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In Our Hearts We Were Giants: The Remarkable Story of the Lilliput Troupe--A Dwarf Family's Survival of the Holocaust Hardcover – April, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When the last of his 10 children was born in 1921, Shimshon Eizik Ovitz had the distinction of having fathered the largest dwarf family in the world. Twenty-four years later, his seven dwarf children, two of their normal-sized siblings and a handful of their spouses and cousins set a more tragic record as one of only two extended families to survive Auschwitz intact. The same physical characteristics that frequently rendered them helpless made them endlessly appealing to the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, who tormented them in the name of genetic research. The Ovitz family history is fascinating, as is the dwarf lore that Israeli journalists Koren and Negev have unearthed, but the real drama—aside from the horror of the Holocaust—is in the relationships the Ovitzes formed with Mengele as well as with one another, their spouses, extended family and with the Slomowitzes, fellow townspeople who pretended to be relatives so that they, too, would be spared. Much of the family history comes from the last surviving Ovitz daughter, Perla, who died in 2001, and her nephew, Shimshon, who was a toddler in Auschwitz. Perla is a compelling blend of pride and misery, her nephew a sorrowful adult whose difficult childhood was followed by a troubled adolescence. Their stories, and those of their family, are unique and unforgettable. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The Ovitz family--seven dwarfs and three normal-statured siblings--traveled through Transylvania and neighboring lands singing songs for enthusiastic audiences in the 1930s and early 1940s. Then in 1944, they were shipped with thousands of other Jews to Auschwitz, where the infamous Dr. Mengele took an interest in them. Saved from immediate murder by Mengele, they were treated far better than the average resident of Auschwitz. Although forced to suffer through painful and humiliating medical tests, they kept their own clothes and were better fed than others at the camp. They survived Mengele's experiments, eventually moving to Israel and going on a successful reunion tour before retiring to run a cinema together. Employing information culled from interviews with friends and the last surviving Ovitz sister, Koren and Negev explore with considerable depth the Ovitzes' complicated relationships with their size; one another; and their awful savior, Mengele. The sometimes melodramatic writing detracts a bit from the inherently powerful story, but this is a quirky, illuminating addition to Holocaust history. John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf; 1st edition (April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786713658
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786713653
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #781,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By beckyjean VINE VOICE on September 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The story of the Ovitz family's devotion to one other and to their religion is by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking. By now, many of us have read books, seen movies, and heard stories about extraordinary survival won through that extraordinary horror, the Holocaust. This book stands with the best of those stories because of its uniqueness -- seven of the 10 Ovitzes were dwarfs, and therefore the entire family became the special "pets" of the dreaded Dr. Mengele.

The writing is hardly slick or seamless, but it gets the job done in a more than satisfactory manner. The text seems to speak English with an accent, and while that can be a tad distracting at times, it confers that much more veracity upon the story of the Ovitzes.

The resourcefulness, dedication, and intelligence of the Ovitz dwarfs enables the reader to see them as much more than medical curiosities. Not only are they real people, they're very special people. Frankly, people of this caliber would be worth writing a book about even if they were of normal stature. Dwarfism aside, the story of the Ovitzes is that of a loving, close-knit, traditional family of a type that seems sadly alien to many of us today.

The family's Jewish faith remains strong even in the face of growing persecution. When it is decreed that Jewish performers may perform only for Jewish audiences, the Ovitzes skillfully contrive to obtain identification papers that do not identify them as Jews, yet they remain observant by conveniently falling ill on every sabbath, so they do not have to perform. Later, when they are held in the concentration camp, they manage to say prayers and fashion makeshift candles in secret observance of holidays.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By kohoutekdriver8 on May 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
The family photo on the cover is a classic, and I first saw it as a child in a Time-Life series book. The condition has since been diagnosed as pseudoachondroplasia, a genetic disorder of the cartilage.

Even if it weren't for the religious persecution and horrendous experiments performed on them by Dr. Mengele, this would have been a fascinating story about a challenged family who rose above their obstacles, without being exploited, to lead fulfilling lives. All appeared to be emotionally well-adjusted and totally lacking in self-pity.

People who are interested in the Holocaust and/or dwarfism should read this book.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia S. Yoken on July 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As an avid reader of many Holocaust stories, I was very moved by the remarkable, true story written by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, Israeli authors who interviewed the last surviving dwarf of the Lilliput Troupe. This Orthodox family which consisted of ten children, seven of whom were dwarfs, all survived the horrors of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp and the experiments by Joseph Mengele. Unlike other stories of Holocaust survivors which describe horrific conditions of death, starvation, and torture, this story is unique in that the reader can identify with the emotions and vicissitudes of the dwarfs and sympathize with their situation. It is a poignant and uplifting story of survival and compassion for the little people of the world who have made an important contribution to world history, unique in the Orthodox world.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on February 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
Penned by a pair of Israeli journalists, In Our Hearts We Were Giants is the never-before-told true story of the Ovitz family, seven of them dwarfs, who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust - yet in an odd twist of fate, their dwarfism actually helped them to survive. Serving as popular entertainers until the Nazis deported them to Auschwitz in May 1944, the Ovitz family - widely known as the Lilliput Troupe - were separated from other Jewish victims. The notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, his diabolic "research" on twins and other genetically unique individuals already underway, took a special interest in the Ovitzes. Even as he arranged for vile experiments to be performed upon the Ovitzes, he developed a bizarre fondness for them and their will to survive. Pieced together from interviews with the last surviving Ovitz sibling and her relatives, medical documentation, archival lists, and original Auschwitz records, In Our Hearts We Were Giants is an unforgettable perspective on the nightmare of the Holocaust.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Patricia S. Dumas on March 1, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Just when I thought I knew all the big stories from the Holocaust, I come upon this... and I had never heard of this family.

My father's family was from this same region in Romania, and I wish my granpa and grandma were alive to ask them questions...who knows? They might have even seen this family perform! Ah, the things we never asked our parents and grandparents when they were alive cause we were so busy in our young lives!

Wonderfully told story about family togetherness...Tender, raw, and real. One can even try to understand why there was a sort of "affection" between the family and their captors--as unbelievable as it seems.

Read this one.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By M. Baker on July 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book should truly be written on the surface of diamond, to be read until the ending of mankind. Like Martin Gilbert's The Holocaust, In Our Hearts We Were Giants is an immaculately researched history, a testament to human courage in the face of unimaginable horror. The hitherto un-recorded story of the Ovitz family from Romania, seven of them of restricted growth, who performed as The Lilliput Troupe, details their arrest and transportation to Auschwitz where they were selected by Josef Mengele for his pseudo-scientific research into dwarfism. The authors, in diligently extracting minute details of his inhumanity (the Devil is in the detail!), bring this monster - and his peers and successors - to judgement.

One of the most powerful sequences occurs towards the end, when the authors make the journey that the Ovitz family would have endured from north west Romania to Auschwitz. There, in this now seemingly 'commercialised' death camp, they find a single button in the dust. Throughout the book Koren and Negev continually astonish with fragments that impact the reality of the Final Solution. Like many pages in this shocking book it's almost impossible to read through tears, The moral of every page is a test of one's own morality and courage.

The horror of what happened becomes tangible when the focus is upon individuals - somehow the massacre of millions is impossible to comprehend. If their sacrifice has any value then it is contained in books like this, as the same genocidal forces are still at work around the world. It is as profound a memorial as that at Yad Vashem, and at the end all one can say is Kaddish.
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