An Israeli husband-and-wife team’s extraordinary story of a family of seven dwarfs who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau and the “Doctor of Death”, Joseph Mengele, will be brought to life at Jewish Book Week on Sunday.
In Giants, writers Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev tell how this once famous musical troupe from Transylvania became, as lab rats of notorious eugenicist Dr Mengele, the only family to survive the notorious death camp. Controversially, the authors dare to do what few Holocaust memoirs would: question the survivors’ testimonies.
“The story is almost a fairytale”, Ms Negev said. “So we started from a position of disbelief, we questioned everything.”
This critical approach meant questioning whether the troupe, with their child-sized instruments and high-pitched voices, ever performed in the death camp.
This was always strenuously denied by Perla Ovitz, the youngest of the dwarfs, who gave numerous interviews to the authors before her death in 2001.
They strove to erase Auschwitz from their minds
However, many witnesses, from a musician in the camp orchestra to a boy who set out the benches for a performance, all testified to the contrary. So the authors concluded the Ovitzes must have seen their Auschwitz performances as an “abomination” and “strove to erase their experience from the records. And their minds.”
The authors’ insistence on the independent verification of every event meant that even direct claims from the Ovitz family did not always make the biography, including a story told by Perla’s older sister Elizabeth.
“She had said that one day in Auschwitz, when so much blood was taken from her and her baby Shimshon that she passed out, she afterwards took her baby and ran and hid in the bushes outside the clinic until night,” Ms Negev said.
But through the writers’ extensive research, both at the camp and from testimonies of those who worked in the clinic, it became clear that there was no way to run away from the building — nor were there any bushes.
Although the family’s story is uplifting, a tale of “goodies” and “baddies” was not the aim. “We wanted to write something more complex, with perspective,” said Ms Negev. “There are few survivors left, so now is the time of the researchers.”
The authors will be interviewed on March 3 at Jewish Book Week by British actor and dwarf Warwick Davis, who presents a documentary on the Ovitz family on ITV later this month.