“If I was a healthy Jewish girl, 1 meter 70 tall, I would have been gassed like the hundreds of thousands of other Jews in my country. So if I ever wondered why I was born a dwarf, my answer would have to be that my handicap, my deformity, was God’s only way to keep me alive.”
This is how Perla Ovitz has juxtaposed the tragic fate of the Jews that died in the Holocaust against the story of her family of dwarfs who were able to survive the nightmare of the Auschwitz death camp.
In May 1944, all 12 members of the Ovitz family were deported to Auschwitz. It appeared that they were destined for extermination in the gas chambers but their death was averted by the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who picked them for genetic experiments.
“I was saved by the grace of the devil,” Perla, who was 20 at the time, said in an interview with Israeli journalists Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, who tell the story of the Ovitz family in their book “Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz.” The book was recently published in Greek by Pigi.
The Ovitz family came from the village of Rozavlea, in northern Romania. The father, Rabbi Shimshon Eizik Ovitz, a dwarf, married twice and had 10 children. Seven were dwarfs. “The seven kids had a talent for music and went on to set up their own ensemble in the 1930s,” Negev said in an interview with Kathimerini. The so-called Lilliput Troupe performed all over Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia until all of its members were arrested and sent to Auschwitz in 1944.
Their life at the concentration camp was a mix of “normality and hell,” Negev said. Mengele went to great lengths to keep them alive so that he could conduct his notorious experiments. The seven Ovitzes and their relatives – including several fellow villagers who pretended to be relatives so that they too would be spared the gas chambers – were given their own room and their own clothes; they enjoyed better meals; they were under a sick form of protection. “Mengele would pull out healthy teeth, pluck hairs and extract bone marrow. He subjected them to painful experiments on a daily basis in order to uncover the secrets of genetics,” Negev said.
According to the writer, the Ovitz family were able to survive thanks to their strong bonds and patience. After their release in 1945, they returned to the stage.
“Although their entire fortune had been stolen from them, they managed to get back on their feet and perform over the next five years. Some years later, they bought two cinema halls in Israel and lived there.”
Perla died in 2001. “When she heard that Mengele had died, she cried,” Negev said. The devil had left his mark on her.