On the morning of May the 12th, 1944, the doors of the train slid back to reveal the new arrivals at Auschwitz, and a sight that the SS guards could scarcely believe. One by one, seven tiny people were lifted off the train. And weren’t followed by Snow white.
Five were women — each no taller than a girl of five, yet wearing make-up and elegant dresses. They looked like painted dolls. Huddled together in a circle, the seven dwarfs made no attempt to join the teeming mass of passengers being herded up a ramp by soldiers with alsatians straining at the leash.
The Ovitz family originated from Maramureş County, Romania. They were descended from Shimson Eizik Ovitz (1868–1923), a badchen entertainer, itinerant rabbi and himself a dwarf. He fathered ten children in total, seven of them dwarfs, from two marriages. The children from his first marriage to Brana Fruchter (she was of average height), Rozika (1886–1984) and Franziska (1889–1980), were both dwarfs. Shimson’s second wife Batia Bertha Husz, also average height, produced the following children: Avram (1903–1972) (dwarf), Freida (1905–1975) (dwarf), Sarah (1907–1993) (average height), Micki (1909–1972) (dwarf), Leah (1911-1987) (average height), Elizabeth (1914–1992) (dwarf), Arie (1917–1944) (average height), and Piroska (1921–2001), also known as Perla (dwarf).
The children founded their own ensemble, the Lilliput Troupe. They sang and played music using small instruments and performed all over Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the 1930s and 1940s. The taller relatives helped backstage. The Ovitzes sang in Yiddish, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian and German. When they were not touring, they lived in a single house with their spouses.
At the start of World War II, there were 12 family members, seven of them dwarfs. When Hungary seized Northern Transylvania in September 1940, the new racial laws banned Jewish artists from entertaining non-Jews. 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. On May 12, 1944, all twelve family members were deported to Auschwitz. One average sized brother escaped the roundup but was later arrested and executed.
Once in the camp, the Ovitzes attracted the attention of the German camp doctor Josef Mengele, who collected curiosities for scientific experiments on heredity. He separated the Ovitzes from the rest of the camp inmates to add them to his collection of test subjects. He was curious about the fact that the family included both dwarfs and taller members. Eleven other prisoners claimed to be their relatives, and Mengele moved all of them accordingly.
The Ovitzes — like many other camp inmates — were subjected to various tests. Mengele’s physicians extracted bone marrow and pulled out teeth and hair to find signs of hereditary disease. They poured hot and cold water in their ears and blinded them with chemical drops. Gynecologists inspected the married women. 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.