The title is not intended to be humorous. This is a very serious story about one of the most notorious Nazis ever and a family of dwarfs. For the sake of decorum and decency, I have omitted many of the most gruesome details. Nevertheless, parts of the story will still likely turn your stomach.
Josef Mengele, aka “The Angel of Death” of Auschwitz, was infamous for conducting medical experiments on twins for his own twisted purposes and pleasures. However, he also conducted medical experiments on other unusual persons, such as dwarfs.
The members of the Ovitz family were Romanian Jews, who made their living as travelling entertainers and musicians. Most, but not all of them were dwarfs.
There is some confusion as to what exactly constitutes a “dwarf,” so allow me to clarify. Briefly, according to the advocacy group Little People of America, dwarfs are defined as adults who are 4 feet 10 inches tall or less. The average height is four feet. Dwarfism may be caused by either a genetic or medical condition. There are two types of dwarfism – disproportionate and proportionate. The former type is characterized by either an average-sized torso with shorter limbs or the opposite condition. The latter type is characterized by a body with normal proportions, but just shortened. A few of the many outward features of dwarfism include a large head with a prominent brow, bowed legs, and/or flat, short broad feet. Dwarfism can be caused by some 200 different medical conditions, and is evident at birth.
The patriarch of the Ovitz family, Shimson Ovitz, a dwarf, fathered ten children between 1903 and 1921 with two different wives, both of whom were of average height. Seven of the ten children were dwarfs. The Ovitzes were entertainers, performing throughout Romania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary during the 1930s and 1940s. They sang songs and played various musical instruments. They were very versatile, performing in Yiddish, Hungarian, Russian and German. Shimson died in 1923.
All twelve family members were deported to Auschwitz in May, 1944 where they attracted Mengele’s attention. Although Mengele had access to a goodly number of twins, that was probably not the case with dwarfs. And, here was an entire family of them! Mengele realized that such a large family of dwarfs was unique, and he coveted them for his twisted experiments. Some of the horrendous experiments included:
- extracting bone marrow,
- pulling out hair and teeth,
- pouring hot and cold water into their ears,
- blinding them by putting chemical drops in their eyes, and
- in two cases, killing and boiling two dwarfs (from another family) so their bones could be extracted and exhibited in a museum.
Remember, the above experiments were being performed on little children without the benefit of anesthesia!
The Ovitz family managed to survive the war. The Russians, who liberated the camp in January, 1945 took the Ovitzes to Russia where they were placed in a refugee camp. Eventually, they were released.
The Ovitzes were the largest family of dwarfs ever recorded. In addition, they were the largest family of dwarfs to be sent to Auschwitz and survive intact.
After they were released, like many refugees they went home only to find that their home had been looted and the town destroyed. But, their harrowing story did have a happy ending. Eventually, they emigrated to Israel, settling in Haifa. They resumed touring and entertaining. They became very popular and successful. They retired in 1955 and bought a cinema.
The female dwarfs in the family were unable to have any children, probably due to their small pelvises. Children born to the male dwarfs in the family and their average-sized wives were of normal height. The last surviving dwarf in the family died in 2001.
We both recently read “Auschwitz, A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account” by Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, a Jewish,Hungarian physician who survived Auschwitz by performing “scientific research” under Mengele’s supervision. His first person account is uniquely insightful, while disturbing.
We’ll give you the book when we see you (soon!) in sunny Florida.
Great to hear from you. I would like to read book. Not sure about FL though.
very interesting thanks Linda