5 True Stories of Twins Separated at Birth


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Uncovering a Secret

twin sisters
Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein (neither are pictured) were just two of many children who were part of a controversial study looking at the effects of genes and the environment on multiples. pixelfit/E+/Getty Images

After the story behind the New York triplets of "Identical Strangers" was uncovered, the agency that set up the adoptions for the secret study began to release the names of some of the study's subjects, at least when asked. (The study, under some public pressure, ceased operations in 1980.)

Elyse Schein, born and adopted in New York and living in Paris, was looking for information on her birth mother in 2004. Schein was stunned to find out through the adoption agency, since shuttered, that she had a twin sister.

Schein was 35 years old at the time.

Paula Bernstein and Schein first met in a cafe in New York City's East Village shortly after that to catch up on a life missed. After a brief hug, the first thing they did was to check each other out, up and down.

"I remember I said, do you have chubby knees?" Bernstein told NPR. "And I kind of glanced down below the hem of her skirt and saw that her knees were quite cute. And I always thought of mine as kind of chubby. So I thought, but why did she get the cute knees?"

The controversial study that split up Schein, Bernstein, the triplet brothers and many others was helmed by Austrian child psychologist Peter Neubauer, who died in 2008. In interviews before his death, he showed no remorse for the decision to separate siblings and to keep information about their birth from them. He claimed it was all in the name of science [source: NPR].

The nonprofit Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services, which was connected with the since-closed adoption agency responsible for the child separations, released a statement to The Washington Post in early 2018 disclaiming responsibility and urging any subjects of the study to come forward: "The Jewish Board does not endorse the study undertaken by Dr. Peter Neubauer, and is appreciative that the film ['Three Identical Strangers'] has created an opportunity for a public discourse about it. ... We hope that the film encourages others to come forward and request access to their records."

Bernstein told NPR that finding her twin compelled her to think more about nature vs. nurture.

"Twins really do force us to question what is it that makes each of us who we are. Since meeting Elyse, it is undeniable that genetics play a huge role — probably more than 50 percent," Bernstein told NPR in 2007. "It's not just our taste in music or books; it goes beyond that. In her, I see the same basic personality. And yet, eventually we had to realize that we're different people with different life histories."