Reviewing: “The Twin Children of the Holocaust: Stolen Childhood and the Will to Survive” by Nancy L. Segal. Academic Studies Press. 2023. English. Paperback. 110 pages. ISBN-13: 979-8887190860.
As soon as the Jews arrived by train at the Auschwitz/Birkenau extermination camp, the selection process began. Twins were commanded to identify themselves. They were the special project of Josef Mengele, who had a PhD in physical anthropology and an MD degree. His “hobby was twins,” explained Gisella Perl, a Hungarian Jewish gynecologist deported to Auschwitz in 1944. “His ambition was to multiply the Herrenvolk [the master race] and to give to the German people the greatest manpower through twins. He performed the most execrable research on adult twins and now he had the source of the secret—the newborn twins [born at Auschwitz]. He acted like a scientist who, after much tiring and exhausting research, had at last reached his goal and discovered the heretofore hidden approach to the secret.”
The “Angel of Death,” as he was known by the prisoners, directed the selection process, during which he arbitrarily decided “with the power of his index finger” who shall live and who should be sent to the gas chambers. “He was far and away the chief provider for the gas chamber and the crematory ovens,” explained Olga Lengyel, a Hungarian Jewish prisoner at the camp. “He was a specialist at the ‘selections’… the tyrant from whose decisions there was no appeal.” He “profaned the very word ‘science.’”
With a considerable number of inmates at his disposal and no ethical restraints, Mengle was free to conduct his “satanic” experiments unhindered on twins and others “with genetic anomalies.” Giselle Perl said this included approximately 40 Polish and Hungarian Jewish midgets, some of whom lived with their entire families in a separate barracks. Mengele did not work alone. He forced “highly skilled” inmate physicians to “design and conduct research, perform tests and autopsies, and produce research papers, without the need to share credit with them,” notes historian Henry Friedlander.
It is against this background that Nancy L. Segal, an evolutionary psychologist and behavioral geneticist, specializing in the study of twins, decided to meet with the twin survivors at the 40th anniversary reunion held at Auschwitz/Birkenau (January 27-January 30, 1985). She believes there is “universal meaning for those who care deeply about the injustices and cruelties done to innocent children.” She points out that between the spring of 1943 and January 1945, several hundred twins were subjected to appalling medical experiments.
At the Auschwitz reunion, only nine twins attended, because of the complicated process of acquiring visas, and the difficulty of traveling during the winter. Of the nine twins at the reunion, there was one complete set, six individual twins and one non-twin “assigned” as a twin upon arrival. Two members of the Knesset, Shevach Weiss and Dov Shilansky (a Dachau survivor), also joined the group. A three-day public hearing on the war crimes of Mengle was held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem following the reunion. Many more twins attended the hearing in Jerusalem since they probably lived in Israel.
As Segal listened to the survivors, she was impressed by their ingenuity in dealing with their German oppressors, and their determination, against all odds, to build a meaningful life for themselves. The pictures that she took at these remarkable events put faces to the people who were “a unique minority of the youngest Holocaust survivors who are alive only because being a twin made them valuable to Nazi doctors.”
Thanks to Dr. Segal, the history of the Mengle twins, which, for the most part, has been overlooked by many Holocaust historians, is no longer just a footnote in the history of the Shoah.
Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and on the advisory board of the National Christian Leadership Conference of Israel (NCLCI). He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.