Affinity Konar’s World War II novel, Mischling
(2016), tells the story of twin girls sent to Auschwitz who desperately try to keep each other alive. Critics praise the book for sensitively tackling the Holocaust and for showing readers that hope can found during even the worst times. Konar, a Polish-Jewish author, studied fiction at Columbia University. Her previous jobs include working as a proofreader, technical writer, tutor, and workbook editor. She hopes that Mischling
raises awareness about the medical experiments endured by twins during the Holocaust.
When the book begins, twelve-year-old twins Pearl and Stasha Zamorski live in Lodz, Poland. They are as close as twins can be. The Nazis have already killed their father, Dr. Zamorski, and they know it is only a matter of time before the Nazis come for them, too. They cling to their mother for reassurance but she can say nothing to make them feel better. Everyone knows how bad the situation is for Jewish people; there is no point in pretending that they are safe.
One day, the Gestapo ransacks the Zamorski household, stealing the twins away from their mother. The Nazis love twins because they can experiment on one sibling and use the other sibling as a control or placebo. The experiments are so barbaric that no one survives very long, and so the Nazis are constantly looking for fresh subjects.
The Gestapo herd the Zamorski twins into Auschwitz. Pearl and Stasha head for “the Zoo,” the research facility overseen by Dr. Mengele, otherwise known as the “Angel of Death.” The most notorious Nazi scientist operating in any concentration camp, falling into his hands is a fate worse than death.
Dr. Mengele gives Pearl and Stasha different injections. He plans to make Stasha immortal. Pearl, on the other hand, receives an injection that makes her weak and exhausted. She prays that Stasha truly is immortal because then she might have a chance of escaping Auschwitz. The Nazis drag Pearl away from Stasha, locking her in an isolated cell where they expect she will die soon.
Stasha is lost without Pearl. She refuses to cooperate with the soldiers until she is reunited with her sister. The Nazis don’t care about her feelings, torturing her until she complies with them. One day, when the Nazis make her sit for a portrait painting, Stasha sees her mother and finds out that her grandparents are dead. Deciding that the Nazis must pay for their crimes, she plans to kill Dr. Mengele herself.
Stasha hopes her mother will help her kill the doctor, but they have a chance to plot their revenge. Before Stasha can kill Dr. Mengele, the Nazis murder her mother and throw her body into a truck. Stasha vows to finish her mission to murder Dr. Mengele before he kills anyone else.
Meanwhile, the Russians lead a resistance effort against the camp. They free Pearl from her isolation cage, letting her run free. She plans to make her way to a Red Cross humanitarian camp. From there, it might be possible to flee into another country, leaving Europe forever. Pearl assumes that Stasha will be dead or gone by now and so fleeing to a neutral country is her best option.
In the meantime, Stasha escapes the Nazis. The Russians help her flee the camp, and she teams up with other escaped twins. They begin a large-scale march across the snowy, miserable terrain now known as the “death march.” Stasha knows that leaving Auschwitz probably means saying goodbye to Pearl forever but there is nothing else she can do.
Although everything seems hopeless, Stasha and Pearl both secretly suspect that the other isn’t dead. They have always been close enough to sense each other; they even feel each other’s pain. They are sure that they would have felt something die inside if their twin were dead, and so maybe there is hope for a reunion after all. Both twins are torn between despair and denial.
Stasha heads for Warsaw with other twins. She still plans to kill Dr. Mengele and there are rumors that he is hiding out there. When she arrives in Warsaw, there is no sign of Dr. Mengele; Stasha doesn’t know where to go next. She wonders if she will ever kill Dr. Mengele or if she should just move on with her life.
Meanwhile, Pearl arrives in Warsaw. She didn’t make it out of Europe and so she decided to head home instead. She senses Stasha but she doesn’t dare let herself hope for a reunion. What she doesn’t know is that Stasha feels the same way; she has also found their missing father. He wasn’t dead but trapped in another concentration camp. Together, Stasha and Dr. Zamorski go looking for Pearl, and despite the odds stacked against them, they find her.