Here’s an obituary in the Los Angeles Times on one member of perhaps the most famous pair from the famous Minnesota Twins study:
by Elaine Woo
It sounded like a tabloid headline: Identical twins separated after birth. One grew up Jewish, the other a Nazi.
But the story of Jack Yufe and his brother was not just about their stark differences.
After decades and oceans apart, the men came together as adults to learn they dressed alike, walked alike, and had the same hot temper and quirks, including a fondness for scaring others with an explosively loud sneeze.
They both read books from back to front, loved butter and spicy food and flushed the toilet before they used it.
“They were a great example of how twins, despite different environments, ended up being very much alike,” said Cal State Fullerton psychology professor Nancy Segal, who studied the brothers as part of a well-known Minnesota research project on separated twins.
My old pal Nancy Segal is America’s Twin Maven. Note to reporters: Just about any story Nancy has a hand in (such as this one from last year on two pairs of identical twins who got mixed up in the maternity ward) is going to be full of human interest.
Yufe, a San Ysidro businessman, died Monday in a San Diego hospital from stomach cancer, his family said. He was 82.
Of 137 pairs of separated twins in the two-decade University of Minnesota study, 56 were fraternal and 81 were identical. Yufe and his brother, Oskar Stohr, stood out because of their dramatically dissimilar backgrounds.
Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on Jan. 16, 1933, they were 6 months old when their parents split up.
Oskar went to Germany with his Catholic mother, Elizabeth, and grew up as the Nazis rose to power. Like his fellow students, he greeted the school principal with “Heil, Hitler,” and was warned by his grandmother to never let on that his father, Joseph, was Jewish. As an act of survival, Oskar joined the Hitler Youth movement.
Years later, he confessed that he had dreamed that he shot down his twin in an aerial dogfight. Jack had a similar nightmare about killing Oskar with a bayonet.
For Jack, however, the war was a distant threat, experienced mainly through newsreels he saw growing up in Trinidad with their father. His childhood was difficult in other ways.
“As a white, red-headed boy in a predominantly black and Indian culture, he stood out a lot and was beat up a lot,” said his son, Kenneth. “He was constantly having to prove himself.” Luckily, he was highly competitive and and excelled athletically.
Jack knew he was Jewish but didn’t feel the weight of that identity until he was 15 and was sent to Venezuela to live with an aunt who had been in Dachau and was the only European relative on his father’s side to survive the Holocaust.
She urged Jack to move to Israel and his father agreed that it would be good for him. Jack reluctantly emigrated at 16 and served a stint in the Israeli navy.
In 1954, before heading to the United States where his father had settled, he decided to stop in Germany to look up his brother. They were 21 when they met for the first time as adults.
The reunion did not go well. Because of the language barrier, “there was a lot of smiling but not much to say,” Yufe recalled in The Times in 1979. He also remembered that his brother, worried about anti-Semitic family members, insisted he not mention his Jewish heritage and hid the luggage tags that showed Yufe had been in Israel.
But there was something more upsetting than their differences.
Separated near birth and raised in different worlds, Jack and Oskar discovered they shared remarkable similarities when they reunited for a study on identical twins.
When they met at the train station, Jack and Oskar were chagrined to find that not only did they have the same neat mustaches and receding hairlines, they were wearing similar wire-rimmed glasses and matching, light-colored sports jackets.
“We had identical clothes. I got mine in Israel and he got his in Germany. Exactly the same color, with two buttons,” Yufe recalled in a 1999 BBC documentary. “I said, ‘Oskar, you are wearing the same shirt and same glasses. Why?’ He said to me, ‘Why are you wearing same thing that I am?’
“We didn’t like the fact we looked so identical.”
They went 25 years without seeing each other again.
It’s not that easy being an identical twin.
One member of a pair of identical twins explained to me that for everybody else in humanity, the world is divided into:
Me and Everybody Else
But for him, the world was divided into:
Me, Him, and Everybody Else
This had advantages and disadvantages, but it was definitely different.
By the way, pretty much the first scientist to study twins as natural experiments in human nature was, as usual, Francis Galton.
There’s a certain pop culture market for tales of British scientists who were ahead of their time, such as Charles Babbage and Alan Turing. It ties into the Steam Punk craze for Jules Verne-like alternative universes. But the guy who was ahead of his time in the most ways was Galton, which I guess is why he is so demonized. It would be interesting if somebody like Neal Stephenson tried to change the current braindead opinion of Galton.