healthcare, politicians, politics, sexism, slut shamers

How I feel when a man mansplains avoiding pregnancy…

Sigh… It’s not even 8:00am, and I’m already feeling a bit irritable, mainly because my nose was all clogged last night and I evidently slept with my mouth open. I was parched when I got up, and had a bit of a headache. It’s just another day of COVID… which hasn’t made me very sick, but has definitely been a real pain in the ass to deal with. Adding to my frustrations are the horrors of the world today.

Then I opened Facebook and saw the below post by Amy Klobuchar.

Yes, Amy. This is very important stuff!

The first comment I saw was this:

Codify reproductive rights and that will take care of contraceptives. Those men in black robes need to be shut down. I shouldn’t have to fight for this again at 76 !

Shockingly, she received laugh reactions and a shitty response from another woman, who stupidly wrote this:

So I’m sure you need birth control or an abortion at your age.

Seriously? This clueless bitch doesn’t think that older women might want to engage in the fight to bodily autonomy, just because they aren’t going to be affected by pregnancy or necessarily need birth control anymore? At least one person commented to that effect. But then I saw a comment from a man named Scott:

or you could use your time productively and promote not becoming pregnant in the first place. But that is never a thought is it?

Wow… does Scott have any fucking idea of what he’s writing about? Does he know how many of his fellow men pressure women to have sex with them? Does he realize that a lot of men can’t be bothered to use condoms? Even fewer of them will consider having a vasectomy. I have no issues with men who don’t want vasectomies, by the way. If you’ve read this blog, you know why I feel that way. But I do think that if you’re going to have the nerve to mansplain to women about personal responsibility and pregnancy, you really should walk the walk. Somehow, I doubt Scott does.

A woman addressed Scott with this comment:

do you have any clue how many people choose to have babies and who end up aborting a fetus because of miscarriage, the inviability if the fetus or other pregnancy complications?

Apparently not because anyone who did wouldn’t be thinking about every abortion being a problem. When pregnant women die because of a medical emergency that was preventable I guess that means you’re not as prolife as you think you are.

Scott came back with this ignorant comment:

the life of the mother should always trump the life of the baby.

This is not what most abortions are about though, and you know it.

First off… Scott doesn’t know what other people know, and what they don’t know. Secondly, while the life of the mother *should* always “trump” the life of the developing fetus, the sad fact is, that DOESN’T always happen. Especially right now!

Last night, I read a sad and disturbing news story on NPR about a Texas woman named Elizabeth Weller, who very much wanted her baby girl to be born. But Weller’s waters broke at 18 weeks gestation, which meant the pregnancy wasn’t going to be viable. It was May 2022, a month before Roe v Wade was overturned. Texas still has that shitty law from last year, which pretty much bans all abortions and has had a chilling effect on the treatments physicians are willing to give to pregnant people. This lady went to see her doctor, who told her that she could either terminate the pregnancy, or go into the hospital and try to carry the pregnancy until the 24th week of gestation, when developing fetuses start becoming viable.

Weller and her husband decided that it would be best to terminate the pregnancy, even though they really wanted the baby. They knew that even in the unlikely event that she was able to maintain the pregnancy until the 24th week, the baby would likely be born with serious birth defects. But when Weller’s OB-GYN tried to arrange the procedure, she ran into significant obstacles. Doctors would not help Elizabeth Weller as long as her fetus still had a heartbeat. They told her she’d have to wait for the fetus to die in utero. In other words, she’d have to get really sick and put her health on the line before they would take action. So much for the life of the mother, eh?

This is not the first time I’ve read a story like this. I’ve seen stories like Elizabeth Weller’s from several different states. I’ve also seen many smug, self-righteous, arrogant comments from people like Scott, stating that if a woman’s life was in danger, the doctors would help her. What Scott doesn’t seem to realize is that right now, doctors are afraid of being arrested or sued for giving women abortions, even when an abortion is clearly medically indicated. Elizabeth Weller was forced to go home and wait until she had a high fever and was passing discharge from her vagina that smelled bad enough to make her retch. This is not good medical care, people. It’s torture. It’s cruel and nonsensical to treat women this way. This should not be happening. Moreover, nobody should have to justify or explain why they want or need an abortion! Especially to sanctimonious dickheads like Scott!

Scott continued his mansplaining, though, with this comment:

men have no say in getting you pregnant, only you do.

Seriously, Scott? Where the fuck have you been?! Tell that to the disgusting male RAPIST who impregnated a ten year old CHILD!!!

I wish it was only men who were making these ignorant comments, but there are plenty of old biddies weighing in, too. A woman named Kaye keeps commenting on Klobuchar’s post that abortions are not contraceptives. Duh, Kaye. This post wasn’t about abortion, it’s about making sure that women have access to contraceptives. There are politicians and judges who are considering taking away those rights. That’s what Amy Klobuchar is posting about.

I don’t think people like Scott and Kaye have really considered what taking away reproductive rights will do to our society. I can think of quite a few consequences just off the top of my head. Here’s a list:

  • Health care costs will go up, because women will have to wait until they get very sick to get abortion care. That will mean more needlessly complicated and costlier interventions.
  • Fewer people will want to be OB-GYNs, because they will be too constrained by uninvolved parties in delivering care, and they will have to pay even higher malpractice premiums than they already do. OB-GYNs have among the highest malpractice insurance premiums already.
  • There will be more children with special needs, and more children in the foster care system.
  • There will be more child abuse, because people will be having babies they aren’t prepared to parent, and they won’t necessarily want to give them up for adoption.
  • There will be more poverty, because children are expensive to raise.
  • There will be less privacy, because some folks will feel the need to intervene in other people’s personal business.
  • More men will be accused of rape, and that will mean more of them will go to prison.
  • More women will be accused of “murder”, and that will mean more of them will go to prison.
  • Some women will stop having sex with men voluntarily, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I hope no woman lets Scott have sex with her, given his caveman attitude.
  • There could be an uptick in domestic violence and divorce, as women won’t want to risk getting pregnant. Men will be sexually frustrated, which might cause them to drink more alcohol and engage in violent behaviors. There could be more drunk driving, and we all know what that leads to.
  • There may be an uptick in mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Some people may even turn to suicide, if a situation seems desperate enough.
  • Women will be less healthy. Some will die.

I’m sure if I felt like it, I could sit here and think of even more consequences to this ridiculous idea that women shouldn’t be allowed to control their own healthcare decisions. Politicians are already talking about trying to restrict potentially pregnant people from leaving their states to access abortion care. It’s absolutely SICKENING that they’re talking about this. I grew up hearing about how lucky I was to be an American, because we’re so “free”. Tell me, what is so “free” about passing laws that punish pregnant people for making decisions about their own bodies? Why in the world should someone like Greg Abbott, current governor of Texas, have any say whatsoever in decisions a woman makes regarding her own reproduction? The United States is turning into a police state, especially for WOMEN!!!!

I, for one, am glad that the 76 year old woman on Amy Klobuchar’s Facebook page is willing to speak up for other women. She’s old enough to remember when women had far fewer rights than we have now. She remembers what it was like to be a woman of childbearing age who had no right to terminate a pregnancy. In those days, people had more privacy, though, because there was no Internet. Nowadays, the Internet can trip up a person, as creepy social media sites collect information about users. Oppressive jerks like Scott want to put women behind bars, simply because they think they should have a say in what another person does with their own body!

I’ve said it before. I’m so tired of thinking and writing about abortion. It’s not something I will have to face. However, this issue is a slippery slope. No, it doesn’t directly affect me anymore, but who’s to say that the next invasion of privacy and intrusion into healthcare practices won’t affect me? Has Scott considered that this issue is just the tip of the iceberg? He’s very naive if he doesn’t realize that the powers-that-be will eventually be coming after freedoms that are important to him. Many of those folks truly believe that they have different rights and privileges than the rest of us have. I am reminded of Martin Niemöller, who wrote a very famous poem about the dangers of looking the other way:

Americans better wake up. The abortion issue is just the beginning, and it’s distracting us from a more sinister situation that is brewing. Niemöller, by the way, wasn’t all that innocent himself. He wasn’t all that interested in fighting Naziism until the Nazi movement threatened him directly.

As I close today’s rant, I want to share this July 25th video by Rachel Maddow, which shows how it’s later than we think. We’ve got idiots like Marjorie Taylor Greene talking about turning the United States into a “Christian Nation”. Listen to Rachel’s talk about former 50s era politician Gerald L.K. Smith, and his “America First” party. Listen to what Mr. Smith said back in the day, and compare it to what Marjorie Taylor Greene is saying now. It’s scary as hell. Mr. Smith was a racist, Nazi sympathizer, and anti Semite, and he wanted to be president. Smith died in 1976, but there are lots of other people just like him who are in politics now. They want to be in charge. Abortion rights and access to contraception are just the beginning of what they want to take away from rank and file citizens.

This is a fascinating look at the past… and the future, if we don’t take action. Listen to the clip she includes about Doug Mastriano, who is the Republican nominee for the governor of Pennsylvania. Scary shit!

So, you see, this issue isn’t just about abortion. And we should all fight against ignorant people like Scott and Kaye, and do our best to defeat people who want to take away our freedoms and rights to privacy. I have seen some very scary ignorance regarding pregnancy and abortion from people like Scott and Kaye. There will be real consequences if we don’t reverse this trend now.

Now to move on to guitar practice, before I have a stroke.

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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

Repost: Review of Inside the Gas Chambers: Eight Months in the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz

This is a reposted review that I wrote June 20, 2017. It appears here as/is.

Hello again!  I’ve just gotten back from our whirlwind long weekend in Belgium.  Today happens to be my 45th birthday.  I have spent all day in an aging SUV, hurtling down various high speed freeways and avoiding traffic jams as much as possible.  It was kind of hellish, trying to get back to Germany today.  However, as bad as today’s journey was, it paled in comparison to the journey so many others took to and through Germany back in the 1940s.

I don’t know why, but it seems like I always read about the Holocaust at this time of year.  I just recently read The Pharmacist, a book about an ethnic German Romanian pharmacist who was corrupted and became a Nazi.  A couple of days ago, I finished Inside the Gas Chambers: Eight Months in the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz (2013) by Shlomo Venezia (Venezia also includes an interesting commentary about why so many Jewish people have places as their last names).  This may seem like a very heavy topic to be writing about on my birthday, but I wanted to get my thoughts down before I forgot too much… although honestly, this book was so gripping that I’d be hard pressed to forget much about it.

I’ve read a lot of books about the Holocaust, but none that have quite the perspective that comes from Shlomo Venezia, an Italian Jew whose family was rounded up and deported from Athens, Greece and sent to Auschwitz.  Once they arrived, Venezia’s mother and sisters disappeared, almost certainly gassed immediately.  In exchange for some extra bread, Shlomo Venezia agreed to be a member of the Sonderkommando.  He had no idea what he was signing up for when he agreed to this special duty; basically, it was his job to help remove the corpses from the gas chambers and burn them.

This book, written in interview style, covers what it was like for Venezia to carry out his grim duties. Although he had relative comfort compared to other prisoners, he was there to see fellow Jews sent into the gas chambers.  He heard their screams and saw what they looked like after they were murdered.  He watched his colleagues raid their bodies before they were dispatched to the crematoriums.  One guy lied about being a dentist and was tasked with removing gold teeth from the corpses.  He found the work relatively easy at first, but then it grew more difficult as the bodies stiffened.

There were times when Venezia would run into people he knew.  One time, an uncle grew too sick to work and was sent to the gas chamber.  Shlomo had the opportunity to talk to him before he died.  He reassured his uncle, knowing that he was lying, but trying to comfort him in his last moments.  He gave him an extra piece of bread.  And when he died, he and his colleagues were able to say a kaddish for him before he was cremated. 

Venezia was also in a position to see some things that other survivors could not have seen.  He witnessed a baby that survived the gas chamber only to be shot in the neck by a Nazi.  He saw a mother and son evade the gas chamber for a couple of days, hiding in tall grass.  They were eventually found and murdered.  He saw some prisoners try to escape, unsuccessfully, of course.

As the war drew to an end, the members of the Sonderkommando became dangerous.  They had seen so much.  The SS wanted to exterminate them before they could reveal all they knew.  Venezia had to use his wits to escape the situation and survive so that he could tell the tale of the horrors of Auschwitz.  While it must be a living hell to have those memories, we are fortunate that he is able to share them with the world.  I think we still have a lot to learn from the horrors of the Holocaust. 

I won’t lie.  This book is pretty depressing and often shocking.  And yet, it’s fascinating and unbelievable… unbelievable that I now happily live in the country that produced most of the monsters who were capable of such horrific acts.  One thing I have noticed about Germany, though, is that its citizens fully recognize what happened and are very ashamed of it.  I have had some interesting conversations with Germans in my two times living here and many times visiting.  I even met one guy who was a POW in the USA.  Still, even having had those conversations and read so many books, it’s hard to even fathom the horrors that went on during World War II. 

Shlomo Venezia’s account is stark, unflinching, dispassionate… and it’s often very depressing and horrifying.  I still think it’s valuable reading.  We really do have a lot to learn from what happened in the 1940s, especially given what is going on in Washington, DC right now. 

I highly recommend Inside the Gas Chambers.  Be prepared to be shocked at the cruelty people are capable of… and heartened by the smallest acts of kindness and humanity. 

Tomorrow’s post will be on a much lighter topic.  I promise!

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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book reviews

Repost: A review of The Pharmacist of Auschwitz: The Untold Story by Patricia Posner

Another book review repost. This one was written May 27, 2017. It appears here as/is.

For some reason, I often read about the Holocaust during the late spring months.  It was definitely true when we lived in Germany the last time.  It’s been true this year, too.  Maybe there’s something about the sunny weather and warmer temperatures that make me want to read about the grotesque history of Naziism and Hitler’s Final Solution.  I don’t know.

I just finished Patricia Posner’s fascinating book, The Pharmacist of Auschwitz: The Untold Story, which is the remarkable tale of Victor Capesius, a Romanian man who served as the chief pharmacist at Auschwitz during World War II.  Posner’s book, published in January of 2017, apparently breaks new ground with a story that, until now, had not been widely reported.  Having finished reading it this morning, I feel like I learned a lot by reading this well-written and solidly researched book.  It was particularly interesting because I happen to live not too far from where Victor Capesius eventually settled after the war.

Dr. Victor Capesius was an ethnic German who was born and raised in Transylvania.  He studied pharmacology, married his wife, Fritzi, who was also from Romania, and had three daughters.  Eventually, he started working for Bayer, a German pharmaceutical company.  Capesius dispensed medications, but he also sold them.  He did business with people throughout Europe and was well-liked and regarded.  Then, in 1943, when he was 35 years old, Capesius joined the Nazi SS.  He was sent to work at Auschwitz, where he quickly rose the ranks in power to become the chief pharmacist.

As chief pharmacist, Capesius had many duties.  Some of his work involved providing medications to people who were sick– those people being other officers and their families.  He was also in charge of procuring and dispensing Zyklon B, the deadly cyanide based pesticide that was used to murder Jews in gas chambers at death camps around Europe.  Another one of Capesius’ duties was to help select Jews arriving at Auschwitz for the gas chambers.  Apparently, Capesius wasn’t happy about having to participate in selections, not because he was morally opposed to it, but because he didn’t want the extra duty.  Like Josef Mengele, the infamous “Angel of Death” who capriciously chose who lived or died, Capesius decided whose lives would be spared and who would be gassed within an hour or two of arrival at the death camp.

Because of his work as a salesman and pharmacist, it wasn’t unusual for Capesius to see people he knew arriving at Auschwitz.  These were former friends, colleagues, and customers who had known him as a kind, friendly person.  When the prisoners saw Capesius’ familiar face, they trusted him.  They had no way of knowing that this man they had once regarded as a friend, or at least someone worthy of respect, was making the decision to exterminate Jews.  Sometimes Capesius would spare people he knew and send their families off to be gassed. 

Capesius was also notorious for stealing.  He stole the belongings of the arriving prisoners, many of whom had stashed their valuables in their luggage, thinking they were simply going to be working for awhile.  The pharmacist also stole dental gold from the corpses.  He stockpiled these treasures and, once the war was over, used the booty to establish a comfortable life for himself.  After World War II, Capesius moved to Göppingen, a town not far from Stuttgart, and started a successful pharmacy.  Eventually, his wife, Fritzi, and daughters Melitta, Ingrid, and Christa, were able to leave Romania and join him in Germany.  Capesius and his colleagues had pretty much reintegrated into German society after the war and the government seemed content to simply whitewash the past.

Twenty years after the war ended, Capesius and his cronies were brought to justice by a very determined prosecutor.  Against the odds, the men were tried and most were found guilty and sentenced to prison.  Sadly, the sentences they received for their crimes were ridiculously light.

Patricia Posner’s book is a very interesting read.  But more than that, it’s a cautionary tale that Americans should expose themselves to, especially given our current government situation.  Victor Capesius was once a fairly decent person.  Once he was given unconditional power, he underwent a metamorphosis into a monster.  And then, when the war was over and he went back to his regular life, he wanted to bury the past and not be held accountable for his crimes.  It seems that many Germans were content with simply forgetting about the horrors of the Holocaust.  The same thing could happen in the United States if we’re not careful.

Capesius died in 1985.  He was stripped of his pharmacy degree, but he still owned his home and his business, which he ran even after he was convicted of war crimes and served some time in a German prison.  His wife, Fritzi, died in 1998.  His three daughters went on to earn high level degrees and launched successful careers in Germany, attending schools very close to where I’m currently living. 

Another aspect of this book that I found interesting is Posner’s discussion of the company I.G. Farben, which was a conglomerate of several German chemical and pharmaceutical companies, a few of which are still operating today.  I.G. Farben consisted of Bayer, BASF, Hoechst, Agfa, Chemische Fabrik Griesheim-Elektron, and Chemische Fabrik vorm. Weiler Ter Meer.  At the beginning of the 20th century, German chemical companies led the world in the production of synthetic dyes.  The word “Farben” in German means colors.

I.G. Farben had a pretty dirty history.  The company used slave labor provided by prisoners from Auschwitz to produce its products.  In fact, when it became clear that there was a need for more prison labor, the company was even responsible for the construction of the Monowitz concentration camp, which was a sub-camp of the Auschwitz concentration camp system.  It was named after the Polish town where it was located.  Prisoners at Monowitz were used at I.G. Farben’s Buna Werke industrial complex, where synthetic rubber was made.  The prisoners were starved and sickened and they could not work as hard or as efficiently as the regular employees, despite being threatened with beatings.  Prisoners who died while working were dragged back to the camp at night by their colleagues so they could be properly accounted for.  Female prisoners were forced to work as sex slaves at Monowitz’s bordello. 

I.G. Farben cooperated closely with Nazi officials, producing goods used by the Nazi regime.  The conglomerate also owned the patent for Zyklon B, which was invented by a Jewish-German Nobel Prize Winner named Fritz Haber.  Zyklon B was originally intended to be an insecticide, but it was very effective for killing people, as well.  I.G. Farben profited directly from its use as a murder agent in the gas chambers.

After the war, the Allies considered I.G. Farben to be too morally corrupt to continue operating.  Indeed, since 1952, the conglomerate ceased any real activity and remained a shell of a business.  However, legally, the conglomerate still existed until just fourteen years ago.  And most of the individual companies that were involved with the conglomerate are still operating today. 

I highly recommend Patricia Posner’s book for many reasons.  I think it’s a good reminder of what can happen when good countries fall victim to bad leadership.  Greed, corruption, and hatred can cause a decent society to fall into moral bankruptcy. 

Certainly, anyone interested in the history of the Holocaust will find Ms. Posner’s book a great read.  She provides plenty of sources for additional reading, so the especially curious will find a rich supply of information.  Yes, the subject matter of The Pharmacist of Auschwitz is horrifying and depressing, but it’s a cautionary tale to which we should all pay heed.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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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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