Saturday, September 4, 2010

Children of the Flames

Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz by Lucette Matalon Lagnado, Sheila Dekel
HarperCollins, 1991
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780688096953
Highly Recommended

During World War II, Nazi doctor Josef Mengele subjected some 3,000 twins to medical experiments of unspeakable horror; only 160 survived. In this remarkable narrative, the life of Auschwitz's Angel of Death is told in counterpoint to the lives of the survivors, who until now have kept silent about their heinous death-camp ordeals.
My Thoughts:

Children of the Flames follows in approximately chronological order the life of Joseph Mengele and several of the surviving twins from the Auschwitz (Birkenau) Nazi death-camp. Mengele, the Angel of Death, infamously experimented on twins, as well as others, in the concentration camp during WWII. The book includes 8 pages of family photos, 39 pages of notes, and an index.

This is more of a biography of Mengele with short selections of the survivor's stories italicized and interspersed in the narrative. It follows in approximately chronological order the life of Mengele and that of his victims. Experiments on them during WWII are not detailed but, rather, discussed in very broad terms. Much of the book covers post-war activities of Mengele and, in very brief paragraphs, the survivors.

While this is a story that needs to be told and kept in print I can't help but think that the actual style in which it was presented does a disservice to the survivors. With the surviving twin's stories scattered among Mengele's biography, the book has a disjointed feeling. While I can understand what the author was doing, it might have made a better, more cohesive book to tell one story at a time. It also would have been easier to keep track of everyone's story. The reason for keeping the disjointed style in the book may be because the author wrote a magazine article first. She may have simple chosen to keep the same format for the book rather than reworking and reorganizing the material.

Tell your children of it,
And let your children tell their children,
And their children another generation. - Joel 1:3 (pg. 15, preface)
Highly Recommended, because we can not forget

In the winter of 1984, I was asked by Parade magazine to seek out the long-lost child survivors of Dr. Joseph Mengele's experiments at Auschwitz during World War II. Of the estimated three thousand twins - most of them young children - who had passed through Mengele's laboratories between 1943 and 1944, only about a hundred were known to have survived. opening. preface

For many of the twins, simply telling what happened to them proved to be a release. pg. 8, preface

Mengele's passion for selecting the Jews for the gas chambers of Auschwitz had earned him the title "the Angel of Death." With a flick of the wrist, he would consign thousands to die. Among the few exceptions were the young twins he plucked out of the selection lines for use in his research. pg. 9, preface

Most of the twins began their descent into Auschwitz by witnessing their entire families being led away from them to be killed. In their special barracks, located just yards away from the crematoriums, they observed the Nazis' extermination of the Jews at close range. pg. 9, preface

Mengele's twins are condemned to live with a terrible double-edged sword: the hell they endured because of Mengele, and the life they owe to him as "his" children. pg. 11, preface

"And today, when I am asked that question [How could you have let the German's do this to you?], I tell people it doesn't matter whether you're Hungarian, Polish, Jewish, or German: If you don't have a gun, you have nothing." pg. 195


Anonymous said...

I read this last year for the WWII challenge. I agree that it was a bit disjointed going from the survivors to Mengele and back again. Still, it was a very interesting book.

I hope it's okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations.

Lori L said...

Of course it is okay to link to my review, Anna!