So let me tell you about Perla Ovitz, a strong, proud Jewish dwarf woman who survived Auschwitz.
Her childhood was marked by loss: her father died when she was a toddler; her mother passed when she was 9.
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.
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.”
Remember: the Nazis considered dwarf & #disabled people as “useless to society”. 12/
They stopped speaking Yiddish, “they pricked up their ears for gossip”
Later, 23,600 of them were massacred – the beginning of the Nazi’s ‘Final Solution’ genocide.
But in March 1944, Germany invaded Hungary.
A fascist, anti-Semitic government was installed.
Hungarian Jews were ghettoised.
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.”
Seeing smoke from the gas chambers, Perla thought: “We went numb… if this was a graveyard, what was a doctor doing here?”
They were allowed to keep their altered clothes, but, as Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoners, were tattooed.
Perla’s number was 5087.
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.
In 1938-39, a new policy was introduced, authorising the killing of learning and physically #disabled people.
Boiling and freezing water was poured into their ears.
Doctors considered Perla too young and so exempted her from the torture.
Thousands were murdered.
In September, the Ovitzes were moved to the SS guards’ own camp.
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.
– An Ovitz family member (possibly Perla).
“In reality”, historians note, “they would have had no choice once they’d been ordered to perform”.
Mengele gathered his ‘research’ and drove away. He disappeared.
The Ovitzes opted to stay in the nearly deserted camp, rather than risk the march.
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.
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.
Even when imprisoned, she was said to walk “proudly, like an elegant lady”.
“What else can they call me? I see myself in the mirror and it’s a fact.”