Separated twins demand answers over sick study
HOWARD Burack always felt like there was something missing in his life.
"(You) just feel like you're missing something, just don't know what it was," Mr Burack said. "You can't touch it. You can't feel it. Something was there."
The New York man lived his whole life believing he was an only child, up until his 35th when a shocking phone call not only called into question his own identity and existence, but also provided some answers.
Mr Burack was one of an unknown number of siblings adopted out through Louise Wise Services during the 1960s. The prominent Jewish Adoption Agency was well-known in New York City, but in recent years news the agency purposefully and secretly separated twins, and even triplets as part of a sick psychological experiment.
"I grew up in a nice, upper-middle-class family in a nice, suburban area north of New York City, in Rockland County, and normal childhood, normal whatever, great parents," Mr Burack said.
But it wasn't until 1998 when Mr Burack was 35 that he found out what happened at Louise Wise Services all those decades ago.
He contacted the adoption agency one day to make a routine inquiry about his birth records, which is when he was told that he had an identical twin brother somewhere in the world.
After the initial shock, Mr Burack turned his attention on how to get in contact with his long lost brother, only to be told by the agency that they couldn't release his details until his sibling requested it.
"It was pretty disturbing. I mean, it was just an unknown," he said. "It's like, 'How could I find this person? Am I ever going to find this person? Is this person alive?'"
Mr Burack endured two years of knowing that he had a twin but having no way of contacting him. He said during that period he thought about his brother "every day".
Finally in 2000, when the agency responsible for the separation was in the process of closing down, Doug Rausch, Mr Burack's twin, received a life-changing call.
The woman who called Mr Rausch was dying of cancer and made the decision to reveal the agency's secret before she passed.
"She told me 'I am not supposed to do this, I can get in a lot of trouble but I am going to do it anyway'," Mr Rausch told 20/20. "She said, 'Well I have some news for you. You have an identical twin brother'. And I literally almost drove off the road. It's not something you ever expect to hear."
Mr Rausch allowed the adoption agency to give his number to his twin and they arranged to finally be reunited at an airport in Columbus, Ohio.
"It was just the funniest thing I'd ever seen 'cause it literally was like looking in my reflection, but then the reflection would move and do something I wasn't doing," Mr Rausch said about the meeting. "I don't know how to describe that and I don't think most people can relate to it, but it was a very, very weird feeling."
Mr Burack echoed this feeling, saying it felt like he "knew Doug [his] whole life".
"I mean, it's just like you're looking at yourself in the mirror and, I think we hit it off, you know, right away and you know, instant connection," he said.
THE SECRET STUDY
The sick study that saw the siblings separated was exposed by documentary-maker Lori Shinseki in a film called The Twinning Reaction, in which she aimed to help people like Mr Burack and Mr Rausch get answers about their siblings.
According to the documentary, a psychiatrist and consultant to the adoption agency, Dr. Viola Bernard, believed adoptive twins would thrive more if they were raised in separate homes where they could get more individual attention.
Based on the advice, the agency began splitting up twins and triplets and started a long-term study on a number of the children to see how they developed.
"They decided to separate these twins and triplets, place them in different families, and never told the families that they had adopted a half of a twin set or a third of a triplet set," Ms Shinseki said. "What they did was they told the families that this baby is in an adoption study. 'If you want the baby, we would like to continue studying the child,' (they said). And, of course the families would do anything."
According to the adoptive parents of these children, they were not told of the true nature of the studies, instead thinking they were just monitoring their development.
"They gave us Douglas and said, 'We'll let you have this child, but we're going to monitor it," Mr Rausch's adoptive father George Rausch said in the documentary. "So it was a question of if I say no, they won't give me the child. I think there was a certain amount of coercion to our permitting them to conduct the study."
While researching for the documentary Ms Shinseki discovered another woman who had been separated from her twin by the agency.
Sharon Morello was born in 1966 and was adopted through Louise Wise Services and Ms Shineski knew she had to get in contact with Ms Morello.
Ms Shinseki called Ms Morello's adoptive mother, Vivian Bregman, who then broke the news to Ms Morello.
"(She) says, 'Some lady just called me to say, you know, she's doing a documentary and that you have an identical twin sister'. And I said, 'Excuse me?' And I hung up the phone," Ms Morello told 20/20. "I was in shock. I just couldn't. It took me hours to call her back to say, 'all right, what's going on?'"
Mr Burack, Mr Rausch and Ms Morello all said they had memories of strangers visiting them throughout their childhood, who monitored them while they completed different tasks.
"People would come to my house and they would film me and make me ride my bike. And they would do this test and that test," Mr Rausch said. "It's upsetting to know that these people were able to affect our lives in a way that I didn't even understand."
Mr Burack had similar experiences to his brother, saying that people would come and make him do "all kinds of psychology tests and drawings".
"I was always kind of a shy kid and you had people asking you questions and asking you to do stuff. It was a little bit horrifying."
Ms Morello told 20/20 that she remembered a person coming to her house and showing her different pictures and asking her what she thought the picture was of.
VICTIMS DEMANDING ANSWERS
Mr Rausch and Mr Burack are now out searching for answers about why this shocking secret was kept for so long.
With the help of a lawyer they were able to get the Jewish Board to release some of their records.
According to the records, the brothers were kept together for six months before they were adopted out to different families.
The records reportedly showed that the two children declined in motor skills and showed signs of stress after the separation, including both starting to rock back and forth and one exhibiting head banging until his second birthday.
"To do what they decided to do, even against their own stated [policies] they did it anyway," Doug Rausch said. "It's just wrong. What they did was really, really wrong. The more stuff I read, the more wrong it seems and the more upsetting it gets."
Ms Morello and her twin sister were three months old before they were separated.
At least fifteen children are believed to have been separated by Louise Wise Services and there may be others who have no idea they are a twin or triplet.
According to Ms Shinseki, a number of people who were found to have been separated reported suffering from serious mental health issues.
"It's their belief that the separations had some impact on their feelings of sadness and loneliness and depression as children," she said.