Mengele and the Family of Dwarfs

Yehuda Koren tells one family’s remarkable story of surviving Auschwitz.

Under the ‘Final Solution’, entire Jewish communities, extended families of forty or fifty members were crammed in cattle cars and transported to Nazi death camps. Almost nine out of ten people who arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau were sent directly to the gas chambers. The few that were spared provided slave labour, and the work was not so much liberation as a brief, tortured interval before death. It was rare that one person from an entire family survived, let alone two. The survival of the Ovitz family from the village of Rozavlea in northern Romania is unique: twelve members, the youngest, eighteen months, the oldest, fifty-eight, were deported to the camp and  all emerged unscathed. Seven of them – five sisters and two brothers – were dwarfs, less than three feet tall, the largest recorded dwarf family in the world. Not only did they survive, but they saved the lives of eleven other inmates as well.

Their patriarch was a dwarf named Shimshon Eizik Ovitz, (1868-1923). His first wife was normal height and bore him two dwarf daughters. After she died he married another normal height woman, who bore him eight more children, five of them dwarfs. Ovitz was a Badchan, a merrymaker at Jewish weddings, and later became a wandering rabbi, famous for his spiritual powers. His seven dwarf children established their own ensemble, The Lilliput Troupe, singing and playing on child-size instruments. In the 1930s and early 1940s, they performed all over Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, while their normal-height relatives helped backstage. When not on tour, they lived together in one big house with their spouses.

When Hungary took over northern Transylvania in September 1940, the race laws barred Jewish artists from entertaining non-Jewish audiences. The Ovitzes obtained new papers omitting their Jewishness, and continued performing for nearly four more years. But on May 15th, 1944, the game was up: they were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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