Written By: Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev
Published By: MJF Books
Reviewed By: Melissa Minners
Those who know me know I have a great interest in history and have read quite a few books about various eras, locales and wars, including the Civil War, WWI and WWII, Vietnam. I have read about the horrific experiments performed by Joseph Mengele during WWII, but never of an entire family that survived those experiments relatively whole. That is, until I read Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz by Yehuda Korena and Eliat Negev.
Giants is a story about the Ovitz family, a large Romanian family that made their home in the village of Rozavlea. What made the Ovitz family special was the fact that a majority of the members of the family were dwarfs. Upon the death of their mother, who had always told them to stick together and they could conquer anything, in an effort to support themselves, the Ovitz family became the Lilliput Troupe. They traveled far and wide, singing, playing music and performing skits for sold out crowds. The farm they owned and the land they rented helped supplement things.
But soon, Hitler and his Nazi army began to encroach on the Ovitz family’s way of life. Though the events in Nazi Germany seemed to be a world away, the Ovitz family could no longer deny that it was real. Their performances were limited as they were Jewish and could not travel in certain areas, and those performances they could put on were small as few could afford to attend. Eventually, the Nazis came for them.
When they were brought to Auschwitz, they believed it was a death sentence. After all, the dwarf members of the family were not equipped for the kind of heavy labor instituted in the camp for its prisoners. But the troupe wasn’t counting on Dr. Joseph Mengele who decided they should be kept alive. The make-up of the Ovitz family intrigued him and he wanted to study how dwarfism seemed to pass over some members but not all. And so it was for the Ovitz family in Auschwitz, undergoing the terrors of life in the camp and enduring hours upon hours of experiments by Mengele and his assistants. Yet, somehow, by staying together, they survived.
Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negeve did an excellent job of researching the Ovitz family. They only had one surviving member to speak with – Perla Ovitz, youngest of the troupe – and she sometimes changed her stories, either for entertainment’s sake or simply fuzziness of memory. The duo traveled to the Ovitz hometown and spoke with former neighbors. They traveled abroad to get a sense of the troupe’s journey during their performing tours and afterwards, en route to Auschwitz. They traveled to Auschwitz itself to see the conditions in which the Ovitz lived.
Giants is a very descriptive book, the authors doing their best to paint the picture of the Ovitz family’s survival through words. My only criticism would be that, toward the end, some of the points in the book became repetitive. Especially when discussing the various stories told about the seven dwarfs of Auschwitz by its various prisoners over the years. That being said, the tale of the survival of this family…sticking together to help ensure that survival is paramount and there is much to be learned from the perseverance of this family in the face of horrific conditions and the threat of death around every corner. Definitely an interesting and inspirational read.