The Twin Children of the Holocaust: Stolen Childhood and the Will to Survive” by Nancy Segal. Review by Dr. Lisabeth Fisher DiLalla, Professor, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
In her newest book, “The Twin Children of the Holocaust: Stolen Childhood and the Will to Survive,” Nancy Segal has provided a story of survival, documenting the travels of some of the twins who were subjected to the horrors of Dr. Josef Mengele’s machinations in Auschwitz. Utilizing photos and short essays, this book recounts the 1985 trek by surviving twins as they attempted to bring Mengele to justice. This riveting photographic accounting of their journey provides a glimpse into the 40th anniversary reunion of the twins’ release from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1985 and their ensuing trip to Israel for the Yad Vashem hearing of Mengele’s atrocities. Segal tells this story in photographs more than words, with short descriptions peppered throughout the book to explain the photographs.
The story is given perspective in the book’s Foreward by Dr. David Marwell, an American historian and former director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. He provides the history for the book’s narrative. As Segal then notes, the story of what happened under Hitler and Mengele must be retold so that it is not forgotten. It is essential to continue “[e]ducating the public about what happened to [the twins and other victims]” (page 11). Segal definitively accomplishes this with her book. The book is not only a recounting of the adventure that a number of surviving twins experienced in 1985. It also serves as a testament to them and a memorial to those who were unable to be there. As Segal notes, “It is time for me to offer these pictures to those who wish to see them, and to those who need to see them” (page 11).
The book is filled with photographs that Segal took herself, mostly in 1985, some later when revisiting some of the twins. She augments these with short chapters describing the events that unfolded. Her personal reminiscences of her conversations with individuals and her travels with them help bring the pictures alive. Some of these memories remind us of the “horror, pain, and fear” experienced 40 years earlier, but others remind us of the indomitable will of the human spirit as these survivors grew, had families, and thrived, coming together in 1985 as one body to both remember and extinguish their demons. Because Segal accompanied the twins on their trip to Auschwitz and Israel, she is able to provide first person accounts of the events there. Her engagements with the people she traveled with provide an intimacy in her re-telling of the events.
The photos and the personal information that Segal presents make the horrors come alive again and make them more personal. This document is fascinating, upsetting, and important. It should be read as a celebration of those who survived, with a reminder to all of us that these events must not be forgotten. This book serves as a critical reminder to keep us aware of the atrocities that occurred and keep us saying, “This will not happen again!”