In Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz, several of the twins who managed to survive the experiments (despite a grim 90 percent mortality rate) tell their stories. For some, it was the first time they publicly discussed the loss of their families to the gas chambers and the horrors they endured at the hands of an arrogant and evil doctor. Lucette Matalon Lagnado, a journalist, and Sheila Cohn Dekel, writer and widow of a Mengele survivor, piece together the lives of the twins before, during, and after the war through interviews. One of the twins, Eva Mozes Kor, helped reunite the twins through the organization she established, CANDLES, or Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors.
Quotes from the twins are inserted into a biography of Mengele, showing parallels as well as distinct differences in the lives of the twins and the life of the Nazi doctor. Mengele lived a privileged life, and he was well known and well liked in the town of Günzburg. The twins also had happy lives with their families before the war, but when the war ended, the twins were forced to pick up the pieces of their broken lives without their parents, children, or other relatives and sometimes without their twin siblings. Not only did they lose their loved ones at the hands of the Nazis, but they also were left with horrible memories of the experiments they endured.
While the twins were left suffering emotionally and physically and unable to lead normal adult lives, Mengele fled the country to South America, first to Argentina, then to Paraguay and Brazil. He lived in the company of other Nazis who fled Germany and used the money sent from his father to invest in businesses and buy nice homes and cars, etc. How Mengele managed to elude the authorities is detailed in the book, based on his personal diaries, an autobiographical novel he wrote in exile, letters he wrote to his family, and interviews with numerous people who helped him along the way. It was especially hard to read about his later years in Brazil when he was the most-wanted war criminal, and he was complaining about family not writing to him and how he had to remain in hiding after openly flaunting his identity in previous years. The fact that he died without ever being convicted for his evil actions or indicating even a smidgen of remorse for all the deaths and grief he caused makes me sick to my stomach.
Children of the Flames is a hard book to read, but I believe it is important for the Auschwitz twins to have a voice and for us to remember and learn from their stories. Here is a quote from one of the twins that really affected me. He is talking about dealing with people who wonder why the Jews didn't fight back.
"The Jews who were brought by cattle car to Auschwitz weren't told they were going to a death camp: they believed they were going to be working. They had not worked in years. They were hungry, and they wanted to eat. They thought that by working for the Germans, they would have food and money, and they'd be able to survive until the war ended.Children of the Flames isn't for the faint of heart, but I highly recommend it if you're interested in a different kind of Holocaust story and are curious about the hunt for Nazi war criminals. Be prepared to cry and get angry at the injustice of it all. While I can't say I "enjoyed" the book given its subject matter, Children of the Flames was powerful, informative, and eye-opening.
That's why they went quietly -- that's why they didn't cry, or shout.
And then Dr. Mengele would tell them, 'Please take off your clothes because you need to take a shower.' And off they went into the gas chambers, very quietly. Everything was done very quietly. When was there even time for an uprising?
There were people inside the camps who found ways to smuggle out letters to relatives and friends describing what the Germans were doing.
But absolutely no one believed them." (Menashe Lorinczi, page 195)
Children of the Flames is the 12th book I've read for the WWII reading challenge I'm co-hosting at War Through the Generations.
Disclosure: I purchased my copy of Children of the Flames.