Children of the Flames

Children of the Flames

Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz

Book - 1991
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Children of the Flames is a story of unsurpassed poignancy and enduring historical interest that expresses the continuing paradox surrounding the infamous Angel of Death. In a narrative evocative of the award-winning film Shoah, the long-lost survivors of Dr. Josef Mengele's notorious medical experiments recount their stories with ambiguity and anger. 20 black-and-white photos. LG.
Publisher: New York : Morrow, 1991
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780688096953
Characteristics: 320 pages ; 25 cm
Additional Contributors: Dekel, Sheila Cohn


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Sep 12, 2018

In 1976, Ira Levin (author of "Rosemary's Baby") published a terrifying novel entitled "The Boys From Brazil", which was soon after made into a movie which starred Gregory Peck as Dr. Josef Mengele, the notorious "Angel of Death" of Auschwitz/Birkenau. The premise centered on Mengele's desire to re-create Adolf Hitler, to which end he genetically engineered a number of Hitler clones, who were made to experience events in their lives similar to what Hitler endured in his early life, in the hope that at least one of them would turn out with a similar mindset. Thankfully, the plot was foiled.

Mengele likely never saw the movie or read the book, but he would have enthusiastically embraced the premise. "Children of the Flames" skillfully interweaves a narrative of Mengele's life with personal recollections of twin Jewish children (mostly from Hungary and Romania) who managed to survive the bizarre and horrifying experiments performed upon them at Auschwitz in 1943-45 under Mengele's auspices. Of over 3000 twins, fewer than 200 were still alive when the camp was finally liberated by the Russians in January 1945.

Mengele died in Brazil in 1979 (later confirmed by DNA testing of his bones). What comes through most strongly about him in this book is the duality of his nature: he seemingly loved children and spoke kindly to them (and politely to their mothers or fathers), showering them with treats and candies, at one moment; and at the next moment sending the parents to their deaths in the gas chambers with a flick of his white-gloved hand, and the twins -- only the twins -- to the experiment rooms.

Of course, the children would bear the physical and psychological scars of this experience for the rest of their lives, but what stands out about them more than anything else is the way Auschwitz affected their lives and Mengele's in oddly parallel ways. Both they and he had trouble with marriages and other family relationships; both he and many of them were bothered by insomnia and nightmares; likewise he and they both felt like "strangers in a strange land", he because he was forced to move from time to time to avoid capture, and could never go home to Germany, and they because the experience of going back home was often too painful since so few Jews were left, and yet they never felt completely at home in the various places they ended up -- not even in Israel. Sometimes Mengele comes across as almost a sympathetic character -- until one remembers that he was an unrepentant Nazi all his life.

The authors are not professional scholars, but the book is carefully researched (note a couple of factual errors mentioned in above reviews) and includes an extensive bibliography, and would be a good introduction for anyone wanting to know more about Mengele and Auschwitz. Also recommended as a personal narrative coming out of Auschwitz is "I Cannot Forgive" by Rudolf Vrba (Bantam Books, 1964).

deborah2252 Oct 24, 2012

Sad stories of survivors from a part not often told. But the writing is not very compelling and, hard to believe, but also boring.

Mar 31, 2011

Misleading description of the book. Do not expect any real information about what happened in Auschwitz. Probably made that way to appeal to a wider audience, but it loses its horror when you don't actually know what happened.


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