Famous dwarf actor Warwick Davis travels on a poignant journey to look at the unbelievable story of the Ovitz family, seven Jewish performers who somehow managed to survive World War Two.
He first travels to a small village in Transylvania, Romania, where the family, five sisters and two brothers, were born. From there he heads to Rozavlea, the town where the family lived and, according to ancient local myth, was named after a giant who fell in love with a dwarf. He visits the family home and talks to Ioan Timis, former mayor of the town who now owns the house, and the only person in the town to have actually met the Ovitzes.
The Ovitzes; Elizabeth, Fransiska. Rosika, Micki, Avram, Frieda, and Perla, the youngest, were an extremely unusual family. Their father, like them, was a dwarf, but their two mothers and three other siblings were all quite tall. Warwick compares them with his own family, stating that !My parents and sisters are all average sized, and when I was born it came as a slight shock. Above all, the Ovitzes were committed to entertaining people, and that is something I have always tried to be as well.
The family performed all over the continent, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the largest concert halls in Europe, to huge audiences. By 1937, just after the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the craze for dwarf entertainers had reached its peak. Hitler was surprisingly a huge fan of Snow White, he loved it that much that he made his own propaganda film version.
When the Nazis began to terrorise Europe, the Ovitzes, who were also Jewish, assumed that they were a safe enough distance away to not be harmed. Warwick’s next stop is Dragomiresti, where the family to forcibly taken. He is shown photos of the arrival of the family and meets Dr Ioan Michai Dancus, the son of the villages priest, who lived directly opposite the ghetto from which the family was taken.
Warwick then takes the horrifying train journey that the family were made to make to Auschwitz, although they had to take it in cattle wagons with eighty people inside each of them. They all thought they were going to be re-housed, so they brought their equipment with them, make-up, costumes, instruments, the lot.
The notorious Auschwitz ‘Angel of Death’ Josef Mengele, loved to experiment on those with hereditary conditions such as the Ovitzes. When he saw they family, he said that he did not want them to be killed, saving them from death for his own sick experiments. The doctor separated them from all other inmates and added them to his growing collection of test subjects. He was curious as to how the family involved both dwarfs and tall members. Eleven other inmates claimed to be related to the family, and they were all taken to Mengele’s ‘Human Zoo
About 100 dwarfs were killed in Auschwitz. So being short wasn’t going to be enough to save the Ovitzes. To buy more time, they’d have to use another of their assets; their performing talents, to avoid being taken to the gas chambers.
The terrible ordeal that the Ovitzes had to suffer finally ended in January 1945. Eight months after their arrival at the camp, it was liberated. Along with most SS officers, the doctor had fled, taking his research with him. The dwarfs arrived back home a year later. In 1949, they emigrated to Israel and started performing again to the same packed out theatres as before. Perla, the last of the inspirational family, died, aged 80, in 2001.
At the end of his epic journey, Warwick gives a final word on the story he has learned, “It has left me utterly shocked and amazed, I find them even more inspirational than I did before.”
Tonight, 10pm, ITV One. Leave your comments below.