The History of Zvi Spiegel: The Experience of Mengele Twins and Their Protector During the Holocaust and its Aftermath

Yoav Heller

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis tells the story of Zvi Spiegel, who, at the age of 29, after serving in the forced labour units of the Hungarian army, was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. Upon his arrival, Spiegel, a twin himself, was put in charge of the twin boys who were being subjected to medical experiments by Dr Josef Mengele. Over the months, Spiegel emerged as the boys’ leader and saviour. In the aftermath of the war, rather than desert the young twins, he led them on a hazardous journey home to Hungary, over hundreds of kilometres in the midst of chaos and hardship. It was only forty years later that Spiegel reunited with the twins and his achievements were recognized publicly.
Through the unique story of Spiegel and his twins, the thesis aims to investigate three main topics, the first of which is Spiegel's evolution into a benign camp functionary. Contrary to the common perception of people who played positive roles in the Holocaust as natural-born heroic types, the evidence presented here shows that at least in the case of Spiegel, he became a helper. Spiegel did not arrive in Auschwitz as a righteous person; rather, having had to make decisions in the ever-complicated reality of the camp’s grey zone, he gradually evolved into a benign functionary—but not without his limitations and doubts.
The role of group frameworks within concentration camps is our second focal point. The group created by Spiegel had a lasting impact on the lives of its members, over thirty child twins. As will be demonstrated, Spiegel and the group formed an essential part of the twins’ experience in the camp and in many ways accompanied them throughout their post-war efforts to establish a new life.
The final topic relates to Holocaust representation and the image of the hero. In the 1980s, after a long period of silence and agony Spiegel finally shared his story with the public and was celebrated as the man who guided and saved the twins. But even at that stage he did not fully internalize a heroic narrative of the outside world. Spiegel’s post-war life as a whole, and his reluctance to adopt the heroic self-perception, highlight the limitations of Holocaust representation and the inherently un-heroic nature of places like Auschwitz. Even if one chose to help others, it was impossible to escape the moral ambiguity, the all-pervasive presence of death and the collapse of human values.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Cesarani, David, Supervisor
Award date1 Jun 2014
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014

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