Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz Summary & Study Guide

Lucette Matalon Lagnado
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Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz Summary & Study Guide Description

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Children of the Flames is the story of the twins tortured by Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz and its aftermath written by Lucette Matalon Lagnado and widow of Mengele victim Alex Dekel, Sheila Cohn Dekel. In this book, the writers tell the story of Josef Mengele, beginning with his ordinary childhood in a small town near the Danube and taking readers through his education and career at Auschwitz, followed by his escape and relatively uneventful life after the war. Interspersed through Mengele's story is the story of the twins he tortured at Auschwitz who were lucky enough to survive only to face ongoing prejudice in their home countries and the psychological damage left by Mengele's actions. Children of the Flames shares a story that is often overlooked in view of the massive number of stories that came out of the Holocaust. This story will leave the reader filled rage, but also inspired by the strength these survivors found in themselves to overcome their experiences.

Mengele was born in Gunzburg, a small town near the Danube where his father owned a farming equipment factory. Mengele was loved in his small town because of his charm. When Mengele was a teenager, he decided to become a doctor so that he might make a name for himself beyond his father's factory. Mengele would come to study under Otmar von Verschuer, a well known and highly respect eugenics professor. Hitler had risen in power by this point and was promoting his idea of racial supremacy. This caused academics like Verschuer to quickly gain in popularity and respect. In fact, Verschuer would become instrumental in forming the guidelines for Hitler's Final Solution. It was under Verschuer's guidance that Mengele first became fascinated with twins and the possibility that they held the secrets to genetics.

When World War II broke out, Mengele quickly joined the Wehrmacht, but quickly decided he would rather join the SS. As an SS officer, Mengele was injured in Russia and deemed unfit for combat. Shortly after this, with Verschuer's help, Mengele was given a position as camp doctor at Auschwitz. Mengele was placed in charge of deciding who would live and who would die. Mengele also was given grants to conduct experiments. Mengele would watch for twins, giants, midgets, and other unusual specimens to use as test subjects. Mengele would subject these specimens to multiple experiments, including operating on them without use of anesthesia, injecting chemicals into their eyes to change the color, twin to twin transfusions, and dissection.

As the war drew to a close, Mengele sent all his notes to his mentor, Verschuer, out of fear that the Russians would get hold of them. Mengele then left Auschwitz and took refuge in two other camps before he was finally captured. Mengele spent several weeks in a prison camp before he was released. Mengele faked his identification and his captors had no idea who he was. For three years after his release, Mengele lived and worked on a farm while many of his surviving victims made their way home and found the prejudice against Jews had only intensified in their post-war world. As his victims began to immigrate to Israel, Mengele managed to make his way to Argentina.

Mengele made a good life for himself in Argentina, even marrying the widow of his brother Karl. However, when it became known to Mengele that the German government was searching for him, Mengele liquidated his assets and moved first to Paraguay and later to Brazil. In Brazil, Mengele would hide in the home of a family paid to protect him. This would last only a decade before the family would finally send Mengele to live on his own. In 1979, Mengele would have a stroke while swimming and drown.

In 1985, through the organization CANDLES many of the surviving twins of Auschwitz would return to the concentration camp, walk the path of the Death Walk, and hold a mock trial for Mengele. The twins would finally be allowed to tell their story. In the end, however, news of Mengele's death would leave many skeptical as scientist struggled to prove he was truly dead.

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