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You've probably never thought about it, but you almost certainly don't know enough real life historical figures who were #dwarf people - and dwarf women especially.

So let me tell you about Perla Ovitz, a strong, proud Jewish dwarf woman who survived Auschwitz.

Please RT.

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CW: some people may find this thread distressing.
Piroska ‘Perla’ Ovitz, was born in Romania in 1921. One of 10 children, she and 6 of her siblings had dwarfism, like their father. He was a travelling rabbi & jester.

Her childhood was marked by loss: her father died when she was a toddler; her mother passed when she was 9.

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Perla’s older brother became her father figure - ensuring she got an education (and testing her).

Perla was a smart child – reading before she began school.

She could memorise maps did her homework while bigger children played outside or did P.E.

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Perla had an ear for music and a good singing voice. Her uncle taught her sisters the violin; their ‘klezmer’ band played at weddings. 

Each child learned a musical instrument and, aged 16, “would join the musical troupe of the Ovitzes”.

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At a time when dwarf people were paraded and abused at freak and side shows, the Ovitzes detested the thought of performing in circuses: “We abhorred the idea of being animals in a human zoo… We never wanted to make a living out of exhibiting our deformity.”*

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Instead, they said, “We wanted to be taken seriously as professional actors”.

Indeed, as one audience member recounts: “If they had been lousy musicians, everyone would have booed them off stage in five minutes. Their long career speaks for itself.”

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(* However, I must say the potential marketing value of the image Perla and her smaller siblings presented to audiences was not lost entirely on them: they printed and signed promotional cards of the seven dwarf members of the troupe.)

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Dwarf and average height Ovitzes came together to form a family band, performing love songs, jokes, and tragic ballads – in as many as five languages. (At the start of the troupe’s career, Perla, the youngest of the siblings, was still in school, continuing her education.)

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Perla, confident in herself and her body, didn’t seek out relationships. “Height and body size are no sign of health or fertility”, she once said. “Some rings have huge worthless stones, others have tiny precious ones.”

Men would come to her – and usually she’d reject them.

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As an old lady, reflecting on her life, Perla said: “I realised marriage turned a woman into a man’s slave, and I didn’t want to be one… I would be an excellent wife for any man but there’s nothing a man can give me that I don’t have already.”

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Perla had style. “As long as you breathe, you should look your best”. As a child, she refused kids’ clothes - instead tailoring her own. As an older lady, she had rouged cheeks & lacquered red nails, her black hair tied back w/ a velvet bow “in old fashioned Hollywood style”.

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Driven by the Hassidic Jewish dictum, ‘Serve the Lord with joy’, Perla’s family became known as The Lilliput Troupe, performing all over Eastern Europe while Hitler and the Nazis rose to power.

Remember: the Nazis considered dwarf & #disabled people as “useless to society”. 12/
In 1940, Romania ceded Northern Transylvania, the Ovitzes’ homeland, to Hungary, which swiftly implemented anti-Semitic policies – shuttering Jewish newspapers, confiscating Jewish businesses, and restricting performances by Jewish artists to Jewish audiences.

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Although, Perla and her family managed to get non-Jewish ID cards – and so continue to perform – they were constantly at risk of arrest.

They stopped speaking Yiddish, “they pricked up their ears for gossip”

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In 1941, Hungarian authorities rounded up 35,000 Jews who’d settled in Transylvania after 1919 (and couldn’t ‘prove’ Hungarian origin) and moved them to concentration camps.

Later, 23,600 of them were massacred – the beginning of the Nazi’s ‘Final Solution’ genocide.

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Extraordinarily, Perla’s troupe maintained their career throughout most of WW2 – touring hundreds of miles away.

But in March 1944, Germany invaded Hungary.

A fascist, anti-Semitic government was installed.

Hungarian Jews were ghettoised.

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At night, drunk soldiers regularly forced themselves into the Ovitzes’s home, demanding free performances.

They’d try to pick up Perla or her sister, Elizabeth, to dance with them.

“All I wanted was to cry, but we had no choice.”

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In May 1944, Perla and her family were deported to Auschwitz, where they were told to wait until ‘Dr Mengele’ arrived.

Seeing smoke from the gas chambers, Perla thought: “We went numb… if this was a graveyard, what was a doctor doing here?”

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Dr Josef Mengele was, essentially, a torturer – conducting vicious experiments on people he considered unusual (especially twins) and inferior.

Perla remembers seeing him: “I thought to myself, I won’t survive him. Not in this place.”

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Mengele moved the Ovitzes to the ‘family camp’, which the Nazis kept as ‘evidence’ to refute Red Cross allegations of their brutal genocide.

They were allowed to keep their altered clothes, but, as Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoners, were tattooed.

Perla’s number was 5087.

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As Mengele’s test ‘specimens’, Perla and her family were granted certain privileges.

They lived in different barracks; they weren’t subjected to night-time ‘roll calls’ or floggings.

They were allowed to wear makeup they’d smuggled in.

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Eleven years before the Ovitzes’s arrival in Auschwitz, the Nazis passed a law mandating forced sterilisations of dwarf and disabled people.

In 1938-39, a new policy was introduced, authorising the killing of learning and physically #disabled people.

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Mengle’s ‘tests’ were horrific and included extracting bone marrow from the Ovitzes’s spines, while they were alive.

Perla remembered: “It was a big syringe, the amount they took was enormous… we often fainted… That didn’t stop Mengele.”

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Perla’s siblings were constantly measured, x-rayed, given laxatives, and subjected to medical inspections.

Boiling and freezing water was poured into their ears.

Doctors considered Perla too young and so exempted her from the torture.

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The tests, it’s thought, were part of Mengele’s 'plan' to ‘prove’ a direct link between #dwarfism and #disability and being Jewish.

As many have done throughout history, he fetishized the Ovitzes, demanding to know about their sex life.

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In the camp, the Ovitzes rebelled against ban on Jewish religious practice: the dwarf men watched over each other as they prayed; the dwarf women secretly made Sabbath candles, plucking threads from their sheets and twisting them together with wax.

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Then, in summer 1944, with the ‘Family Camp’ no longer needed to dupe the Red Cross, the Nazis moved to liquidate it.

Thousands were murdered.

In September, the Ovitzes were moved to the SS guards’ own camp.

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It’s unclear how much, if at all, the Ovitzes ingratiated themselves to Mengele.

As his ‘treasured specimens’, other prisoners were envious of them.

The Ovitzes played a part for him - in the desperate hope of surviving torture and genocide.

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“We shielded ourselves with smiles but inside we were trembling… We were never fooled by [Mengele’s] amiability… it didn’t make us feel any safer… it was no guarantee he’d keep us alive…”

– An Ovitz family member (possibly Perla).

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Witnesses testify the Ovitzes did perform, as a troupe, for SS guards – including being forced to dance for the men’s entertainment, but Perla insists they never did.

“In reality”, historians note, “they would have had no choice once they’d been ordered to perform”.

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In January 1945, the Allies advancing, the Nazis began demolishing the camps, transferring the prisoners.

Mengele gathered his ‘research’ and drove away. He disappeared.

The Ovitzes opted to stay in the nearly deserted camp, rather than risk the march.

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That month, Russian soldiers entered Birkenau. But, Perla and her family wouldn’t be free until 7 months later, while the Russians tried to identify Nazis posing as refugees. In August, they returned home. They had survived. Many of their friends, family, & neighbours had not. 32
After the war, Perla and her family went to Belgium.

Fears of continued anti-Semitism in Europe spurred them to Haifa in Israel - wishing to “bring some laughter and joy to our brethren in our new homeland”. Perla was 28.

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In Auschwitz, Perla promised herself: “if God let me stay alive I would tell my… until my breath died out so no-one could say it never happened”.

In Israel, she gave talks in schools, where she’d show a photo of Mengele.

“I want the children to know his face”, she said.

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She helped run a cinema complex and continued making her own clothes, even in old age, insisting she and her sisters were “always diligent and hardworking, better craftsmen than tall people.”

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Perla was a proud dwarf person: “Being a dwarf is no punishment. The difference in height does not diminish our pleasures. Our life is as worthwhile as anyone else’s.”

Even when imprisoned, she was said to walk “proudly, like an elegant lady”.

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When asked if people calling her ‘a dwarf’ offended her, Perla defiantly replied:

“What else can they call me? I see myself in the mirror and it’s a fact.” 

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Reflecting on the horrors she survived, she said:

“if I ever wondered why I was born a dwarf, my answer would have to be that my handicap, my deformity, was God’s only way to keep me alive.”

She died in 2001, aged 80.

END.
Sources: Koren & Negev (eds.) In Our Hearts We Were Giants (pictured).

Also theguardian.com/world/2013/mar….

You can see an interview with her here: smithsonianchannel.com/videos/a-dwarf…
PS: I hate how this book is written but this thread is too long and I'm tired. Ask me again next week.
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