The Real Seven Dwarfs Were Prisoners In Auschwitz

The Real Seven Dwarfs Were Prisoners In Auschwitz

Shannon Quinn - July 23, 2018

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves has been a story since the Grimm Brothers wrote their version of the fairytale, and in 1937, Walt Disney turned it into an animated film. Adolf Hitler was a secret fan of musicals and Disney movies, and he appointed his minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, to re-create several Hollywood classics. American movies were not allowed to be shown in The Third Reich, so in 1938, they premiered a Germany version of Snow White, where the hero is an Aryan girl who is being stalked by a physically deformed witch who is jealous of her beauty. It brings a whole new meaning to “Who is the fairest one of all”, since having fair skin, hair, and eyes was seen as a Nazi ideal. Unbeknownst to Hitler at that time, the seven dwarves were real, but they weren’t a troupe of men working in the mines. They were brothers and sisters who would go down in history for their unique survival story in Auschwitz.

The Real Seven Dwarfs Were Prisoners In Auschwitz
Screenshot from the Nazi’s version of the Snow White movie. Credit: Smithsonian

The Seven Ovitz Dwarfs

The Ovitz family was from a small village called Rozavlea, Transylvania. The father was a dwarf rabbi named Shimson Eizik Ovitz. He married two different normally-sized women who gave birth to not just one, but seven dwarves out of ten children. Their names were Rozika, Franzika, Avram, Freida, Micki, Elizabeth, and Perla. Because of the multiple marriages, the siblings had a wide age gap between them. Their mothers were afraid that their kids might never find normal careers, so they enrolled every single one of the dwarf children into a Drama School so that they could learn how to sing, dance, act, and play musical instruments.

In the 1930’s, most working dwarves were in the entertainment business, but most of them did not actually have very much talent. They were used as gimmicks, or something for the audience to laugh at. The Ovitz family were unique in the fact that they took their acting and musical talent very seriously. They formed a band called The Lilliput Troupe, where they would sing and play musical instruments. In-between songs, they would put on costumes and sets so they could perform live comedy sketches, similar to what we see on Saturday Night Live. Their performance was so good, they became celebrities in their local village. They were even able to go on tour to Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, where they performed in huge theaters in front of crowds of up to 1,000 people. Fans would throw boxes of chocolate and roses to them when they were done performing.

The Real Seven Dwarfs Were Prisoners In Auschwitz
Nazi soldiers kept photos they took of them standing in front of the Ovitz siblings as they were being forced onto carts that would take them to Auschwitz. Credit: Smithsonian.

Since their paperwork left out the fact that they were Jewish, the Ovitz family got away with traveling around with their band for years before they were finally busted by the SS in 1944. They were rounded up and taken to Auschwitz. Some of the soldiers took photos of their family as they were being loaded into horse-drawn carts, labeling the photo with the joke that they were “baggage” that needed to be tossed. They were told that they were being moved to a Jewish ghetto, so they were under the impression that they were just being moved to new housing. They even carried their musical instruments, costumes, and stage makeup with them, because they thought that they could entertain the other travelers once they arrived at their destination.

The Ovitz family was boarded in cattle cars, along with hundreds of other Jewish prisoners. Since all of them were so short, none of them could see out the windows to know where they were going, and they spent hours in darkness, surrounded by tall strangers. One of the sisters tried to ask the Nazi soldier where they were going, and he replied that it doesn’t matter, because they were never going to leave, anyway.

The Real Seven Dwarfs Were Prisoners In Auschwitz
Actor Warwick Davis visits The Real Seven Dwarfs Were Prisoners In Auschwitz for the filming of a documentary about the Ovitz siblings. Credit: Smithsonian.

Arriving at Auschwitz

Once they arrived at Auschwitz, everyone stood in line and waited to be examined by a doctor. Normally, anyone who was born with a disability or abnormality would have been killed within hours of arriving at the death camp. They only wanted to keep people alive who were strong enough to work. Women, young children, and elderly people were often sent to the gas chambers first, because they were seen as totally useless. Even then, the average lifespan of survival was only three to four months, because of the lack of food and horrible living conditions. Over the years, one hundred dwarfs were killed as soon as they arrived in Auschwitz, because they were clearly too small to do hard manual labor.

However, the fact that there were seven of the Ovitz sibling in a group was a shock. Most of these soldiers would have seen the Snow White movie or read the book as children at that time, and some of them demanded to know what was going on, as if it was some kind of elaborate joke being played on them. Since a crowd of officers was forming around the siblings, one of the brothers, Micki, handed out postcards to the S.S. officers of their band, which is what they typically did for fans that came to their concerts. In the postcard, all seven of the Ovitz siblings are holding their musical instruments, dressed in their expensive costumes and makeup. One of the officers told them to wait while he ran to fetch Dr. Joseph Mengele, who was known for keeping a “zoo” of oddities.

The Real Seven Dwarfs Were Prisoners In Auschwitz
This is one of the fan post cards that Micki would have passed around to Nazi officers when they arrived at the death camp. Credit: Smithsonian.

When Dr. Mengele saw the troupe of dwarves, he was excited to start doing experiments on them, saying that he could go on for as long as 20 years. Every single day, he would draw their blood, pluck hair from their head, and pull teeth from their mouths. He would also alternate between pouring freezing cold and boiling hot water into their ears. He believed that one day, he could figure out a way to make them grow. And when he failed to make them grow taller, he tried to find evidence that proved that they were not the same as normal humans, and tried to prove that they were not as evolved as tall people. Of course, he never found evidence of this, but he continued to do experiments again and again.

The Ovitz siblings probably never knew at the time just how lucky they were to be alive, and Dr. Mengele had a long history of not just killing, but keeping dwarfs as trophies. They were not the first dwarfs to arrive at the camp. One was sent to Dr. Mengele. Instead of keeping them around for experiments, he burned them alive, and boiled their body in acid until the flesh would fall off the bones. He would then gather up the bones and keep them as a full dwarf skeleton. He truly did not see them as human beings, but only subjects of his insane scientific experiments.

The Real Seven Dwarfs Were Prisoners In Auschwitz
The family was able to escape with their lives, and they stuck together moving to Israel. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Escaping From the Clutches of a Mad Scientist

Even though their lives were spared because they were taking part in the experiments, they were still treated just like everyone else. The Ovitz siblings slept in the same wooden bunk bed barracks together with the rest of the Jewish prisoners of Auschwitz. They watched as their fellow prisoners died from starvation and sickness, as dead bodies were dragged away and never seen again. They must have felt an immense sense of guilt to know that they were spared from the same fate as all of the others.

Sometimes, when the Ovitz siblings were sitting in his laboratory, Dr. Mengele would force them to sing. They were exhausted and traumatized, of course, and in no mood to sing at all. They tried to get out of it, saying that there was no music for them to sing to. He laughed, saying that he thought it was so funny that he got to have a group of “his” own seven dwarves. He would sing a song about Snow White’s seven dwarves and cackle about how hilarious he thought it was. Auschwitz actually had an orchestra filled with people who were forced to perform for the Nazi officers on-demand, but the Ovitz family never got to join them, despite having musical talent, as well.

They obviously hated enduring Mengele’s experiments, but the siblings knew that they were extremely lucky to be alive in the first place. They continued to be polite and respectful towards Dr. Mengele every day, and never complained or tried to escape. When one of the sisters tried to ask when he would be done with his experiments, so they could return home, he replied very harshly that if they weren’t in his laboratory, they would be sent to the gas chamber immediately. They were all very grateful that they had been born dwarves, because if they had just been normal actors, most of them would have been killed on their first day at the camp.

Luckily for the Orvitz siblings, they did not have to endure the 20 years of torture Mengele had planned for them. They were only in the camp for eight months before it was liberated in 1945. They are the one and only family in the history of Auschwitz who survived together. Every single family member made it out alive. When the war was over, they all moved to Israel together, because many of their family members had escaped there before the war. They all lived out long lives until their 70’s and 80’s.


Where Do we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

The Seven Dwarfs of Auschwitz. The Smithsonian Channel.

Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz. Eilat Negev and Yuheda Koren. Biteback Publishing. 2013.