A post today for Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day (a separate observance from International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which we marked here and here). At present I am working on a post about another troupe of Little People. As that effort coincides with this day’s solemnities, the Ovitz Family seemed a perfect topic for today. The subject was suggested by a friend after my post about Zoltan Hirsch. When I looked into this remarkable family, I was THUNDERSTRUCK. I had seen them before. They were the subject of a very famous Life Magazine photo (above), which I’d known and obsessed over when I was a kid; it was included in a coffee table book about evolution. So it was fated I should reunite with this topic many years later.
The Ovitzes were often nicknamed “The Seven Dwarves” because that was their number. To date, they hold the record for the greatest number of dwarf siblings born to a single family. (There were ten siblings in all; three of them were closer in size to the human average). The genes came from their father, Shimson Eizik Ovitz (1868–1923), also a little person, who was a badchen in the Romanian region just north of Transylvania. The children were born to two mothers between the years of 1886 and 1921. They called themselves The Lilliput Troupe, sang songs in several languages, and played miniature musical instruments. The troupe toured mostly in Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The entire family (including the larger ones, who worked as roadies and stage hands), lived, played, and stayed together.
Unfortunately, Hungary became an Axis Power and seized the region where the Ovitz family made their home. Anti-Jewish decrees were passed in 1940. The family managed to squeak by for four years with fudged paperwork. Then the fateful day: in May, 1944 they were picked up and brought to Auschwitz. Their size would prove to be their salvation. Josef Mengele, ghoulishly interested in all genetic anomalies, set them aside in their own housing, and saw to it that they were adequately fed and had sanitary living conditions, so that he could perform experiments on them. Unlike his research on twins, which are much more common than Little People, these experiments were not lethal.
The Ovitzes would prove the largest intact family unit to survive imprisonment at Auschwitz. They were liberated by the Soviets in January, 1945, eight months after their arrival. They spent some time in a Russian refugee camp, and then walked all the way back to their village. It took them seven months. When they arrived they found that their house had been plundered. They moved to Belgium, and then on to Israel, where they continued to tour with their show through 1955, at which point they retired and opened a cinema. The last of the siblings died in 2001.
For more on performing little people please check out Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People in Vaudeville.