Book Reviews

Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz: The Extraordinary Story of the Lilliput Troupe by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev

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List Price: £16.99

 

Hardcover: 320 Pages.

Published: 12 February 2013 by The Robson Press

Edition: Revised Edition

ISBN: 1849544646

EAN: 9781849544641

Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz is a moving and inspirational story of survival, of a troupe of seven dwarf siblings, whose story starts like a fairy tale, before moving into the darkest moments of their history; the darkest moments of modern history. At a time when the phrase survival of the fittest was paramount, the Ovitz family, seven of whose ten members were dwarfs, less than three feet tall, defied the fate of so many other Holocaust victims. The irony was that, doubly doomed for being Jewish and disabled, it was their dwarfism that ultimately saved their lives. Authors Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev deftly weave the tale of this beloved and successful family of singers and actors, the Lilliput Troupe. Their dazzling Vaudeville program, the only all-dwarf show at the time, made them famous entertainers in Central Europe in the 1930s and 40s. Descending from the cattle train into the death camp of Auschwitz, the Ovitz family was separated from other Jewish victims on the orders of one Dr Joseph Mengele. Obsessed with eugenics, Dr. Mengele experimented on the family, aiming to discover the biological and pathological causes of the birth of dwarfs. Like a single-minded scientist, he guarded his human lab-rats, and subsequently, when the Russian army liberated Auschwitz, all members of the family - the youngest, a baby boy just 18 months-old, the oldest, a 58 year-old woman - were alive. It was the only family that entered the death camp and lived to tell the tale. The family eventually restructured their lives and became successful performers once again, but the indelible mark of their experiences was carried with them until the end.

Reviews

5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars  by Anne

Fascinating story

The story of the Ovitz family is one of continual discrimination, and worse, because of their difference. Living in Romania before WW2 they were a family where dwarfism had resulted in many of them being very small. This meant that they couldn't easily earn a living and they had to be supported and cared for by the averagely heighted members of their family and those they employed. Living in a rural economy and surrounded by poverty they made their living in show business travelling around Europe and entertaining. They lived a precarious but comfortable life until the war came and they lost their occupation and were defined not only by their size but their religion. The family ended up in a concentration camp as the subject of some horrific medical experiments because of their size.

The story of the family is very well told. The narrative is clear and absorbing and has been based on records and first hand witness. The author gives you the ups and downs of their career both before and after the war as well as their relationships with extended family and those around them which was often marked by jealousy and discrimination. The main part of the book is about their experiences during the war and although all the family survived the authors spare us little in the telling about what they experienced and what happened to those around them.

This is an excellent addition to memoirs/stories of wartime experiences. The authors are careful to make it clear that the memory of the family members does not always match that of other survivors and they leave it open to the reader to decide who to believe on a couple of occasions but this is actually not important and inevitable given the times being described. I found it fascinating, moving and informative.

5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars  by Debra Found

Well Written and Fascinating

This is the story of a family including seven sibling dwarfs. We are

given the basic background to their family and childhood but the book

really begins to go into detail as the siblings - seven dwarfs and three

of average height - create a touring entertainment group in pre-war

Romania. We follow the family as they create a reputation as

professional musicians and singers (not a freak show) in Romania,

Russia, Poland and surrounding areas. The family, who are Jewish, then

get sent to Auschwitz in 1944 where they are given protection by Megele

at horrendous medical cost.

The real heart of this book is the time

that the family spent under Megele's control in Auschwitz. However the

background of their pre-war career was vital in understanding how the

Lilliput Troupe felt about themselves & what they could and could

not manage alone. I also very much appreciated the continuing story

which followed the family up until the last survivor in 2002.

It is

quite obvious that extensive research has gone into this book. The

authors have not only used written material but taken the time to

interview people who knew the family throughout the years including

during the war years. The authors also took the time to complete the

stories of other people that play a significant part in the lives of the

Lilliput Troupe. I did appreciate this. The authors were often faced

with conflicting views of events. For example, the Lilliput Troup always

maintained that they never performed inside the camps. However, many

eyewitnesses stated quite catagorically that they did on several

occasions. The authors didn't try to resolve this, and other paradoxes,

but rather presented the facts and allowed the reader to reach their own

conclusions.

This was a well constructed and presented book. It was

easy to read and flowed well. I struggled to put it down. This was not a

book which set out to make the most of the horrors that were faced by

the family and make them objects of pity. It set out to lay down the

facts; the comparatively privileged position that they had under

Mengele's patronage, the terrible cost of this in terms of medical

experimentation, the precarious position they were in and what they did

(and didn't) do to help the other inmates. I found the interdependence

of the dwarf and non-dwarf siblings to be quite fascinating both during

the war years and afterwards. The family dynamics and the way in which

they used other people - often as a necessity to survive - was a story

on it's own.

I read this book with great emotion but it wasn't until

the last chapters that I really felt as if I had been knocked for six by

this book. The authors describe their own trip to Auschwitz and the

comparisons they make between that and the story told by the survivors.

It is, however, the sheer commercialisim which stunned me. They describe

how families have had to fight (not always successfully) to have their

loved ones bones and photos removed from show at the Holocaust museums.

Can it be right that someone who was killed & had their bones boiled

down to create a skeleton for medical research by Mengele is still

stood in a showcase for the world to gawp at now?

A very interesting

and well written book which I found easy to read. It sets out to tell

the world the story of this family & achieves it well without

reducing the whole tale to mushy pity seeking.

 
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