The Ovitzes were a family of Jewish Romanian dwarfs who performed throughout Europe as the Lilliput Troupe. The family patriarch, Shimson Eizik Ovitz, was an esteemed rabbi with dwarfism who fathered ten children - seven of them dwarfs - with two average-sized wives. After Shimson died, his widow encouraged her children to learn to perform so they could always make a living. The seven dwarf siblings - Rozika, Franzika, Avram, Freida, Micki, Elizabeth, and Perla - entertained sell-out crowds throughout Europe, while their three non-dwarf siblings served as stagehands and created costumes and sets. They all spoke five languages: Yiddish, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian and German.
To date, the Ovitzes are believed to be the only all-dwarf ensemble who controlled every aspect of their act.
The Lilliput Troupe was performing in Hungary in 1944 when the Nazis invaded. The Ovitz dwarfs - Jewish and disabled - were doubly cursed, and they were immediately arrested and sent to Auschwitz, along with their average-sized siblings and spouses.
When they arrived at the now-notorious concentration camp, they had no idea where they were. They thought the big ovens belching smoke were bakeries. After getting off the cattle car, one of the male dwarfs started handing out autographed cards to the guards.
Meanwhile, another guard ran to awaken infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” who had a perverse obsession with people suffering from genetic disabilities. He was notorious for performing cruel experiments on prisoners with physical abnormalities.
When Mengele saw the seven Ovitz dwarfs, his reaction was likened to a kid on Christmas. He couldn’t believe the seven little people, all so elegantly dressed. “I now have work for 20 years!” he exclaimed.
Under Mengele’s direction, the dwarf siblings at Auschwitz were treated better than the other prisoners. They were the only family of dwarfs and Mengele needed to keep them alive to study them. They were allowed to wear their own clothes because the prison garb didn’t ft them, and they had special living quarters and better food. Other inmates thought they were hallucinating when they saw the well-dressed group of little people walking through camp.
Mengele wanted to prove his theory that inbreeding among Jews had turned them into an inferior race of people with physical and mental disabilities.He conducted cruel experiments such as taking large amounts of blood daily, extracting bone marrow, and pulling out healthy teeth.
The four married female dwarfs were subjected to repeated and brutal gynecological exams. They were told they would be forced to mate with their brothers because Mengele was curious about what their offspring would be like. The gynecological tests were so horrific that even Mengele’s assistants refused to help.
Dora Ovitz, the average-height wife of the oldest male dwarf Avram, was repeatedly interrogated by Mengele about her sex life. He seemed to have a strange sexual fascination with the female dwarfs, insisting they wear makeup and constantly complimenting their appearance. He forced them to appear onstage naked as he poked and prodded them in front of other Nazis. Mengele even filmed a home movie of the Ovitz dwarfs singing German songs and sent it to Hitler.
Ironically, the Angel of Death made sure the Ovitz siblings weren’t killed - and they were the only large family to survive Auschwitz together. Perla Ovitz, the youngest dwarf, said “I was saved by the grace of the devil; God will give Mengele his due.
The camp was liberated on January 27, 1945. The Ovitzes were sent to a refugee camp in the Soviet Union, then returned on foot to their Romanian village. They found their home vandalized and looted. They moved to Israel in 1949, and immediately began performing again, packing large concert halls in Israel. They retired from the stage in 1955, but all went on to live long lives. The oldest, Rozika, died at the age of 98.