Friday, February 13, 2015

The Twins of Auschwitz

From the BBC:
Vera Kriegel and her twin sister Olga were just five years old when they were taken from their village in Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz. Transported in cattle cars which were so tightly packed that the dead were still standing, she recalls the "sheer terror" of arriving at the camp and treading on "dead people like steps" as she left the train.

New arrivals at the camp were sorted into the weak, who would be gassed straight away, and the strong, who would be made to work. But Mengele and his assistants were there too, looking for twins. Vera, her sister, and her mother were taken straight to SS Captain Josef Mengele. He was intrigued, she says, by what he described as her mother's "perfect Aryan features" and blue eyes, while Vera's and her sister's were brown.

Mengele selected them for experimentation.

Another woman who remembers her arrival at the camp is Jona Laks, who was taken as a teenager from the Lodz ghetto. She was not immediately recognised as a twin and was initially sent off in the direction of the gas chamber - when her sister told Mengele they were twins he had her brought to his laboratory.

Josef Mengele was an assistant to a well-known researcher who studied twins at the Institute for Heredity Biology and Racial Hygiene in Frankfurt - he started working at Auschwitz in May 1943.

There he had an unlimited supply of twins to study, and he wouldn't get in trouble if they died. According to Prof Paul Weindling of Oxford Brookes University, author of Victims and Survivors of Nazi Human Experiments, hundreds of children were used in Mengele's experiments.

"I found a record of a prisoner doctor and bacteriologist who was forced to work for Mengele that there were 732 pairs of twins," he says, and suggests the doctor was interested in genetics. "I think Mengele might have been interested in the inheritance of the propensity to having twins."

He believes many of the twins survived Auschwitz, although he thinks Roma twins were almost certainly killed. (Read more.)

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