70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel
The seven dwarfs without Snow White
The Ovitz family
Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll
The Ovitz family comes from the village of Rozalia, Transylvania, and theirs is a very special, but little-known story of the 20th century. Izsák Simson Ovitz was born in 1868 as a child of Orthodox Jewish parents of normal height. Because of his dwarfism - a total of 92 cm - his parents had decided to send the boy to school; he became the master of ceremonies and best man of weddings that used to last for days at that time. Later he was working as an itinerant rabbi, expert in matters kosher, and an entertainer. Ten children were born of his two wives of normal height between 1886 and 1921. Seven of the children were dwarves and all of them reached adulthood.
Isaac's youngest child, Perla-Piroska, was only 7 years old when their father died, her older siblings by then have already learned the art of being a comedy artist, and thanks to their mother's foresight, they also became excellent musicians who played children's string instruments and drums. Isaac’s second wife died two years after her husband but she gave advice to her children that accompanied them throughout their lifetime, and probably thanks to her wisdom they became so successful and managed to fortunately escape from both Auschwitz and from the Communists closing in on Romania. Batia’s message simply sounded, “Protect one another through fire and water, never leave the others and live for each other!” though living by this motto, especially during the horrors of the twentieth-century, could not have been that easy.
The Lilliputian ensemble - success in the '30s
The small Transylvanian village and its surrounding area were soon outgrown by the team, who were also the most populous dwarf family known so far in the world. During their tours they traveled through all of Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, achieving huge successes. During their musical shows, they performed in Yiddish, Hungarian, Romanian and German. The anti-Jewish laws that entered into force in 1940 with the Hungarian occupation of Transylvania also forbade Jews to entertain non-Jews, but they managed to obtain a special permit and until 1944, when the Germans occupied Hungary and Transylvania, the group continued their performances. At that time, however, there was no escape and the entire family and their two spouses and one of their children were deported together with the other sixty-five Jewish residents of the village. One brother had escaped, but he was later killed.
Mengele, the life-saving monster
In Auschwitz there would have been no chance of survival, but Mengele saw a huge scientific opportunity in performing tests on such a large dwarf family and their normal-sized siblings to prove how the Jewish “race” was becoming degenerated. It is also miraculous that they and other twelve persons, real and fake members of their families, have been saved. The experiments were terrible and lasted for eight months: multiple blood sampling, starvation, extraction of teeth and other terrible things. Since Mengele did not find any scientific explanation for dwarfism and did not achieve any scientific results through his tortures, he had taken the terrified dwarfs and let them stand naked on the stage during the whole time of his lecture to his audience of Nazi generals. However, the members of the Ovitz family soon realized that their lives were in his hands, and no matter how much they were against it, they were always especially nice to him; this Perla always specifically mentioned in her interviews and she also said that it seemed the doctor too, valued their forced respect and fake love. They did not count on living to see their unexpected liberation; especially that many of their dwarf companions who arrived alone or as a couple at the death camp were murdered.
We don’t know what happened to them between the liberation of the camp and their returning home eight months later. The village was there, but their house was destroyed, and along with them only 50 Jews returned home. Again, thanks to their foresight and fortune, they had previously buried their possessions and, after returning home, they found their hidden jewels and gold, so they did not need to restart from scratch at least.
In 1949 they arrived in Haifa and settled there. It's incredible, but only three months after their aliyah they already started their performances, which were again successful. They filled the largest theaters in the country, and their musical show has also contained humorous sketches about the lives of new immigrants, written by one of the brothers, Abraham. In the mid-1950s, however, they retired from acting because the oldest siblings were already far beyond the age of sixty, and the Auschwitz experiments also had a prolonged bad effect on their health. The siblings were still living together and the wives and children of the two married men had a new idea of a venture: they managed to get the rights to rent and operate two cinemas, which they ran for another ten years. Abraham and Miki were the first to pass away in 1972; Franciska reached the oldest age, who died at the age of 98. The last sibling was the youngest, Perla, who was buried in 2001 in the common family gravesite in Haifa. The descendants of the men were people of normal height and did not continue their parents' career.
The astonishing story was discovered only relatively late: Elizabeth Moskovics's book, A sátán kegyelme [Satan's grace] appeared in 1987; Perla was discovered only late - or was then ready to tell their story - but in the last few years of her life she had given several interviews. In addition to the articles, there was a documentary Liebe Perla made with her in 1999, and a book was published in 2005 by Yehuda Koren and Einat Negev, In our hearts we were giants. In 2006, an American documentary was also produced, dubbed in Hungarian. Avi Nesher filmmaker was also inspired by the siblings' movie theater era, and although they were not mentioned by name, he clearly modeled Sylvia after one of the sisters, played by a famous Romanian dwarf actress Bat-El Papura in the 2010 film Egyszer voltam [I was once].
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