But instead of killing him, they made him their mascot.

Alex was so young, he quickly forgot his family name, his age, and the name of his village. But he did remember that the Nazis had fenced the Jews into a ghetto, and on his last night there Nazi soldiers burst into his house and began beating his mother.

"I remember, when she shielded me that her blood [was] dripping. I felt my face and [there] was blood on my head. But it was my mother's blood," Kurzem told 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon.

Kurzem told Simon he and his siblings were hiding under skirts. "My little brother and sister and we were, she was shielding us sort of."

She could shield them from the soldiers' blows, but not their bullets. And she told Alex that the next day they would all be shot. "That night my mother took me in her arms. And she said, 'Tomorrow we all have to die.' And I thought, 'I don't want to die. I'll have to try to escape.'"

So that night, crawling through the grass, he snuck past Nazi soldiers and up to the top of a hill, and hid in a forest overlooking the village. "And when the daylight broke I heard a lot of commotion and noise below. When I looked down, I saw soldiers lining up people and shooting them in a big, big pit," Kurzem recalled. "And then I saw my mother with my brother and sister also there."

Kurzem told Simon he saw how his mother and siblings were lined up and shot. "That's very visible in my head all the time."

Village records say the Nazis massacred more than 1,600 people there on October 21, 1941; and Nazi records show that a Nazi battalion took Alex in on July 12, 1942.

The months in between are a mystery. Alex says all he remembers is wandering alone, cold and hungry in the forest. He took a winter coat off a dead soldier to keep from freezing to death. And he slept in empty sheds and in trees by tying himself to branches.

Asked why he decided to sleep in trees, Kurzem told Simon, "I heard wolves in the distance. And I knew that if the wolves find me asleep on the ground they would eat me most likely. So I got scared of that. So the only way to survive, climb a tree."