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    CSUF professor’s book records reunion of Auschwitz twins who survived medical experiments
    • June 30, 2023

    By Nicole Gregory, contributing writer

    In January 1985, Nancy Segal was witness to an extraordinary reunion of adult twins who had suffered from brutal experiments performed on them as children by Josef Mengele in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland during World War II.

    Segal, a professor of psychology at Cal State Fullerton, has published her photos and experiences at this event in her new book, “The Twin Children of the Holocaust: Stolen Childhood and the Will to Survive.”

    She was already studying twins and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota when she heard about this planned reunion. Segal, a twin herself, raised the funds to go to Poland for the reunion and also to attend a mock trial of Mengele, held by the survivors at Yad Vashem in Israel several months later. Segal brought along her camera to photograph the participants and their journey as they got to know one another, discovered photos of themselves and other archived artifacts, shared their stories, and walked through the death camp and the surrounding areas.

    The event demonstrated the tremendous resilience of the survivors who’d lost their childhoods, their families, and their homes. It was organized by a group called Children of Auschwitz’s Deadly Laboratory Experiments Survivors (C.A.N.D.L.E.S.).

    “Not a lot of people know about these twins,” Segal said. “People have heard vaguely about the Mengele twins and experiments, but they really don’t know the humanity behind the science — or the pseudoscience — that went on.”

    Mengele injected children with chemicals to see if their eyes could be turned blue and with bacteria to observe the ways they became ill, among many other cruel experiments. He measured every aspect of their bodies and quizzed them about their families.

    “It was an outrage, a horrific stain on the history of a well-respected and very informative research methodology,” Segal said. Her photos and memories of the reunion record the momentous healing for the twins. She photographed survivors placing a memorial candle and wreath at the ruin of a crematorium. Another photo shows a survivor touching the once-electrified barbed wire, and another shows a twin who is now a rabbi saying a prayer at the reunion.

    “I regard these photographs as a really unique collection of human history,” Segal said. “No one has ever seen these. This is a very significant event in terms of the Holocaust, and also in terms of twin studies. It’s a story that needed to be told.”

    For Segal, the subject is deeply personal. “I’m a Jewish twin. I could really resonate with this because in another time, another place, that could have been my twin sister and me there.”

    What was Mengele trying to discover with his experiments? “I think he was trying to show genetic differences among different population groups to prove the superiority of the Aryan race,” Segal said. “That was the ultimate goal. But I think he also couldn’t wait to be lauded as a famous scientist who had this incredible twin data. I think he was kind of driven by blind scientific ambition.”

    An estimated 700 to 1,500 pairs of twins were sent to Auschwitz, but the exact number is not known. An estimated 200 twins survived but only nine joined the 1985 reunion.

    “A lot of those twins did not know what had happened to the other pairs,” Segal said. “This event connected them with people that they knew as children, so that was remarkable. I saw the most wonderful reunion between these two men from different pairs in the aisle of a plane. I mean, it was amazing.”

    The event proved to be a turning point for the survivors. “They went back and confronted the forces that had so clearly separated them from their parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters,” Segal said. “They had the resilience and the strength to confront all that, and to survive and lead productive lives, have occupations, raise families. I think it was healing in the sense that they felt they were bringing Mengele to a kind of trial. They were alerting the world to this. In fact, this event is what stimulated the governments of Israel, Germany, and the U.S. to start a hunt for Mengele.”

    In 1985, it was thought that Mengele was still alive. When it was later reported that he had died by drowning in Brazil, many Holocaust survivors did not believe this was true.

    Segal is the author of several previous books on twins and lectures nationally and internationally. Most recently she gave a talk at the Orange County Holocaust Education Center in Newport Beach.

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    ​ Orange County Register