The Ovitz siblings
The Ovitz family was a family of Romanian Jewish actors/traveling musicians who survived imprisonment at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Most of them were dwarfs. They were the largest family of dwarfs ever recorded and were the largest family (twelve family members from a 15-month-old baby to a 58-year-old woman) to enter Auschwitz and to survive intact.
The Ovitz family, from the village of Rozavlea in Transylvania, was the largest recorded family of dwarves: a dwarf father who sired 10 children, seven of them dwarves. Perla, born in 1921, was the youngest. In that remote part of Romania in the early 20th century, it was difficult for anyone to eke a living from the land and livestock, and impossible for someone standing less than 3ft tall
The Ovitzs (from left): Elizabeth, Perla, Rozika, Frieda, Franziska and Avram.
Throughout history, dwarves had been entertainers, often part of a circus or vaudeville show. But the Ovitzs wanted the stage all to themselves. They appropriately named their musical ensemble the Lilliput Troupe, and for 15 years had a flourishing career in central Europe. Their two-hour show consisted of popular hits of the day, skits and music. Perla had a tiny, four-string pink guitar that looked like a toy, her sisters Rozika and Franziska played on quarter-sized violins, Frieda struck on the cimbalom, Micki played both a half-sized cello and accordion, while the energetic Elizabeth took on the drums. Their elder brother Avram was the scriptwriter, actor and general manager.
The Ovitzs lived a communal life in one big house in the village. When any one of them got married, the spouse moved in and joined the enterprise. While the dwarves basked in the limelight, the average-height family members worked behind the curtains as stagehands and wardrobe mistresses. It was the only all-dwarf ensemble with a full show of their own in the history of entertainment.
When the Nazis came to power, the Ovitzs were doubly doomed: under the Aktion T-4 euthanasia programme, the Germans set out to kill people who were physically or mentally disabled, whose lives were considered “unworthy of living”, “a burden on society”; and, as Jews, the Ovitzs were the target of the Final Solution.
Though the Ovitzes were observant Jews, they obtained papers which omitted the fact that they were Jewish and continued going on their tours until 1944. In May , 1944 all twelve family members were deported to Auschwitz.
The Ovitzs leaving Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 1944.
On 19 May 1944, they were brought to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp because they were Jews. But, by a twist of fate, their disability played for them. It was rare that one person from an entire family survived the camp, let alone two, but all 12 members of the Ovitz family – the youngest a baby boy just 18 months old, the oldest his 58-year-old dwarf aunt – emerged alive.
Hoping to please Mengele by finding him oddities among the incoming prisoners, the Auschwitz guards immediately woke the sleeping doctor when they discovered the Ovitz family on the inbound train.
Dwarf Elizabeth as Chaplin
Perla (right) and Elizabeth Ovitz: as the five sisters and two brothers were all good-looking and musically gifted, the stage seemed the perfect career.
Dr. Josef Mengele was on a twisted quest to study human genetics. Several doctors stationed at Nazi concentration camps were pursuing similar research, utilizing the horrifyingly endless stream of soon-to-be executed prisoners as test subjects.
Of these doctors, Mengele was the absolute worst and his experiments on humans were arguably the most nightmarish incidents in World War II’s annals.
Over the course of their time at Auschwitz, all of the members of the family (short and tall, blood-related, related by marriage, and fake related) were subjected to almost daily blood tests, bone marrow sampling, blinding chemical tests, constant teeth and hair pulling, ear drip torture, and repeated showcases where they were stripped in front of audiences and researchers during lectures and analysis.
Things were even worse for the women and children of the family. They were subjected to additional gynecological and developmental inventorying.
Eighteen-month-old Shimshon Ovitz was put through the worst ordeals because he had taller parents and was prematurely born; Mengele drew blood from the veins behind his ears and from his fingers. The Ovitzes also witnessed two newcomer dwarfs being killed and boiled so their bones could be exhibited in a museum. Mengele also filmed them; this film was not found after the war, and it is possible that he kept it when he fled.
They expected to be killed after Mengele had finished his experiments, but they lived to see the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. The Red Army took them to the Soviet Union where they lived in a refugee camp for some time before they were released.
The Ovitzes traveled on foot for seven months to their home village. They found their home looted, moved first to the town of Sighet and later to Belgium. In May 1949, they immigrated to Israel, settled in Haifa, and began their tours again, being quite successful and packing large concert halls. In 1955, they retired and bought a cinema hall.
Descendants of the dwarf men of the family were born taller; the women did not become pregnant due to their small pelvises. The firstborn of the dwarfs, Rozika Ovitz, died in 1984 at the age of 98. The last adult dwarf survivor of the family, Perla Ovitz, died in 2001.
The last survivor in the family, Perla Ovitz, died in 2001.
Until the end, she kept recounting her family’s tale, encapsulating all the helplessness and painful absurdity of this experience, which she could not possibly explain to herself and to the world, in a single sentence: “I was saved by the grace of the devil.“