"And I said, 'Mother, but I don't want to die,' but she didn't have an answer for me," Kurzem said during his visit to Belarus.
That night he woke up, kissed his sleeping mother goodbye and slipped outside to hide behind a knoll on the edge of the village.
The next morning, he says, he was awoken by gunfire and saw hundreds of people, including his mother, siblings and aunt, being shot on a grassy field and dumped in a mass grave. He bit his hands to stifle his cries.
Archival records show that Nazi troops murdered from 1,000 to 1,920 Jews in Dzerzhinsk on Oct. 21. 1941.
In the diary of Sarah Fishkin, a Jewish girl from the Dzerzhinsk area who was later shot by the Germans, she describes what she heard from survivors five days after the massacre.
"They gathered them and brought them to completed deep graves. The children looked at it with big eyes and didn't understand. People said goodbye to one another. Parents with small children pushed themselves forward to the grave so that they would fall first and not have to look upon the death of their dearest ...," she wrote in the diary, a copy of which is at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial.
Kurzem says he spent the next several months hiding in the woods, begging villagers for food and sleeping in trees to be safe from wolves. He pulled a coat and boots off a dead German soldier to keep warm.
Eventually, he says, he was caught and taken to a schoolyard. He was handed over to a Latvian battalion deployed by the German occupiers of Belarus, then part of the Soviet Union.
The battalion was busy killing Jews.
Kurzem recalls being hungry and running to a soldier to ask for a bit of bread before his turn came to die.
Then, he says, a miracle happened that still baffles him. The soldier, a sergeant named Jekabs Kulis, took pity on him.
He says Kulis looked him over and saw that he was circumcised -- at that time and place a certain marker of Jewishness. But the boy was also blond and blue-eyed, which enabled Kulis to present him to his comrades as a gentile, and they came to believe he was an orphaned Russian swineherd.
Kurzem says Kulis warned him never to reveal his Jewishness, and he was then made the battalion's mascot. Latvian military records provided to the AP by the Hoover Institution Archives confirm the country's 18th Kurzeme Battalion "adopted" a young boy whose parents were unknown on July 12, 1942, and gave him the name Uldis Kurzemnieks, roughly meaning "from Kurzeme," a region in western Latvia. (The name was shortened when Kurzem moved to Australia.)
Six months later, the soldiers gave their ward the honorary rank of private 1st class "for his diligent learning and good behavior," the documents say. Wartime photos show the boy wearing a Nazi uniform, and carrying a gun while posing with Kulis and other Nazi soldiers. According to records, he would have been 9, though Kurzem believes he is two years younger than the records say.
Over the next two years, the battalion took Kurzem to hospitals to visit wounded Nazi soldiers, and celebrated their young recruit in propaganda films. The footage shows a uniformed, solemn-looking child with neatly parted hair.
As Kurzem tells it, inhumanity and kindness went hand in hand. His Nazi elders were kind to him, he says, yet he also remembers how the battalion rounded up dozens of women and children, barricaded them in a synagogue and set it ablaze. Those who escaped were shot by three soldiers, one of whom was Kulis, his protector.
Another time, Kurzem says in the book, he was made to hand out chocolate bars to Jews being loaded into trucks. He said he was told they were being resettled, but they probably were bound for concentration camps or to forests to be massacred.
In all, some 250,000 were murdered in western Belarus -- virtually the entire Jewish population of the region, according to Martin Dean at the Washington Holocaust museum, an expert on the Holocaust in the Belarus and Ukraine. More than 10,000 Jews from the area survived the war.