How The Seven Auschwitz Dwarves Fell Under The Spell Of Dr Death

May 19, 1944 – When Perla Ovitz and her family were lifted off the train shortly after arriving in Auschwitz that fateful Friday; the SS guards regarded them with astonishment.

There were seven of them, all no taller than a girl of five. The two men were impeccably dressed, and the five women looked elegant in their grown-up dresses and painted faces.

They did not join the throngs of Jews who walked down the ramp, herded by soldiers with their leashed dogs. Instead, they huddled together, and the two men even handed out autographed cards to the guards watching over them as after all, they are the famous Lilliput Troupe, and their small group had performed internationally.

Little did they know they were in the Nazi’s deadliest concentration camp.

The Ovitz family were subjected to gruesome experiments at the hands of Dr. Josef Mengele in Auschwitz (Wikipedia)

Meet Dr. Death

From the officers who regarded the seven dwarfs with shock, one came to them and asked them some questions. After he was able to establish the fact that all of them come from one family – the Ovitz family – the order to wake up the camp’s doctor was immediately carried out. It was twelve midnight, and he was sleeping in his quarters, but the seven dwarfs were something he wouldn’t miss.

Dr. Mengele was very much into ‘freaks’, and the family of short people could be considered that. All the more that there were seven of them belonging to one family. The doctor would be pleased!

And right they were. The doctor instantly got up when told about the news. The 34-year-old good-looking doctor lost no time questioning the seven, questions that they all answered in eager chorus.

Ultimately, not only were they the ones saved from death that night but also two full-sized sisters, sister-in-law and two children, as well as their neighbor and handyman’s families, were secured from the gas chamber – 22 in all.

However, their journey was far from over as ultimately, they were in the mercy of he who was known as “Doctor Death” – Dr. Joseph Mengele, who took pleasure in his scientific experimentation in the form of killings and torturing and maiming his subjects in the name of science.

When he came upon the dwarfs, he had exclaimed rather gleefully:

‘I now have worked for 20 years!’

Josef Mengele, second from left, relaxes with Auschwitz administrators in 1944
Josef Mengele, second from left, relaxes with Auschwitz administrators in 1944 (Bundesarchiv)

Extraordinary Story of Survival

The Lilliput Troupe’s heads were not shaved, and they were allowed to keep their own clothes. They ate the same watery soup as the others in the camp, but it was all clear to the rest the group was set apart. They were also given potties of deceased babies and had an aluminum bowl where they were required to wash everyday as Dr. Mengele was a hygiene nitpicker.

However, with these privileges came a great price.

The day came when they were all taken to the doctor’s lab. His request was quite simple – he took from them samples of blood and subjected them to countless x-rays. The difference is, the blood-letting was done day after day along with the x-ray examinations.

“The amount of blood they took was enormous and, being feeble from hunger, we often fainted. That didn’t stop Mengele: he had us lie down, and when we came to our senses they resumed siphoning our blood,” Perla Ovitz recalled.

Aside from the careless puncturing they had to endure, they were also tested for syphilis – a water torture of boiling water immediately followed with freezing water poured down their ears – repeatedly. Psychiatrists also hounded them with questions to test their intelligence.

These and the horrors the witnessed in Dr. Mengele’s laboratory exhausted them and stripped them of their hope. But they still kept up their brave amiable faces in front of the doctor and were always polite to him.

The Ovitz family were taken to Auschwitz in 1944 where Dr. Josef Mengele forced them to undergo medical tests – Image by Tulio Bertorini (tbertor1) – Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0

The Show

One day, the doctor approached the lilliputian group with a parcel filled with make-up. He asked them to get ready as they were going on stage in front very important people. Thinking they were to perform, Perla Ovitz and her dwarf siblings woke up at the dawn of September 1 and readied themselves – putting on glamorous theatrical make-up the doctor provided them for the “show”.

They were transported to a large newly-constructed residential building, an SS residential camp. After dining on a hearty meal served in fine China, the group was summoned on stage, in front of them high-ranking SS officers.

But to their aghast, they were ordered to strip down in front of the audience!

Dr. Mengele had gone public with his genetic research and was giving a lecture on the ‘Examples of the Work in Anthropological and Hereditary Biology in the Concentration Camp.’ He had wanted to show the degeneration of the Jewish race into a race riddled with cripples and dwarfs, but because he did not have concrete genetic evidence at hand, he relied greatly on poking at the naked Ovitz family on the stage to prove his point.

Mengele’s presentation ended to a standing ovation by his fellow Nazi comrades, and some had even climbed the stage to prod more at the naked group. That night, they went back to camp devastated.

Saved and Free!

The end to the torture the seven dwarfs suffered in the hands of Dr. Death had been swift. In January 1945, when news about the approaching Russian army reached camp, Dr. Mengele took his medical reports and fled.

Ultimately, the dwarfs reached their home seven months later.

In 1949, Perla Ovitz told her family’s marvelous story of survival from Auschwitz. By that time, however, she was the only living among the seven.

 ‘Giants: the Dwarfs of Auschwitz: The Extraordinary Story of the Lilliput Troupe by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev’ 

‘Dr. Mengele was like a movie star, only better-looking. Anyone could easily fall in love with him. But no one who saw him could ever imagine that behind his beautiful face a beast was hiding,” she said regarding Dr. Mengele.

The doctor fled from justice and managed to escape to South America where he died by drowning in 1979. Had he been caught, Perla said, she doubted if he would have said his apologies for what he did to her and her family.

‘But if the judges had asked me if he should be hanged, I’d have told them to let him go. I was saved by the grace of the devil — God will give Mengele his due.’

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE