The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jack Yufe, a Jew separated for years from his ex-Nazi twin brother, dies at 82

Separated soon after birth, Jack Yufe, left, was raised as a Jew in Trinidad while his sibling Oskar Stohr, right, grew up in Nazi Germany where he joined the Hitler Youth. (Robert Lachman/Los Angeles Times via AP)
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Jack Yufe grew up missing his other half, an identical twin brother from whom he had been separated at six months.

For years, they exchanged letters and photographs. Then, at age 21, they met at a German train station. The encounter was detailed in psychologist Nancy Segal’s book “Indivisible by Two: Lives of Extraordinary Twins.”

Yufe and his brother, Oskar Stohr, examined one another as if they were looking at alien specimens, though no likeness could have been more familiar to either of them. Their cultural differences were as immediately apparent as their physical similarities. Casting a wary eye at Yufe’s Israeli luggage tags, Stohr removed them and told his long-lost brother to tell others he was coming from America.

From this first uneasy exchange in 1954 grew a complex but enduring bond that would bring Yufe and Stohr to the center of discussions about nature and nurture. After all, the differences between the brothers’ upbringings were more extreme than those experienced by most twins separated by circumstance.

Yufe grew up Jewish in Trinidad and became an officer in the Israeli Navy. Stohr grew up Catholic in Nazi Germany and became an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth.

Yufe died Monday of cancer in a San Diego hospital, the Associated Press reports. He was 82.

Stohr passed away in 1997, also of cancer.

The brothers’ unique relationship was a source of fascination for the researchers behind the landmark Minnesota twin study conducted from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. Seeking to identify how environmental and genetic factors contributed to psychological traits, the study closely examined the behaviors of sets of twins who were separated early in their lives and raised by different families.

What made Yufe and Stohr an extraordinary case was not only the stark contrasts between the cultures in which they grew up — Nazism versus Judaism — but also the striking similarities in their habits and emotional temperaments.

In 1933, Yufe and Stohr were born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, to a Romanian Jewish father and a German Catholic mother. According to Segal, it’s not known whether the couple was ever married, and their relationship quickly soured “as a result of [the father’s] ‘roving eyes’ and excessive drinking.”

The twins’ mother returned to her native Germany with Stohr and an older daughter in tow, while Yufe remained in Trinidad as a British subject. Meanwhile, Stohr became a subject of the German Reich and a member of the Hitler Youth, a cause he took on with enthusiasm.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Stohr confessed years later to having dreamt of shooting his twin in an aerial dogfight. On the other hand, Yufe had a nightmare about killing his brother with a bayonet.

Their stark cultural, political and religious differences were what initially made them the stars of headlines such as “Twins: Nazi and Jew” and snapshots that featured the Jewish star printed above one brother and a swastika above the other.

“But that’s too simple,” Segal wrote of the pair. “That’s not how it was.”

Once Yufe and Stohr started discovering their shared idiosyncrasies, those seemed even more peculiar than what set them apart.

The first meeting — when Yufe visited Stohr, his mother and her side of the family in Germany — was awkward. Yufe recalled to Segal, “We saw each other as enemies, neither one of us would change. We looked at each other with suspicion.” Then, on a boat trip they took together on the Rhine River, Jack had hoped to have some private time with Stohr, “but he was so unfriendly, and he was not trying to hide it. He kept covering his eyes with his hand.”

After six days, they parted ways with just a cold handshake. They wouldn’t see each other for another 25 years.

It was the Minnesota twin study that ultimately brought them back together. Yufe told the Los Angeles Times in 1979, “I thought it perhaps would be a good idea…to meet in a neutral territory to hash out all this, all the hidden feelings.”

The revelations began when they met at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. As it so happens, both were wearing the same outfit: a white sports jacket, shirt and wire-rimmed glasses.

“I said, ‘Oskar, you are wearing the same shirt and same glasses. Why?'” Yufe recalled in a 1999 BBC documentary. “He said to me, ‘Why are you wearing the same thing that I am?'”

The similarities soon piled on, with startling specificity: both read books from back to front, sneezed loudly in elevators, wrapped rubber bands around their wrists, flushed toilets before and after using them and wore tight bathing suits.

Segal explains in “Indivisible by Two” that some of these peculiar commonalities could be explained by genetics. The toilet-flushing, for instance, likely had to do with the brothers’ sensitivity to germs.

In later years, their wives noticed that they walked, and even tripped, in a similar fashion.

Still, some differences persisted. They could never agree on Israel and Palestine, for instance, or who was responsible for World War II. Segal writes, “Oskar’s repeated reference to German soldiers as ‘we’ infuriated Jack.”

After a stint in the Israeli army, Yufe eventually settled in San Diego and became the owner of a retail store called “El Progresso.” Stohr stayed in Germany, working as a miner and electrical welder.

“They had an amazing, what I would call a love-hate relationship,” Yufe’s wife, Ruth, told the AP. “They were fascinated by one another, fascinated by their similarities, intrigued that the worst traits that they saw in themselves were mirrored in the other one. They were hot-tempered and short-tempered and impatient, demanding. But their families loved them.”

Yufe’s son, Kenneth, described his father to the AP as “very old school,” but a “wonderful guy.”

Yufe is also survived by daughters Anita Yufe, Hovi Reader and Debvra Gregory, as well as stepsons Renee and Enrique Vega.

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