Discover ‚Üí Medical Thriller

The Gene

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A wonderful balance of fiction with an undercurrent of scientific advancement and knowledge through genetics with a lovely twist of religion

Synopsis

We are the dwelling place of God‚ÄĒit is woven into our very DNA. Do we change the core of who we are by manipulating our genes? Is gene-therapy a miraculous cure or a slippery slope into eugenics?

Following their marriage, Dr. Nicklaus Hart and Maggie Russell enjoy the splendor and passion of a honeymoon in Hawaii. They learn that their union has brought new life, but the overflowing joy of Maggie’s pregnancy and their romantic getaway is interrupted by the shocking news of a genetic disorder discovered in Maggie’s family. The devastating possibility that both Maggie and the baby carry the mutated gene for the horrific Huntington’s disease, shakes their faith.

Nick and Maggie travel to Poland, where the top geneticist, Emmanuelle Christianson, has founded and operates BioGenics whose mission statement is: Advancing the Human Genome. They understand that medical advances always cost something, but they face impossible decisions. They are unaware that the sinister side of genetic research has slithered in from the horrors of Nazi death camps into this modern-day technology. Their journey reveals more than the fight for knowledge, it uncovers a simmering evil left over from World War II. One that puts their lives in danger.

Disclaimer - I received a free digital download of this book from Reedsy Discovery in exchange for an honest review.


I’m going to be honest and admit that I requested this book based on the title alone. I didn’t read the blurb or synopsis prior to starting on the first chapter, so it was a surprise when I did get round to beginning the book. 


The chapter begins in first person narrative of a young girl called Yuri who lives in Poland during the Second World War. Yuri and her twin sister Eva are cruelly snatched after Nazi SS soldiers storm their home and kill their parents. At this point I was wary of where the story was going as I have heard horrifying recollections of twin studies undertaken during the Second World War at the command of Hitler in his concentration camps. 


However the story revolves around two main narratives after that first chapter, that of a newlywed couple and of a geneticist. My background is in genomic research and I found the book to be a really compelling and interesting way of putting forward somewhat complex genomic inheritance in relation to two well known disorders, through a fictional narrative making it more digestible for your average reader. 


I found the writing in the book very endearing and found myself wanting to read more about both families struggles. I really liked that the book was fictional, but had so much scientific understanding in that it made reading the book a wonderful experience. I didn’t realise this book was one of a series, but I think after reading this charming instalment, I’ll be giving the other books a go. Would definitely recommend! 

Reviewed by

Books are one of my main passions and have been since I was a teenager. I‚ÄėBe completed two goodreads challenges so far with 125 books in 2018 and 200 books in 2019. I decided to start my blog and bookstagram to document my book journey and bring recommendations to others.

Synopsis

We are the dwelling place of God‚ÄĒit is woven into our very DNA. Do we change the core of who we are by manipulating our genes? Is gene-therapy a miraculous cure or a slippery slope into eugenics?

Following their marriage, Dr. Nicklaus Hart and Maggie Russell enjoy the splendor and passion of a honeymoon in Hawaii. They learn that their union has brought new life, but the overflowing joy of Maggie’s pregnancy and their romantic getaway is interrupted by the shocking news of a genetic disorder discovered in Maggie’s family. The devastating possibility that both Maggie and the baby carry the mutated gene for the horrific Huntington’s disease, shakes their faith.

Nick and Maggie travel to Poland, where the top geneticist, Emmanuelle Christianson, has founded and operates BioGenics whose mission statement is: Advancing the Human Genome. They understand that medical advances always cost something, but they face impossible decisions. They are unaware that the sinister side of genetic research has slithered in from the horrors of Nazi death camps into this modern-day technology. Their journey reveals more than the fight for knowledge, it uncovers a simmering evil left over from World War II. One that puts their lives in danger.

YURI - JANUARY 17, 1945 - POLAND


Yuri huddled under a woolen blanket with her sister, Eva, in the back seat of the black sedan. The windshield wipers strained against the pelting snow as frost collected in the corners of the windows, obscuring an unfamiliar landscape flashing by in the morning light. Yuri welcomed the wool’s comfort, despite the pungent odor of mildew. She was warmer than she’d been in months. Three months, Yuri guessed. She could be mistaken, of course, as the trauma had numbed hermind.

Yuri¬†closed¬†her¬†eyes¬†and¬†tried¬†to¬†force¬†the¬†terrifying¬†images¬†from her consciousness.¬†Still,¬†the visions¬†replayed‚ÄĒthe¬†Nazi¬†SS breaking¬†down¬†the door to their home in the dark of¬†the¬†night, shooting her mother and father when they¬†protested,¬†and dragging¬†Yuri¬†and¬†Eva¬†to the¬†brickyards¬†like¬†animals.

Then the marching. The marching and the bitter cold. The bitter cold and the bone-jarring hunger. Her mind couldn’t erase the shallow, vacant eyes of the dead along the road. Starvation or exposure had taken many of them, while others were executed for seemingly random and merciless reasons. Visions replayed of the elderly man with the kind eyes who’d handed them a thick wool coat, blessed them in Hebrew, and ran toward the trees only to be cut down by machine-gun fire from a nearby SS officer, and the grandmother who shared her moldy bread and a piece of sausage with them, only to collapse and die of starvation two days later.

Yuri¬†couldn‚Äôt¬†banish the monsters haunting her nightmare‚ÄĒthe young German soldiers who sneered and shot insults at the continuous line of her people, and the¬†guards¬†who laughed at their¬†misery,¬†as they forced the captive multitude¬†forward¬†with¬†the¬†butts¬†of¬†their¬†guns¬†and¬†snarling¬†dogs.¬†Six¬†weeks of endless trudging through the¬†snow¬†to¬†Austria,¬†stepping¬†over¬†the¬†countless¬†dead.¬†Numb¬†with¬†cold¬†and¬†exhaustion,¬†Yuri¬†had no tears¬†except¬†when her unyielding consciousness projected¬†images¬†of¬†her¬†parents¬†lying¬†dead¬†in¬†their¬†own¬†blood.¬†Only¬†then¬†did¬†tears¬†pry¬†their¬†way¬†throughher¬†frozen¬†psyche.

Papa. Mother. Their friends had tried to protect them, but someone had ratted them out.

Yuri’s eyes snapped open to the harsh voices of the two Nazi SS soldiers in the front seat who argued over which road to take. The soldiers had driven all night after they’d pushed and shoved Yuri and Eva into the automobile without an explanation. Otherwise, their escorts had ignored them for the most part. The ranking soldier in the passenger seat chain-smoked, and his agitated speech slurred more and more as he took slug after slug from a silver flask.

The sisters had a rudimentary understanding of German, but through an unspoken mutual pact at the beginning ofthe journey, they chose to stay mute. They concluded the driver didn’t appreciate heading into harm’s way with two Jewish girls while the Russians advanced on the Eastern Front. Yuri had pieced together that their destination was Poland to meet a doctor in a work camp called Auschwitz. But it remained a mystery why the Germans had singled them out.

Yuri¬†tightened¬†her¬†embrace¬†around¬†Eva‚Äôs¬†shoulder¬†as¬†her sister rested¬†her¬†head¬†in the¬†crook¬†of¬†Yuri‚Äôs¬†neck.¬†Because they frequently¬†sat¬†together¬†in¬†this position with¬†Eva¬†on the¬†left¬†and¬†Yuri¬†on the¬†right‚ÄĒprobably¬†the way¬†they‚Äôd¬†grown¬†in utero¬†eighteen years ago‚ÄĒtheir mother¬†had¬†often joked¬†that¬†they acted¬†more¬†like¬†Siamese¬†rather¬†than¬†the¬†identical¬†twins they were.¬†Yuri,¬†the¬†protector,¬†was¬†younger only because¬†their¬†father believed¬†she‚Äôd¬†pushed¬†Eva¬†out¬†of¬†the¬†birthing¬†canal¬†ahead of¬†her.¬†Yuri¬†winced¬†at¬†the¬†pain¬†in¬†her¬†groin.¬†She¬†had¬†to¬†urinate¬†so¬†badly; she¬†couldn‚Äôt¬†hold it much longer‚ÄĒafraid to¬†speakup,¬†afraid¬†to¬†soil¬†the¬†car.¬†It¬†had¬†been¬†eight¬†hours¬†since¬†the¬†Nazis¬†had¬†stopped¬†the¬†sedan¬†and¬†forced¬†the¬†girls¬†to¬†squat¬†and pee¬†like dogs while they stood over them.

A train clattered on the tracks alongside the road.¬†Yuri¬†distracted herself by counting the¬†cars‚ÄĒfifty,¬†all identical, similar to the livestock trains that had passed near their¬†home in¬†Budapest.¬†It¬†must be headed to a¬†slaughterhouse.

Through the veil of the snowstorm, she could make out a massive complex looming in front of them. The driver shot a glance at the girls in the rearview mirror as they approached an iron gate, and he slowed the sedan. Yuri ducked her head to read the inscription. ARBEIT MACHT FREI.

The¬†drunken¬†ranking¬†soldier¬†caught¬†her¬†gaze¬†and¬†read¬†the¬†sign aloud,¬†‚ÄúArbeit¬†macht¬†frei,‚Ä̬†he sneered and motioned as if working the ground with a¬†hoe.

Work¬†makes you¬†free?¬†Yuri¬†had¬†heard¬†rumors of the work camps¬†but¬†still¬†didn‚Äôt¬†understand¬†why¬†she¬†and¬†Eva¬†had¬†received¬†such¬†special¬†treatment‚ÄĒplaced¬†into¬†a¬†warm¬†automobile¬†while soldiers crammed the rest of the Hungarian Jews into railcars. The Nazis forced many Jewish women to make German uniforms, and although Yuri and Eva could sew, this effort made little sense to her.

The driver stopped at the gate and rolled down the window. A snow-covered guard leveled a machine gun at them. Icicles hung from his nostrils, and his breath froze in the wind as he demanded to see their papers.

The ranking soldier leaned toward the open window, voiced his displeasure at the delay, then motioned to the girls in the backseat. The guard ducked his head through the window, showering the driver with snow, then shined a flashlight in their faces, first Eva, then Yuri, and back again.

The¬†guard‚Äôs¬†smile¬†surprised¬†Yuri¬†as¬†he¬†ordered¬†the¬†gate¬†arm¬†raised, then barked instructions and the go-ahead. The¬†driver¬†rolled up his¬†window,¬†and¬†Yuri¬†adjusted the blanket¬†around¬†Eva‚Äôs¬†neck. A loud whistle cut through the blustery air as¬†the¬†train that paralleled the road pulled into the same complex‚ÄĒ adding to the mystery¬†Yuri¬†was at a loss to¬†solve.

Like a city, the camp expanded for miles in all directions, and the driver navigated around an endless number of two-story brick buildings along with a series of checkpoints. But unlike any other city, razor wire surrounded this one.

Men in blue-striped canvas clothes wandered in groups around the yards, straining under loads of lumber or pushing wheelbarrows full of bricks. Yes, this must be a work camp.

In¬†another section of the complex, women in filthy gray dresses tied at the waist marched in formation‚ÄĒfour¬†abreast¬†with hundreds in each line. The stomp of their wooden clogs¬†resounded¬†through the closed automobile¬†windows¬†even¬†as they¬†plodded¬†through¬†the¬†snow¬†that¬†rapidly¬†accumulated.¬†The¬†desperation draped across their faces sent a shiver up¬†Yuri‚Äôsspine, but their shaved heads¬†were¬†the strangest¬†sight.

The sedan rounded a corner, and a terrible stench filled the car, assaulting Yuri’s senses and making her gag. It remindedher of when she had accidentally caught Eva’s hair on fire with a candle, but this smelled much more foul. Even theNazis winced. When the ranking soldier reached to click off the heater, he turned, smiled, and nodded at her. Yuri looked away.

Up ahead, a brick building with a massive stack bellowed the putrid smoke that changed falling snow to a dirty gray. Yuri almost said something in German but caught herself and faked a cough. Eva’s head burrowed deeper into her neck, and Yuri tightened her protective grip around her shoulder.

At the next checkpoint, the driver turned through an entry in the middle of an elongated structure. A watchtower satover the entrance with two large machine guns pointed outward. The train had pulled perpendicular to the building, and to Yuri’s horror, the guards unloaded people, not livestock. Their escorts also seemed surprised to see hundreds, if not thousands of human beings, get off the train. Yuri had many questions, but no one to ask. The guards were in ananimated discussion. She listened and understood their debate centered on how they would get past the mob to the German soldiers gathered at the far end of the rail yard. With train tracks on both sides of the road, they would have to walk through the crowd.

The¬†driver¬†placed¬†the¬†sedan¬†in¬†park,¬†opened¬†his¬†door,¬†and¬†jumped from his seat.¬†He¬†flung open the rear¬†door.¬†‚ÄúSchnell,¬†schnell,‚Ä̬†he waved for them to exit the automobile. As they stepped¬†outside,¬†the¬†man¬†pulled¬†the¬†blanket¬†off¬†their shoulders and¬†tossed¬†it¬†into¬†the¬†back¬†seat.¬†The¬†frigid¬†air¬†was¬†as¬†shocking as the silent mass of people. Curt¬†orders¬†from the¬†German guards,¬†the¬†incessant¬†bark¬†of¬†ferocious¬†dogs,¬†and¬†the¬†raspy¬†caw¬†of three¬†crows¬†sitting on the top of the¬†watchtower¬†echoed off the buildings.¬†Yuri¬†looked up at the¬†birds¬†that tucked¬†and¬†bobbed in¬†excitement over¬†the arriving¬†trains.

The ranking soldier stepped out of the car, lit a cigarette, and pulled the collar of his heavy overcoat around his neck. He surveyed the crowd and shrugged. Then, like the parting of the Red Sea, the mass of people split in two, men on the left, women and children on the right.

Their escorts shoved Yuri and Eva forward through the open pathway. But after they’d taken a few steps, a guard dog with fierce dripping fangs jumped in front of them, stopping them in their tracks with its bark and growl. Yuri turned Eva away as the shepherd snapped ferociously at her chest. A guard with a machine gun in one hand held the dog back with the other and ordered them to stop. Warmth ran down Yuri’s legs as her bladder emptied.

The¬†guard¬†restrained the dog when the ranking soldier stepped forward and spoke.¬†Since¬†they‚Äôd¬†arrived in the¬†camp,¬†Yuri¬†had¬†heard¬†a¬†name¬†repeatedly¬†throughout¬†the¬†checkpoints,¬†Mengele.¬†Hauptsturmf√ľhrer Mengele.¬†Doktor¬†Mengele.

The guard pointed to the head of the line and restrained the dog to let them pass, but the animal continued to snarl and bite at the air, inches from Yuri. Even their escorts seemed intimidated, but this time they took the lead and motioned for the girls to follow them to the front of the line.

Yuri¬†¬†looked from side to side.¬†She¬†¬†was shocked to¬†see¬†so many people, garbed in their everyday clothes, men in suits, women in dresses: grandfathers, grandmothers,¬†fathers, mothers,¬†and¬†children¬†of¬†all¬†ages.¬†Some¬†shot¬†Yuri¬†and¬†her¬†sister¬†scornful glances as though they had cut in line at the¬†movies. She¬†couldn‚Äôt¬†help but notice that they all had one thing in common‚ÄĒa¬†Star¬†of David pinned to their chests. They¬†were¬†all¬†Jews. Jews¬†whose pride, along with their clothes, hung dejectedly on their¬†hollow¬†frames.

A gunshot rang out to her left, and she jumped. A soldier pointed the smoking end of a pistol at a man who’d tumbled into the snow. Crimson blood instantly pooled by the victim’s head as two men in striped suits ran to the body,picked it up, and carried the corpse away. Yuri wondered what crime he had committed.

As their escorts arrived at the front of the line, they stopped¬†where¬†SS¬†guards¬†huddled¬†in¬†groups¬†of¬†twos¬†and¬†threes,¬†smoking‚ÄĒwaiting¬†anxiously. Not¬†one¬†guard acknowledged¬†the girls or their¬†escorts.

Men¬†in¬†the¬†canvas¬†outfits¬†instructed¬†the¬†Jews¬†to¬†straighten their lines and reminded them to¬†remain¬†silent. ‚ÄúIf you coop- erate, you will soon be warm and well-fed!‚ÄĚ one man¬†shouted in¬†Hungarian.

Are¬†all these people¬†Hungarian,¬†like me?¬†Yuri¬†wanted to¬†ask¬†the woman standing next to¬†her,¬†but¬†before¬†she found¬†the¬†courage¬†to¬†speak,¬†a¬†large¬†automobile¬†pulled¬†up.¬†The¬†SS¬†guards¬†tossed¬†their¬†cigarettes¬†into¬†the¬†snow¬†and¬†stood¬†at¬†attention. The¬†chauffeur quickly exited, opened the back door of the¬†sedan,¬†and snapped a salute. Out stepped an immaculately¬†dressed¬†man in his¬†Schutzstaffel¬†uniform.¬†He¬†wore no¬†overcoat¬†and¬†seemed¬†unfazed¬†by¬†the¬†frigid¬†temperature¬†and¬†fallingsnow.¬†He¬†placed his¬†officer‚Äôs¬†hat¬†over¬†slicked-back dark¬†hair,¬†threw¬†his cigarette¬†to¬†the¬†ground¬†and¬†crushed¬†it¬†with¬†the¬†toe¬†of his¬†shiny black¬†boot‚ÄĒslow¬†and methodical, in no¬†hurry,¬†as though enjoying¬†a¬†Sunday stroll.

The guards remained at attention as a hush fell over the frightened crowd. The intimidating officer took his time as he walked to the head of the multitude, periodically striking the side of his boot with a leather riding crop.

If¬†Yuri‚Äôs¬†bladder¬†hadn‚Äôt¬†emptied earlier, it would have¬†now.¬†¬†But the man did something entirely unexpected.¬†As¬†¬†he approached, he whistled‚ÄĒsoftly at first and then¬†louder.¬†Schumann or¬†Strauss,¬†perhaps.¬†The soldiers stood rigid, but he ignored their¬†formality.¬†Instead¬†of a salute, he stretched¬†his¬†neck, surveyed the¬†crowd¬†of soldiers and¬†Jews,¬†and nodded in¬†acknowledgment.

This officer frightened and fascinated Yuri. His eyes scanned the organized chaos, not missing one element. He has done this before. With meticulous attention to every detail, he focused on the girls’ escorts in the space between the menand women. The officer pursed his lips in question, then moved his head from side to side to get a look at them. His cropsmacked hard against the top of his boot.

He squinted as he walked directly toward Yuri’s now so- bering guard, who stood erect and saluted with the rest of the soldiers. The guard’s legs flexed nervously as the man in charge approached with his jaw set and fury in his eyes. The officer unleashed a litany of verbal abuse at Yuri’s escorts, but paused when one motioned to Yuri and Eva.

The ranking¬†guard¬†stuttered‚ÄĒsomething about¬†Hungary,¬†something¬†about¬†twins,¬†and¬†something¬†about¬†their¬†eyes.¬†Asfast as¬†the¬†officer‚Äôs¬†rage¬†had¬†manifested,¬†it¬†departed.¬†He¬†took¬†a¬†step back¬†and¬†slid¬†the¬†riding¬†crop¬†through¬†his¬†black¬†leatherbelt.

When he approached Eva, her knees buckled, and Yuri supported her entire weight. As gently as a father, the officer removed Eva’s headscarf and ran his fingers through her silken blond hair. Then he pried her eyelids open to look into her eyes. He turned to Yuri and examined her in the same manner. His whistling had been unexpected, but he surprised Yuri when his face softened, and his mouth broke into a wide smile. Yuri didn’t know why he seemed pleased, but noticed the large gap between his front teeth. She thought it an odd anomaly for such an impeccable man.

‚ÄúWie alt bist du?‚ÄĚ he asked.

Yuri understood he asked their age but feigned ignorance and shrugged, wary of any trouble once their escorts discov- ered they spoke German.

The officer called the other guards over, displaying Yuri and her sister like prized animals. The guards inspected their eyes and touched their blond hair.

The lengthy discussion the officer had with their escorts confused Yuri. Finally, the officer patted their driver on the shoulder, reached into his pocket, pulled out a velvet pouch, and handed it to the ranking escort who opened it and poured the contents into his palm: diamonds, rubies, and emeralds.

At that moment Yuri understood this was their final destination. The name at all the checkpoints led to this man. Mengele. Doktor Mengele just bought us. But it made no sense. Why us, out of all these people? Yuri tried to understand. The doctor then ordered his men to escort the girls to his sedan.

Once inside the warm car, Yuri and Eva shed their coats. The driver handed them each a piece of sausage and cheese, followed by a rare treat, even at home‚ÄĒchocolate.

As they watched from the automobile, Mengele separated the people in the line, waving them in one direction or the other: old men and women, and women with children to the left, healthy men and women to the right.

What a kind man, Yuri thought.


* * *


Yuri shivered and slipped her bare feet into the examination stirrups, wishing she had something to cover her nakedness. Her body quaked. It was not the cold that ignited her uncontrollable shaking, but fear.

Others had not been as kind as the doctor. After Mengele sorted the large crowd, he had taken Yuri and Eva to a two-story brick building marked with a small placard, BLOCK 10. Yuri’s frozen feet had barely carried her up the five steps. As soon as she entered, terrifying sights and sounds enveloped her. But she didn’t have time to dwell on them as a snarling woman wearing a Star of David grabbed her and Eva, brutally stripped off their clothes, and covered them with a caustic spray that burned their eyes. She teased them with terrible stories of what happened in this place. Where has this woman’s humanity gone? In one breath, she informed the girls that they would never leave Block 10, and in the next, she whispered a rumor that the Russians would soon liberate thecamp.

When a¬†guard¬†escorted¬†Yuri¬†and¬†Eva¬†to the¬†second-floor¬†ward,¬†Yuri¬†understood that the awful woman was not¬†making¬†up stories.¬†Two¬†women arrived on stretchers and writhed in pain from injections in their private parts‚ÄĒtheir groans¬†and¬†cries¬†reverberated¬†throughout the¬†room.

The cruel woman woke Yuri at dawn with a strike on the top of her head from a riding crop. She led her by the arm to an exam room, then ordered her to undress and lie on this cold metallic table.

Now,¬†a merciless woman in a German uniform¬†tossed¬†supplies on a stainless-steel tray with a¬†clatter‚ÄĒdreadful-looking items that¬†Yuri¬†had never seen‚ÄĒa metal instrument that reminded her of a large¬†duck‚Äôs¬†bill and other tools, more appropriate for a¬†carpenter‚Äôs¬†shop.¬†The¬†Nazi¬†woman arranged a variety of syringes and colorful solutions on the back¬†table.¬†Yuri¬†had¬†rarely¬†been sick in her life and only¬†remembered¬†a doctor visit twice, but never for a female examination. As¬†she¬†was still a virgin, there had been no need.

‚ÄúYou‚Äôd¬†better behave,¬†mein¬†J√ľdin,‚Ä̬†the woman warned.¬†‚ÄúYou¬†smell your¬†fellow Jews¬†roasting in the¬†ovens¬†today?¬†You¬†will be next if you¬†don‚Äôt¬†open your legs to the good¬†doctor.‚Ä̬†She¬†forced¬†Yuri‚Äôs¬†knees apart and stood between them,¬†daring¬†her to¬†resist.

Yuri had learned in the last few months not to look directly at a German, but she stole a glance at this woman who acted with such cruelty. Yuri had to see if life existed behind the cold, dark eyes, but her daring glance did not go unnoticed. The woman drew her pistol from its holster and brought the gun barrel down on Yuri’s forehead, followed bytwo lashes with the riding crop to the side of her head. Yuri whimpered, eliciting two more strikes from the whip.

‚ÄúIf you ever look at me again, you won‚Äôt make it to the ovens,‚ÄĚ she hissed between her teeth and cocked the hammer on the gun.

‚ÄúMaria!‚Ä̬†a¬†man‚Äôs¬†voice shouted, sharp and¬†authoritative.¬†The¬†woman¬†quickly¬†holstered¬†the¬†pistol¬†and¬†returned¬†the¬†whip to her¬†belt.

Yuri recognized the tall man in the doorway. Mengele. Modesty and fear made Yuri close her legs and cover her chest with her arms, then recoil when the awful woman cocked her riding crop.

‚ÄúMaria, you‚Äôre excused,‚ÄĚ Mengele ordered. ‚ÄúThis one is very precious to me. You may not strike her again.‚ÄĚ

The woman clenched her teeth. ‚ÄúJa, Herr Mengele,‚ÄĚ she said and snapped her crop. ‚ÄúJust another dirty Jew slut.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúOh,¬†but¬†that¬†is¬†where¬†you¬†are¬†wrong,¬†Maria.‚Ä̬†The¬†doctor¬†took two more steps into the room.¬†He¬†had shed his military jacket for a white coat, and a stethoscope hung around¬†his¬†neck. ‚ÄúHave you seen her with her sister? They¬†are identical,‚Ä̬†he¬†said.

‚ÄúWe have many twins.‚ÄĚ Maria shrugged.

‚ÄúLook at those eyes!‚ÄĚ he said, emphasizing the point with his hands.

Yuri looked away when the woman frowned at her. The doctor had already made a big deal out of them at the selections when he saw that both Yuri and Eva had one blue eye and one brown.

The¬†doctor¬†grabbed¬†Maria¬†by¬†the¬†arm¬†and¬†spun¬†her¬†toward¬†him. ‚ÄúThis particular¬†anomaly,¬†heterochromia iridum,¬†occurs¬†in six out of a thousand births, and identical twins occur in only three out of one thousand¬†births.‚Ä̬†He¬†rubbed his chin, calculated, and then smiled.¬†‚ÄúTogether,¬†this combination is scarce‚ÄĒeighteen¬†out¬†of¬†a¬†million¬†children!¬†The condition¬†fascinated¬†even¬†the¬†great¬†philosopher,¬†Aristotle.‚Ä̬†He¬†squeezed¬†her¬†arm¬†harder.¬†‚ÄúThe¬†Deutsche¬†Forschungsgemeinschaft¬†will¬†rejoice¬†when they¬†receive¬†the specimens. They may promote me to¬†Sturmbannf√ľhrer.‚ÄĚ

The woman ignored his excitement, but his eyes darkened, and his knuckles turned white as he continued to tighten his grip on her arm. She first looked at his hand and then to the floor.

‚ÄúYes, Maria, you will take special care, won‚Äôt you?‚ÄĚ

The woman snapped to attention and glared at Yuri one last time before walking out of the room.

Like the passing of storm clouds, the¬†overcast darkness¬†dissipated¬†from¬†the¬†doctor‚Äôs¬†face,¬†and¬†he¬†turned¬†to¬†Yuri¬†with¬†a smile.¬†‚ÄúHow¬†is¬†my¬†Hungarian¬†dove¬†this¬†morning?¬†Well,¬†I¬†hope.¬†Did¬†you sleep soundly and get plenty to eat?‚Ä̬†He¬†stepped to the¬†table¬†and¬†placed¬†a¬†warm¬†hand¬†on¬†Yuri‚Äôs¬†knee¬†and¬†smiled.

It was true. She’d eaten a portion of meaty soup with a piece of bread that filled her more than her shrunken stomach could hold. With a mattress and warm blanket, she’d slept a deep, dreamless sleep even among the cacophony of moans in the room.

Yuri didn’t know if the doctor wanted an answer or not.

His¬†gaze lingered on her¬†body,¬†and he licked his cracked lips.¬†‚ÄúExquisite,¬†my¬†dear.¬†Where¬†have¬†you¬†been¬†hiding¬†all this¬†time?‚ÄĚ

Yuri¬†understood he¬†didn‚Äôt¬†expect her to¬†reply,¬†but courage rose inside of¬†her.¬†She¬†spoke without thinking,¬†‚ÄúMy sister,¬†where is my sister?‚ÄĚ

Any kindness in his eyes vanished, and darkness overshadowed his face once again. He squeezed her knee to the point of pain.

Yuri’s body trembled.

‚ÄúShe¬†is well cared¬†for,¬†of course.¬†Do¬†not worry your¬†pretty¬†head.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúDoktor¬†Mengele, could you come here please?‚ÄĚ a voice called from beyond the doorway. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs urgent.‚ÄĚ

The doctor hesitated but released her knee and left the room.

The door clicked closed, and Yuri’s eyes searched the room. Her body shuddered with fear and uncertainty. If she could only cover her nakedness. Is there no way to escape? Why am I ensnared in this madness? She lay back and closed her eyes.

Yuri¬†shook her head to clear the memory of the¬†night¬†before¬†the¬†SS¬†broke¬†down¬†the¬†front¬†door¬†to¬†their¬†home.¬†Yuriand¬†Eva¬†were¬†celebrating the first night of Hanukkah¬†with¬†their¬†parents.¬†Papa¬†carefully¬†covered¬†the first-floor¬†windows before¬†lighting¬†the¬†Shamash,¬†the¬†first¬†candle¬†of¬†the¬†menorah.¬†All¬†their¬†other¬†relatives‚ÄĒgrandparents,¬†uncles¬†and¬†aunts,¬†and cousins‚ÄĒ¬†had either fled or¬†were¬†captured in the dragnet that¬†forced¬†all¬†Jews¬†into¬†designated¬†buildings,¬†marked¬†with¬†the Star¬†of¬†David.¬†Despite the visible signs of persecution of the¬†Jews,¬†Yuri‚Äôs¬†German-born¬†mother¬†and¬†Hungarian¬†father couldn‚Äôt¬†help¬†their¬†nationalistic squabbling on this night of the¬†Festival¬†of¬†Lights¬†and the memorial of freedom for the Jewish¬†people.¬†Instead¬†of keeping the celebration¬†joyful,¬†her mother¬†vehemently¬†defended¬†her¬†German¬†heritage:¬†‚ÄúMy people¬†could¬†do¬†no¬†such¬†thing,‚Ä̬†she¬†insisted¬†when¬†her¬†father¬†relayed¬†the¬†rumors¬†swirling¬†of death camps and¬†Jews herded¬†into abhorrent¬†ghettos.¬†Her¬†mother¬†would¬†not¬†accept¬†the¬†news¬†of¬†German¬†families¬†then inhabiting abandoned Jewish homes.

Papa, dear Papa. His anxiety was not overblown.  He  tried to stay calm and rational. Their hometown of Budapest continued as somewhat of a safe haven, but rumors swirled of persecution of Jews in other parts of Hungary, where the Germans had invaded from the west. Through Papa’s position at the bank, he’d secured false papers and went so far as tobuy crucifix necklaces for Yuri and Eva. He taught them how to cross themselves properly and recite the Christian prayers.

‚ÄúOur¬†Father,¬†who¬†art¬†in¬†heaven,¬†Hallowed¬†be¬†thy¬†name,‚Ä̬†Yuri¬†recited¬†under¬†her¬†breath.¬†She¬†felt¬†for¬†the¬†necklace¬†butremembered¬†she¬†had¬†traded¬†it¬†for¬†a¬†piece¬†of¬†stale¬†bread.

She recalled their arrival in Austria and now understood why a kind, young doctor with blond hair had drawn Yuri and Eva out of the line of people boarding trains. He gave them bread, cheese, and a blanket, and put them in the sedan to Poland with the two SS guards.

She realized¬†that it¬†revolved¬†around the random way they¬†were¬†born:¬†twins,¬†blond¬†hair,¬†and¬†the¬†anomaly¬†their classmates had¬†pestered¬†them¬†unmercifully¬†about¬†in¬†school‚ÄĒtheir¬†eyes¬†of different¬†colors.¬†Even¬†Papa¬†had¬†teased¬†Yuri¬†that she¬†had¬†stolen¬†one of¬†Eva‚Äôs¬†eyes in utero because one of them should have¬†brown¬†eyes and the other blue instead of having one of each. That seemed to fascinate¬†Doctor¬†Mengele.

Yuri looked with shock at her naked body to see her pelvic bone so prominent, and her ribs protruding. She was not large-breasted to begin with, but since she had lost so much weight, her breasts had all but disappeared.

She pushed on her rumbling stomach when the doctor returned.

His face flashed anger, and his breathing came sharp and fast. He said nothing more to her, any compassion had evaporated. His hands trembled as he slid a glove over each one.

Then he forced Yuri’s legs open with his elbows and sat down on a stool with his face eye level to her groin. She jumped when he touched her and scooted away. He forcefully gripped her buttocks, pulled her to the edge of the exam table, and pushed her knees apart again.

Yuri’s heart raced. Why is this man doing this to me?

The doctor grabbed the duck-billed instrument from¬†the¬†tray. Yuri¬†prepared¬†for the worst and clenched her eyes closed. When nothing happened, she squinted and¬†discovered¬†the¬†doctor¬†staring¬†at¬†her.¬†His¬†kindness¬†returned,¬†and¬†he¬†said, ‚ÄúMein¬†yunges¬†Fr√§ulein,¬†you¬†are¬†still a¬†virgin?‚ÄĚ

Yuri slowly nodded her head. She wondered why it mattered.

The¬†doctor¬†sighed,¬†placed¬†the¬†instrument¬†on¬†the¬†tray,¬†and¬†removed¬†his¬†gloves.¬†‚ÄúWe¬†should take care of¬†that.‚Ä̬†He¬†stood,went to the open door of the exam room, then closed¬†and¬†locked¬†it.

As he walked to¬†Yuri,¬†he¬†removed¬†his stethoscope¬†and¬†white¬†coat¬†and¬†laid¬†them¬†over¬†the¬†instruments.¬†Yuri¬†closed¬†her¬†knees, but he put a hand on each and pried them apart.¬†To¬†look¬†at¬†him¬†directly¬†may¬†get¬†her¬†killed,¬†but¬†she¬†didn‚Äôt¬†care.¬†If¬†he intended¬†to¬†violate¬†her,¬†he¬†would¬†have¬†to¬†look¬†into¬†her¬†eyes‚ÄĒ¬†to¬†remind¬†him of her¬†humanity.¬†A girl from¬†Hungary.¬†A¬†Jew.¬†But¬†his dark eyes filled with hatred and lust as he unbuckled his¬†belt.

Yuri instinctively understood what was about to happen to her, but froze to the table. She pleaded with her eyes andtried to protest, but only a slight whimper escaped her throat.

‚ÄúThis is my gift to you, my dove.‚ÄĚ

Yuri bit her lip hard, and the metallic taste of blood coated her tongue as the monster leaned over her.

He gripped the sides of the table, and her hands found his wrists, begging for him to stop. She tore at his sleeves to push him away.

His face turned red, and his breath deepened.

Yuri’s mind numbed. She had seen so much death and evil in the last seven months, her psyche wobbled on the edge of insanity.

Mengele¬†pushed himself up and patted her on the head like a dog and smiled,¬†showing¬†the gap in his teeth.¬†‚ÄúNow,¬†we can¬†continue,‚Ä̬†he said.

‚ÄúAchtung, Achtung!‚Ä̬†a male voice yelled from behind the door.

The doctor twisted toward the chaos erupting in the hallway and fastened his pants and belt.

A fist banged on the door.¬†‚ÄúDoktor Mengele. Die Russen kommen!‚Ä̬†A man screamed.¬†‚ÄúSchnell! Schnell! Wir m√ľssen evakuieren!‚ÄĚ

The doctor turned to¬†Yuri¬†and slicked his dark¬†hair¬†back¬†with his hand.¬†His¬†eyes widened, and he started to¬†saysome- thing.¬†He¬†looked¬†from¬†Yuri¬†to¬†the¬†door,¬†then¬†to¬†her¬†again.¬†His¬†shoulders¬†drooped,¬†and¬†he¬†slowly¬†shook¬†his¬†head.‚ÄúMein¬†Gott.‚Ä̬†He¬†walked to the¬†door,¬†and with his hand on the¬†knob,

turned to take one more look at Yuri.

He opened the door to soldiers yelling and running in both directions. He nodded to her, walked out, and slammed the door behind him.

Yuri sat up and, with one hand, grabbed for the doctor’s coat to cover herself. In her other hand, she realized sheclenched onto a small item and brought it to her face. She fingered a gold cufflink. She turned it over to see two initials engraved in the gold: JM.

About the author

Timothy Browne, draws from life and work experience when writing. For many years, he has worked as an orthopaedic surgeon and medical missionary for Operation Blessing, Mercy Ships, and Hope Force International. His work has taken him to many parts around the world. view profile

Published on July 12, 2020

120000 words

Genre: Medical Thriller

Reviewed by

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