The dwarves of Auschwitztags: Holocaust, Guardian (UK), Auschwitz, Josef Mengele, dwarves
'I was saved by the grace of the devil," Holocaust survivor Perla Ovitz told us. Again and again, she recounted in detail how she and her family were taken to the gas chamber and ordered to strip naked. A heavy door opened and they were pushed inside. "It was almost dark and we stood in what looked like a large washing room, waiting for something to happen. We looked up to the ceiling to see why the water was not coming. Suddenly we smelled gas. We gasped heavily, some of us fainting on the floor. With our last breath we cried out. Minutes passed, or maybe just seconds, then we heard an angry voice from outside – 'Where is my dwarf family?' The door opened, and we saw Dr Mengele standing there. He ordered us to be carried out and had cold water poured on us to revive us."
The Ovitz family, from the village of Rozavlea in Transylvania, was the largest recorded family of dwarves: a dwarf father who sired 10 children, seven of them dwarves. Perla, born in 1921, was the youngest. In that remote part of Romania in the early 20th century, it was difficult for anyone to eke a living from the land and livestock, and impossible for someone standing less than 3ft tall.
Their mother, anxious for her children's future, guided them towards a common skill, a profession in which they could together make a living and would be neither isolated nor ostracised. As the five sisters and two brothers were all good-looking and musically gifted, the stage seemed the perfect choice: for where else could they be applauded, courted, honoured?...
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