When Disney released the film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, it gained an unlikely fan in Adolf Hitler.
A copy of the movie, banned in Germany due to anti-Americanism, had made it into Hitler’s possession. The film’s animation was of far greater technical expertise than any German production. This upset Hitler, yet also intrigued him — so much so that he painted watercolor portraits of the Disney dwarfs.
Within a few years, it would soon come to pass that the Nazis would acquire their own seven dwarfs. In this story, however, there is no Snow White, only evil.
That evil went by the name of infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, Auschwitz’s “Angel of Death,” sometimes called the “White Angel.” Thanks to Mengele, the Ovitz family — a clan of actual Jewish dwarfs from Romania — lived through a nightmare of systematic torture.
Mengele was a licensed physician, but working at a death camp meant more harm than healing. In particular, he was obsessed with performing bizarre, cruel experiments on his prisoners, including “freaks” with physical abnormalities. This collection of subjects compromised what was called “Mengele’s Zoo.”
Imagine the sick excitement he must have felt when a guard woke him around midnight on May 19, 1944 with the news that a family of seven dwarfs had just arrived at his camp.
The Ovitz family originated from a village in Transylvania, where the patriarch, a dwarf, was a respected rabbi. Shimson Eizik Ovitz married twice and fathered ten children, seven with dwarfism. After Shimson’s death, his widow urged the dwarf children to make a living performing since their size prevented them from working the land.
Rozika, Franzika, Avram, Freida, Micki, Elizabeth, and Perla performed as the music and theater act “The Lilliput Troupe” and toured Central Europe to rave reviews. The non-dwarf siblings — Sarah, Leah, and Arie — traveled alongside as stagehands and helped with costumes and sets. The Ovitz’s were the first self-managed, all-dwarf entertainment ensemble in history.
The troupe was performing in Hungary when the Nazis invaded — at which point the dwarfs were doubly doomed. Germans considered their stature a physical disability that made them unworthy of life and a burden to society. Add in the fact they were Jewish and the whole family was headed for Auschwitz in the blink of an eye.
Upon the Ovitz’s arrival at the camp, Nazi guards lifted the dwarfs from the cart one by one. Already intrigued by their number, the guards then realized that they all belonged to the same family. That cinched it: Dr. Mengele was notified at once. When he saw the dwarfs, reports said, he lit up like a kid at Christmas.
From that point on, Mengele and the Ovitz family had a puzzling relationship, one that was abusive at best and downright sadistic at the worst. The doctor seemed genuinely intrigued by the dwarfs (more so the females, and especially Freida). Although he was actually kind in his words when it came to the dwarfs, his actions in the name of “science” were absolutely horrific.