book reviews

Repost: A review of The Facts of My Life by Charlotte Rae…

I wasn’t going to put up another repost today, but I just realized that I never got around to reposting my review of the late actress, Charlotte Rae’s, book about her life. And since I’ve been binge watching The Facts of Life, I figure now is a good time to repost this review, dated December 15, 2015.

Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, I watched a lot of TV.  One of my favorite shows was Diff’rent Strokes.  I also loved The Facts of Life.  Both shows starred Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Edna Garrett, a maternal, wise, loving woman who first served as a live in housekeeper, then became the cook/dietician/house mother at Eastland School for Girls.

What I didn’t know was that Charlotte Rae’s career encompassed so much more than just 80s era sitcoms.  I learned much more about her life when I read her book, The Facts of My Life, which she co-wrote with her son, Larry Strauss.

Charlotte Rae Lubotsky was born the middle of three daughters to Russian Jewish parents.  She grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Born in 1926, Charlotte Rae was around to see the Great Depression and watch her parents and everyone else around her struggle to make ends meet.  Nevertheless, Rae and her sisters were musically talented and felt a pull toward show business.  After studying at Northwestern University among several other future stars, Rae moved to New York City and became active in the theater.

Having married John Strauss, Rae bore two sons.  Her older son, Andy, was severely autistic and spent most of his life institutionalized.  After a lifetime of health struggles, Andy passed away in 1999.  Her younger son, Larry, is a writer and teacher.  Rae writes about what it was like to work in the theater and later, Hollywood.  She and her husband battled alcoholism and later, Rae dealt with the fact that her husband preferred the company of males.  They managed to stay friends after their divorce. 

Rae writes quite a lot about her family of origin and her career.  Her attitude is upbeat, even as she describes having to deal with sibling rivalry with her older sister, Beverly, who was an opera diva.  Younger sister, Mimi, was a great pianist.  Rae describes her voice as “bluesy”, which is kind of hard for me to imagine, having seen her be Mrs. Garrett for so many years.  Apparently, she is quite an accomplished singer, besides a great actress.

Sister Beverly Ann became an opera singer, then married a wealthy doctor and became a socialite.  Sadly, she succumbed to pancreatic cancer.  Pancreatic cancer has since become a cause near and dear to Rae’s heart.   

I never knew that Charlotte Rae struggled with alcoholism.  Apparently, she’s been sober for about forty years.  She praises Alcoholics Anonymous and her AA buddies for helping her stay ahead of her addiction to booze.  I also didn’t know that Rae was Jewish.  She shares some interesting anecdotes about what it was life to grow up Jewish in the United States. 

Parts of this book were very witty.  Other parts were kind of sad.  Those who are looking for anecdotes about Diff’rent Strokes or The Facts of Life may come away somewhat disappointed; after all, this book is not just about those two shows, even if they did make her much more visible to the world.  But what she does share is enlightening and heartwarming.  We are reminded that Mrs. Garrett and Charlotte Rae are two different entities, as are the people who portrayed the characters with whom Rae starred.

I think this book will appeal most to people like me, who have enjoyed Charlotte Rae’s talents.  As celebrity life stories go, it’s pretty interesting.  I’d give it four stars.

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complaints, controversies, Duggars, education, religion

Christians sure are offending a lot of people these days…

This morning, I woke up to the news of the dismissal of the Duggar sisters’ “invasion of privacy” lawsuit against Springdale and Washington County officials, including Maj. Rick Hoyt of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Ernest Cate, Springdale city attorney and former Police Chief Kathy O’Kelley. The suit was filed in May 2017, two years after the Duggar family’s scandalous secret regarding eldest son/brother, Josh Duggar, and his penchant for molesting girls, was first revealed in the tabloid, InTouch.

An attorney for InTouch had made a Freedom of Information Act request for documents regarding an investigation done after the local Department of Human Services office had done after it received two tips about the molestation, which occurred between 2002 and 2003, when Josh was 14 and 15 years old, and his victims (four sisters and a babysitter) were between five and eleven years old. The police officials provided the documents, which of course, were made public. InTouch’s expose pretty much started the process that ruined the Duggars’ squeaky clean Christian image.

I remember being shocked about the revelations about Josh Duggar, but I had no idea what would happen a few years later, when Josh was busted for downloading some of the worst child sexual abuse images and videos that federal investigators had ever seen. Josh now sits in a jail cell, awaiting sentencing for his crimes. Meanwhile, four of his sisters, whose sexual abuse at the hands of their brother, have suffered another indignity.

I’m sure this lawsuit filed by Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Jinger Vuolo, and Joy Forsyth, was very stressful for them, especially since it’s been very public and has dragged on for years. It would not surprise me if the lawsuit was Jim Bob Duggar’s brainchild, to help recoup the loss of income that occurs when a reality show falls into disrepute and gets canceled. Of course, I don’t know if that’s actually the case. I just feel sad for Josh’s victims… all of them. It’s an outrage that this family became rich and famous off of their supposedly Christian image, when it’s very clear that they were lying to the public and hiding egregious sins. Hypocrisy abounds!

The Duggar sisters’ lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, so they can’t file it again. God only knows how much money was spent on this legal action, and how much stress it’s caused the officials in Arkansas, as well as the sisters. But it’s over now. All that’s left are probably massive legal bills. I didn’t realize that lawsuits were a particularly Christian thing. Instead, Christians are supposed to work it out among each other. I guess that Biblical principle goes out the window when money is involved.

After I read about the Duggar sisters’ lawsuit being canceled, I read two more articles about Christians. Both articles were about Christian proselytizing in public schools in two states. Sure enough, one of the states was Tennessee, which I have been writing a lot about lately. The other state was, not surprisingly, West Virginia.

In the first article I read, there was a story about a Jewish girl from Chattanooga, Tennessee who was taking a Bible class in her public high school. The class, which was supposed to be non-sectarian, was to focus on the Bible as literature, and in a historical context. However, it appears that the teacher of the course did not get the memo that she wasn’t supposed to proselytize or insult other religious beliefs.

Mom Juniper Russo wrote in a now unavailable Facebook post:

“[The teacher] wrote an English transliteration of the Hebrew name of G-d on the whiteboard. This name is traditionally not spoken out loud, and is traditionally only written in the Torah. She then told her students, ‘If you want to know how to torture a Jew, make them say this out loud,’” Russo wrote, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which first reported the story. “My daughter felt extremely uncomfortable hearing a teacher instruct her peers on ‘how to torture a Jew’ and told me when she came home from school that she didn’t feel safe in the class.”

According to the article I read, Jews typically do not pronounce the name of God as it is written in parts of the Bible, instead pronouncing it as “adonai,” which means “my lord.” I always wondered why my Jewish friends write G-d instead of God. Now, I know.

I remember our school had a Bible class offered in the late 80s that was supposed to look at the Bible as a literary and historical work. I recall that other religious books were also supposed to be explored. I was not at all interested in taking the class, since I hated going to church and wasn’t interested in religion at all. I have changed my views about religion over the years, although I still have no desire to attend church. I now find religion very interesting, mainly because I see how so many followers don’t seem to recognize how religion makes them behave badly, as they use religion as an excuse to act that way and be “forgiven”.

Interesting that the teacher would use the word “torture” in her explanation, especially as Tennessee is in the news because McMinn County’s school board removed the book, Maus, from its 8th grade curriculum. The incident involving the Bible class happened in Hamilton County. Russo and her family are members of Chattanooga’s Reform Mizpah Congregation. She has reported the incident to the Anti-Defamation League, which collects and investigates allegations of antisemitism.

It must be very uncomfortable for non-Christians to live in the southern United States, were many people are white, conservative Christians of the Protestant persuasion. Religion has become very polarizing in the United States since I was in school. In my day, most everyone I knew went to church, and the vast majority of the people I knew were Christians, and Protestants, in particular. I didn’t know any Jewish people until I went to college. That was also where I met my first Mormons, although I later discovered that a guy I knew in high school was LDS. I didn’t know it when we were in school, though. I did know a few Muslim kids in school, but they kept to themselves. I didn’t even know they were Muslim at the time; I just noticed that they dressed differently and were allowed to wear little beret type hats.

After I read about the incident with the Jewish girl in Chattanooga, I saw yet another article about proselytization in a school, this time in West Virginia. Sixteen year old Cameron Mays and his classmates were told that they had to attend an evangelical Christian assembly at their high school in Huntington, West Virginia. The assembly was a revival, and was taking place during COMPASS, which is a “non-instructional” break period during which students are usually allowed to read, study, or listen to speakers. Attending the revival, which was organized by the school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was supposedly optional. But Mays was told that he had to attend, and once he and his schoolmates got there, they were told to close their eyes and raise their hands in prayer. The assembly was being led by 25 year old evangelical preacher, Nik Walker of Nik Walker Ministries. Students were allegedly told that they must give their lives to Jesus Christ, and that those who don’t follow the Bible will go to Hell.

I was shocked to read about this incident, since it’s a clear violation of the separation of church and state, and should never have been allowed in a publicly funded school. But then I remembered my own high school years, and recall that a group called Teen Challenge came to my school. I think they were kids who had been in trouble with the law, but then found Jesus. They put on a show for us. It never occurred to me to be upset about it. I also remember the Gideons handing out pocket sized New Testaments to us in elementary school. But again, although I wasn’t interested in the Bible at all in those days, it didn’t occur to me to be offended. After all, I was raised a Protestant Christian– specifically Presbyterian. I can’t begin to imagine how awkward it must have been for the parents of children who weren’t Christian to have to deal with those situations.

In the case of the students in West Virginia, one Jewish mother said that her son had felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave the assembly. He was told by his teacher that he wasn’t allowed to leave, since the classroom was locked and there was no one to supervise him. The mother, whose name is Bethany Felinton said,

It’s a completely unfair and unacceptable situation to put a teenager in. I’m not knocking their faith, but there’s a time and place for everything — and in public schools, during the school day, is not the time and place.”

Cameron Mays’ father, Herman Mays, agreed, and added,

“They can’t just play this game of, you know, ‘We’re going to choose this time as wiggle room, this gray area where we believe we can insert a church service,'”

But, even though some of the parents were not happy about the revival at the school, others were happy to see it. They see the evangelical ministry as positive, and good for their kids, many of whom are struggling with anxiety, addictions, and depression. Personally, I don’t think a public school is a place for a revival, even if it is an optional activity. It really is very creepy how so many Americans completely ignore some of the standards the United States was founded on, as they cite the wishes of the Founding Fathers and yell about their freedoms. It seems they only want freedoms for certain types of people.

There’s a reason why religion is not supposed to be part of government entities, although if you think about it, religion IS a big part of our government. But it seems to me that many conservative Christians would like to see public schools completely destroyed, so their kids can be indoctrinated at school, as well as at home. They would truly like to see the United States turn into a theocracy. That, to me, is a very sad idea. One of the things I like best about American culture is that it is diverse. What happened to our “melting pot”? It seems to me that some folks would like to see the spicy melting pot disappear in favor of a more depressing, bland, white concoction.

Here’s hoping the people whose children have been affronted by overweening Christian influences in government funded entities will get some justice. As for the Duggar sisters, I think it’s time they moved on and enjoyed their lives in private. Jim Bob Duggar is a very poor example of a true Christian. It’s time he stopped having an influence on American culture.

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Germany, history, videos, YouTube

A fascinating video I saw by total chance yesterday…

Today has gotten off to an extremely annoying start. In my travel blog last weekend, I wrote about how I was trying to book our vacation for next week. USAA immediately declined my credit card, which led to my having to call them. Likewise, PenFed allowed me to make two hotel bookings, but then blocked my card when I tried to make a third booking. I will be calling them later today, which doesn’t make me happy, because USAA blocked my debit card this morning when I tried to use it to buy sweaters.

USAA used to send text messages to my phone whenever there were questionable purchases made. Now, they don’t do that, because they don’t want to pay for international texts. So they just decline and restrict the card, causing me to have to call them. It wastes time and costs me money, plus it’s just a huge inconvenience. The real kicker is, an hour after I called USAA, I got an automated phone call from USAA to confirm the charges weren’t fraudulent. Of course, they didn’t go through, and now I am not wanting to use the card because I don’t want to cause another block.

Anyway… none of that has anything to do with today’s post. I just needed to get it out of my system. Today’s post is actually about something much more incredible and life changing.

Yesterday, I was watching a brief YouTube video about a Holocaust survivor. It was a very short video, and I was in the middle of something when it ended, so I didn’t immediately turn off the autoplay. I’m glad I didn’t turn it off, for that is how I became acquainted with Eva Clarke and her amazing story of how she was born in a concentration camp the day before Adolf Hitler committed suicide, and just two days after the Germans ran out of gas in the gas chambers at Mauthausen.

This video is about an hour long, but it is SO worth the time. It was taped at the University of California San Diego in 2018.

Eva Clarke is half Czech, half German. Her parents were both Jewish. Her father had moved to Prague to escape the Nazis. He thought that was far enough away from Germany to escape persecution during the Hitler era. It wasn’t, and unfortunately, he was a Holocaust victim. However, he did meet Eva’s mother, Anka, there, and they married, before they were sent to live in a ghetto and were later sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.

Eva’s mother, Anka, was an incredible woman with a tremendous will to survive, as well as great pride for who she was. Against incredible odds, and with many strokes of good luck, she managed to survive the Holocaust and lived to the ripe old age of 95. That fact, in and of itself, is astonishing… but Eva is also a tremendous speaker and storyteller. She is very engaging. I wish I could have had teachers like her. Maybe I would have ended up better prepared for life.

I showed this video to Bill last night. Just as I had when I watched it the first time, I ended up in tears because I was so moved by how Eva and her mom managed to survive and thrive, even though Hitler had wanted to destroy them and anyone else he hated. Also, Eva mentions that the American Army were their saviors, as they were the ones to liberate Mauthausen. Since Bill is an Army veteran, it does my heart good to hear good things about the Army… and reminders of a time when U.S. Soldiers and other servicemembers were truly thought of as heroes.

Bill also got a bit teary listening to Eva’s story. He hadn’t meant to learn more about the Holocaust last night, but he did tell me that he didn’t regret hearing Eva talk about how she came to be. Nine days after Eva’s birth, World War II ended. And now, she is a lovely, elegant, eloquent speaker, who is telling the world about why we can’t ever let someone like Hitler come back into power.

This is why I am so vociferous about Donald Trump and his ilk. While I realize that Trump hasn’t started a genocide, some of his ideas and techniques are very much like Hitler’s. He emboldens people to be divisive and racist, and he craves money, fame, and power. I worry that he will influence otherwise good people to turn a blind eye to the atrocities of racism and we could, one day, have another genocide as horrifying as the Holocaust is. And this is not to say that genocide on a smaller scale isn’t already happening. It is.

Anyway, if you have time and are interested, I highly recommend watching the above video. And if you find any other videos by Eva Clarke, I would recommend those, too. I will probably watch another video by Eva… maybe it would calm me down a bit and remind me that my problems are truly first world problems. At least for now.

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book reviews, family, mental health, overly helpful people, psychology

Repost: A review of When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People…

I originally wrote this review for Epinions in 2006. I am reposting it here as/is. I had reposted it on the original version of this blog, but that post included a time sensitive anecdote that is no longer relevant. So here’s the review on its own, as it was originally written fifteen years ago. Maybe this book is still as helpful as I found it back then.

I realize that since the holidays of 2005 have already passed, this review of Dr. Leonard Felder’s 2003 self help book When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People: Surviving Your Family and Keeping Your Sanity might be a tad tardy. On the other hand, the month of January has always seemed to me to be a time custom made for personal change. With the idea of personal change in mind, consider the following questions. Do your relatives make you crazy at family gatherings? Do they harangue you about the way you look, your job, your marital status, or your place in life? Do you find it unbearable to spend more than a few hours with your family? Do you feel like you’re out of the loop when it comes to important family decisions? Do you dread the holidays because it means you’ll be expected to hang around your family for long periods of time? If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, Dr. Felder’s book might be a big help to you.

Dr. Leonard Felder is a Los Angeles based licensed psychologist and co-author of another family oriented book, Making Peace With Your Parents. I had never heard of Dr. Felder prior to finding this book, but he’s appeared on Oprah, CNN, CBS’ The Early Show, NBC News, A.M. Canada, National Public Radio, and ABC Talkradio. I discovered When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People quite by accident. I got an email from Barnes and Noble alerting me to a large post holiday sale. I’m a sucker for sales and I’m always looking for new books. I managed to pick up a brand new hardcover copy of this book for about $4. Considering the fact that I’m a public health social worker by training and someone who has a hard time hanging around my own family, I figured it would be a fine addition to my personal library. Having just read When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People, I can understand why Felder is so popular. He has an easy to understand, conversational writing style that I found easy to relate to. He also offers advice that is both easy to follow and practical, while still reminding his readers that they can’t control other peoples’ thoughts or emotions, but they can control how they react when relatives start to pluck their nerves.

Dr. Felder uses interesting and realistic scenarios to get his point across to his readers. I often found myself nodding my head as I recognized some of the situations that I’ve found myself in when I’ve dealt with my family. For example, I have three older sisters who are driven career women. All three of my sisters keep themselves looking beautiful and polished most of the time, as they pursue their lofty professional goals. I’ve often caught a lot of grief from my family because I’m more of a housewife than a career woman.

I work as a freelance writer on an occasional basis. I’m more comfortable in sweats with my face unpainted and my hair unstyled. My lifestyle works for me and my husband, Bill, but that doesn’t always stop my family members from harassing me about the fact that I’m not like them. Consequently, I often find myself avoiding family get-togethers and hating every minute of them when I can’t avoid them. I love each individual member of my family, but not when we’re all together and personalities start to clash. Dr. Felder offers constructive ideas on what to do if you have a sister who is narcissistic and obnoxious, or a father who gets on your case about your employment status, or a mother who picks on you about your weight. He also offers assurance that family troubles are not unusual. There’s no reason to feel like a freak because you can’t get along with the people who created you. It happens to a lot of people. Dr. Felder’s book offers hope and a chance to make those visits with family more bearable and constructive.

One thing I did notice about When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People is that it does seem a little bit skewed toward those of the Jewish faith (which I am not). Dr. Felder is himself a Reform Jew, so he sometimes uses examples that will be more familiar to those who share his religious preference. However, I will note that Felder is careful to explain whenever he includes a cultural term with which his audience may not be familiar. For instance, when he uses a Yiddish term like mensch, he explains to his readers who may be unfamiliar with the term that mensch is a Yiddish word for “good person”. Felder’s explanations make the book accessible to everyone, but they also reveal that the book is slightly bent toward people of a certain culture. It’s only natural, though, that writers tend to write best when they focus on writing about what they know; Judaism is certainly something about which Dr. Felder knows.

When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People is divided into ten chapters that are dedicated to certain common issues. For example, Felder devotes whole chapters on dealing with religious disagreements, family battles about food, weight, clothes, and appearance, getting past drugs, alcohol, and other addictive behaviors, and relatives who are just plain intolerant. At the end of the book, there’s an appendix as well as a list of suggested reading and sources. I was happy to see that Dr. Felder suggested a book that I read and reviewed last year on Epinions.com, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood inside the Fortress by Mary Edwards Wertsch— an excellent book for people who have family in the military.

The 2005 holiday season is now a memory. If you’re currently breathing a sigh of relief that the holidays are over because you found hanging out with your family stressful this past year, I urge you to read Dr. Leonard Felder’s book, When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People. Even if none of the scenarios in this book apply to you, you may find yourself comforted at least in the knowledge that you’re not alone. There’s no need to feel badly just because your family makes you crazy. As Dr. Felder points out in his book’s title, it happens to the very best of people.

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book reviews

Repost: my review of Children of the Flames

Here’s one more reposted book review. This one was originally written for Epinions.com in 2010 and reposted on my old blog January 24, 2015. It appears here as/is.

On January 27, 2015, it will have been 70 years since Russians liberated the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz.  This morning, I read a fascinating news article about an 80 year old Slovakian Jewish woman who was at Auschwitz when the Russians came.  It was Marta Wise’s 10th birthday when she was caught by Nazis and sent away, first to the Sered labor camp in Slovakia and then, a few weeks later, to Auschwitz, where she and her sister, Eva were imprisoned and were subjected to the cruel medical experiments carried out by Dr. Josef Mengele. 

In the last days of Auschwitz, there was a lot of chaos.  Able bodied prisoners were forced to march westward in an attempt to escape the Russians.  Because Eva was sick, Marta stayed behind with her.  The Nazis tried to kill Marta and some other prisoners by locking them in an enclosure and setting fire around it… but European weather is fickle.  A sudden rainstorm put out the fire and Eva and Marta were rescued. 

Their survival was against all odds.  The sisters were able to go back to Bratislava, where they reunited with their parents and all but one sister, Judith, who died at Auschwitz.  Marta moved to Australia and went on to marry and have children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. 

In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am reposting my review of Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz

The story of Dr. Josef Mengele and his gruesome twins experiments May 8, 2010 (Updated May 8, 2010) 

Pros:  Fascinating book. Well-written and insightful. Photos.

Cons:  May depress some readers.

The Bottom Line: This book is a valuable reminder of where humankind has been and where we don’t want to return.

Last night, I finished reading Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz. This book, published in 1991, was co-written by Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel. Lagnado is writer who has had a special interest in Dr. Josef Mengele and his twins experiments at Auschwitz. Sheila Cohn Dekel is also a writer and an educator, as well as the widow of Alex Dekel, one of Mengele’s victims. 

A brief overview 

Dr. Josef Mengele was a high ranking Nazi physician. He literally had a deadly charm to go with his handsome face. Although Dr. Mengele had been an undistinguished student at his Gymnasium in Gunzburg, Bavaria, he eventually managed to study at the University of Munich, where he earned a Ph.D. in anthropology. Mengele happened to be in Munich as the ideas of eugenics, racial purity, and ethnic cleansing were becoming popular in German society. 

Graduating from university with highest honors, he went on to Frankfurt University, where he earned a medical degree and later joined the military. In 1941, he got his first taste of combat and was an excellent soldier. The following year, he was in another battle on the Russian front when he made his first selection. Because there wasn’t enough time or supplies to help every wounded man, Mengele had to decide which of the wounded would be treated and which would be left to die. This task was reportedly very gruesome for Mengele and he hated to do it… but he was evidently very good at it. 

Mengele’s skill at picking and choosing would be used again when he went to work at Auschwitz. It was often Mengele who met the trains carrying hungry, exhausted, and often very sick Jews when they arrived at Auschwitz. With a white gloved hand, he would casually pick candidates for the gas chambers, directing the new prisoners to go left or right. 

Mengele’s studies in genetics and anthropology made him fascinated by so-called “freaks of nature”. And so, when those trains came to Auschwitz, he directed his fellow Nazi soldiers to help him find quirky subjects for his research. He looked for dwarves, giants, and Jews who didn’t look like Jews. But he was most interested in twins. Mengele believed that twins held the answers to the genetic secrets he had a burning desire to explore. Mengele’s position as a high ranking SS physician at Auschwitz gave him the freedom to explore those secrets by undertaking any experiments his heart desired. 

Mengele’s children: a protected class 

Dr. Mengele sought twins every time new Jewish prisoners arrived at Auschwitz. Most of the prisoners who arrived were under the impression that they were there to work. So when soldiers called for twins, some parents of twins and adult twins were reluctant to come forward. But as it turned out, the people who ended up in Mengele’s experiements were often better treated than other inmates were. They were fed better, allowed to keep their hair, and had better quarters. They were also safe from the gas chambers. The catch was that they had to be Mengele’s specimens for his often gruesome experiments and exploratory surgeries. Those that didn’t survive the experiments or surgeries were autopsied by an assistant, who would send their body parts and organs to Berlin. 

Supposedly, Mengele was comparatively gentle with the twins, particularly with the small children. He kept them in fairly good health and had a fairly gentle touch when he drew blood (on a daily basis). Sometimes, if he had a very young set of twins, he’d let their mother come with them. Mengele would often pick a pet who would be especially well treated. It’s said that he was affectionate with the children, giving them candy and chocolate and sometimes even playing with them. Some of them called him Uncle Mengele. But he would also casually dispose of them when he grew tired of them and none were spared his horrifying experiments.  

This book’s layout 

The authors of Children of the Flames chose to recount the story of Mengele and the twins in an interesting way. They got the stories from surviving twins who were the subjects of Mengele’s research and flip-flopped between the twins’ experiences and Mengele’s life story. Among the twins interviewed were a pair of male/female twins. The male half had been chosen to be the “twins father” because he had served in the Czechoslovakian army. He looked after all of the male twins. His sister was almost murdered, but was saved before she was sent to the gas chambers. The female twins in Mengele’s research did not have a “twins mother”. 

The authors include a lot of commentary from the “twins father”, as well as several other sets of the several thousand twins that Mengele used in his research. Of course, of all of those twins, only a few hundred survived the war. The authors also include photos as well as an afterword that updates readers on the twins.

One thing to know about this account is that it’s not entirely about the concentration camps. The authors don’t go into great detail about the experiments and they don’t dwell much on the concentration camp experience. Instead, they approach the story by describing how it was for the twins before and after the war as they interweave Mengele’s story.

My thoughts 

I found Children of the Flames fascinating. Josef Mengele was a horrible person, but he’s extremely interesting to read about. From this account, he comes across as deceptively charming and kindly, yet underneath that gentle exterior was a monster who killed and tortured people as if they were toys. As someone who has studied the social sciences, I find Mengele an extraordinary subject. He really is an example of a sociopath. The authors follow him from Germany to several countries in South America. They also offer information about his two wives, his son Rolf, and his nephew and former stepson, Karl Heinz.

I also enjoyed the interviews from the twins, most of whom were incredibly resilient. Their stories from before and after their experiences at Auschwitz are recounted, giving readers some perspective as to what it was like during their recoveries. Anyone who thinks the Jews had it so much better after they were liberated may be in for a shock. The twins describe very hard times, particularly for those who went to Eastern Europe or Israel rather than America or Canada. 

Overall 

Children of the Flames is excellent reading for anyone who is interested in learning more about Nazi Germany and concentration camps. The authors did an outstanding job of describing who Josef Mengele was as they put a face on his victims. They provide valuable insight as to what it was like for Jews after they were liberated. Even when they weren’t prisoners, they were still victims, haunted by nightmares, poor health, and crushing poverty. This should be required reading for anyone who is a student of European history.

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