Inside horrific Auschwitz 'social club' where Dr Mengele would force dwarfs to entertain SS officers


A chilling black-and-white photograph of smiling SS officers in front of a wooden building offers a glimpse into one of WWII’s lesser-known horrors.  

With its roomy porch and large windows, the building provided a welcome retreat for German soldiers stationed at the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, but for inmates, it was a site of degradation and despair.

Named Kameradschaftsheim der Waffen SS KL Auschwitz (The Home of Comradeship for the Waffen SS at Auschwitz), the building was built by prisoners and opened just before Easter 1942 as a social club for the camp’s senior officers and their families.

In the less than three years it was open, the club hosted diversions such as cabarets, sketches, orchestral concerts and boxing matches. 

There was even horse riding and horse-drawn carriages organised for children in front of the building.

A projector beamed the latest films onto a huge screen and big name stage stars were invited to perform, including Italian actress and singer Lia Origoni, who headlined a February 1943 show at the camp in a production called Sunny South. 

But inmates were also forced to perform, including seven Romanian Jewish entertainers born with dwarfism who became a source of fascination for the deranged Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, dubbed the ‘Angel of Death.’ 

Before being sent to Auschwitz in May 1944, the Ovitz family members were internationally famed for the variety shows they produced as the Lilliput Troupe, but in the camp they appeared in the ‘Dr Mengele Dwarf Show.’ 

A chilling black-and-white photograph of smiling SS officers in front of a wooden building offers a glimpse into one of WWII's lesser-known horrors. With its roomy porch and large windows, the building provided a welcome retreat for German soldiers stationed at the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, but for inmates, it was a site of degradation and despair

A chilling black-and-white photograph of smiling SS officers in front of a wooden building offers a glimpse into one of WWII’s lesser-known horrors. With its roomy porch and large windows, the building provided a welcome retreat for German soldiers stationed at the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, but for inmates, it was a site of degradation and despair

One of the buildings on the concentration camp is pictured above, complete with railway tracks. Named Kameradschaftsheim der Waffen SS KL Auschwitz (The Home of Comradeship for the Waffen SS at Auschwitz), the building was built by prisoners and opened just before Easter 1942 as a social club for the camp's senior officers and their families

One of the buildings on the concentration camp is pictured above, complete with railway tracks. Named Kameradschaftsheim der Waffen SS KL Auschwitz (The Home of Comradeship for the Waffen SS at Auschwitz), the building was built by prisoners and opened just before Easter 1942 as a social club for the camp’s senior officers and their families

A view of the building that was formerly known as Kameradschaftsheim der Waffen SS KL Auschwitz. In the less than three years it was open, the club hosted diversions such as cabarets, sketches, orchestral concerts and boxing matches. There was even horse riding and horse-drawn carriages organised for children in front of the building. But prisoners were also forced to perform

A view of the building that was formerly known as Kameradschaftsheim der Waffen SS KL Auschwitz. In the less than three years it was open, the club hosted diversions such as cabarets, sketches, orchestral concerts and boxing matches. There was even horse riding and horse-drawn carriages organised for children in front of the building. But prisoners were also forced to perform

Mengele was known to observe arrivals at Auschwitz, separating people who interested him, often twins, from the disembarking crowds headed for the gas chambers or forced labour.

Though they were spared those fates and often lived under better conditions than other inmates, the individuals picked out by Mengele were subjected to harrowing and inhumane experiments.

For the Ovitz family, these included having their bone marrow removed and teeth extracted without anaesthesia.

Hot and cold water were poured into their ears and they were blinded with chemical drops, while the married female siblings were also inspected by gynaecologists. 

The aim of these experiments, some of which are considered medical torture, was allegedly to look for signs of hereditary disease among the family, which also included members who did not have dwarfism.

Among the prisoners forced to perform were the Ovitz family, seven of whom were born with dwarfism and toured in a vaudeville show before being sent to Auschwitz. Pictured: A colorised photo of the Ovitz family, L-R: Rosika, Franzisca, Avraham, Markus, Frida, Elizabeth and Pualina taken in Israel in 1949

Among the prisoners forced to perform were the Ovitz family, seven of whom were born with dwarfism and toured in a vaudeville show before being sent to Auschwitz. Pictured: A colorised photo of the Ovitz family, L-R: Rosika, Franzisca, Avraham, Markus, Frida, Elizabeth and Pualina taken in Israel in 1949

The Romanian inmates appeared in the 'Dr Mengele Dwarf Show' after becoming a source of fascination for the deranged Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, dubbed the 'Angel of Death' by inmates

The Romanian inmates appeared in the ‘Dr Mengele Dwarf Show’ after becoming a source of fascination for the deranged Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, dubbed the ‘Angel of Death’ by inmates

The Ovitz Family appeared in the 'Dr Mengele Dwarf Show' after becoming a source of fascination for the deranged Nazi doctor Josef Mengele (centre), dubbed the 'Angel of Death' by inmates

The Ovitz Family appeared in the ‘Dr Mengele Dwarf Show’ after becoming a source of fascination for the deranged Nazi doctor Josef Mengele (centre), dubbed the ‘Angel of Death’ by inmates

The wooden camp kitchen and SS canteen building known as Kameradschaftsheim der Waffen SS KL is pictured above. Work began on the building in 1941 when Auschwitz was expanding. By 1945, there were more than 4,500 SS soldiers stationed at the camp. A wife of one of the soldiers recalled the building hosting wonderful parties with delicious food but that on arrival the smell from the crematoria was unbearable

The wooden camp kitchen and SS canteen building known as Kameradschaftsheim der Waffen SS KL is pictured above. Work began on the building in 1941 when Auschwitz was expanding. By 1945, there were more than 4,500 SS soldiers stationed at the camp. A wife of one of the soldiers recalled the building hosting wonderful parties with delicious food but that on arrival the smell from the crematoria was unbearable

The building's front doors are seen in this wartime photo. It was surrounded by barbed wire fencing to prevent any would-be escapees from trying to flee the concentration camp. The first complex at the camp to liberated was Auschwitz III which was overrun by the Red Army in late January, 1945

The building’s front doors are seen in this wartime photo. It was surrounded by barbed wire fencing to prevent any would-be escapees from trying to flee the concentration camp. The first complex at the camp to liberated was Auschwitz III which was overrun by the Red Army in late January, 1945

Once, Mengele told the Ovitz family that they were to perform at the SS Home of Comradeship, but once there he forced them to strip.

He then proceeded to give a presentation for soldiers, falsely claiming the ‘Jewish race’ had degenerated into dwarfs and cripples.

The seven siblings survived the horrors of Auschwitz and lived as refugees in the Soviet Union before moving to Israel in 1949 and returning to touring.

Their harrowing story was explored by Star Wars and Harry Potter actor Warwick Davis in a 2013 episode of the ITV show Perspectives.  

High-profile visitors to the building included leading Nazi Party member Heinrich Himmler who gave a speech inside the building on two occasions while touring the camp. It is also closely tied to resistance among inmates, as at least three made their escape from the House of Comradeship, including the late Polish author Kazimierz Albin

High-profile visitors to the building included leading Nazi Party member Heinrich Himmler who gave a speech inside the building on two occasions while touring the camp. It is also closely tied to resistance among inmates, as at least three made their escape from the House of Comradeship, including the late Polish author Kazimierz Albin

The building still stands just a few hundred metres from the famous entrance to the camp but few tourists ever see it as it is not part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum

The building still stands just a few hundred metres from the famous entrance to the camp but few tourists ever see it as it is not part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum

A dusty wooden sign is seen mounted on a wall. While prisoners were systematically starved to death in Auschwitz, where more than 1million people were killed, soldiers enjoyed the use of the canteen at the SS Home of Comradeship

A dusty wooden sign is seen mounted on a wall. While prisoners were systematically starved to death in Auschwitz, where more than 1million people were killed, soldiers enjoyed the use of the canteen at the SS Home of Comradeship

The bare walls of the social club where SS officers relaxed and enjoyed themselves while they lived at the concentration camp and killed Jews. Of the 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, 1.1 million died. This included 960,000 Jews (865,000 of whom were gassed on arrival), 74,000 ethnic Poles, 21,000 Roma peoples, 15,000 Soviet POWs and up to 15,000 other Europeans

The bare walls of the social club where SS officers relaxed and enjoyed themselves while they lived at the concentration camp and killed Jews. Of the 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, 1.1 million died. This included 960,000 Jews (865,000 of whom were gassed on arrival), 74,000 ethnic Poles, 21,000 Roma peoples, 15,000 Soviet POWs and up to 15,000 other Europeans

While prisoners were systematically starved to death in Auschwitz, where more than 1million people were killed, soldiers enjoyed the use of the canteen at the SS Home of Comradeship.  

Former prisoner Bronislaw Staszkiewicz, who worked in the social club’s kitchen before escaping the camp, recalled that drinking parties often took place in the canteen.

‘At these gatherings, the SS men drank vodka, and cakes and bread were baked especially for them. 

‘They received food three times a day, very substantial and plentiful, consisting of sweetened coffee (breakfast), lunch, usually two courses, often with compote as the third course, and a dry supper consisting of cold meat, cheese, marmalade, butter or other fats, bread and tea.’ 

Piles of wood are pictured laid out on the floor of the former camp. After the camp was liberated, it became a social space for workers of the National Tobacco Monopoly before being passed to the National Grain Facilities, which used it to store grain. It began to fall into disrepair in the 1980s when it was owned by the National Treasury

Piles of wood are pictured laid out on the floor of the former camp. After the camp was liberated, it became a social space for workers of the National Tobacco Monopoly before being passed to the National Grain Facilities, which used it to store grain. It began to fall into disrepair in the 1980s when it was owned by the National Treasury

Memory Sites Near Auschwitz-Birkeanu, a foundation which now manages the building, is trying to save the building from ruin. It said it offers a fuller picture of the history of the site by showing how the soldiers lived

Memory Sites Near Auschwitz-Birkeanu, a foundation which now manages the building, is trying to save the building from ruin. It said it offers a fuller picture of the history of the site by showing how the soldiers lived 

Around 250 prisoners worked in the building, including 100 whose sole task was to peel potatoes all day. 

Italian actress and singer Lia Origoni, who headlined a February 1943 show at the camp in a production called Sunny South

Italian actress and singer Lia Origoni, who headlined a February 1943 show at the camp in a production called Sunny South

Work began on the building in 1941 when Auschwitz was expanding. By 1945, there were more than 4,500 SS soldiers stationed at the camp.

A wife of one of the soldiers recalled the building hosting wonderful parties with delicious food but that on arrival the smell from the crematoria was unbearable.

High-profile visitors included leading Nazi Party member Heinrich Himmler who gave a speech inside the building on two occasions while touring the camp. 

It is also closely tied to resistance among inmates, as at least three made their escape from the House of Comradeship, including the late Polish author Kazimierz Albin.

The building still stands just a few hundred metres from the famous entrance to the camp but few tourists ever see it as it is not part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. 

After the camp was liberated, it became a social space for workers of the National Tobacco Monopoly before being passed to the National Grain Facilities, which used it to store grain.

It began to fall into disrepair in the 1980s when it was owned by the National Treasury. 

Memory Sites Near Auschwitz-Birkeanu, a foundation which now manages the building, is trying to save it from ruin.

It said the building offers a fuller picture of the history of the site by showing how the soldiers lived.

‘Christmas parties for the SS men and their families in 1944, dance parties and screen play evenings happen here. The inmates have to fulfil any wishes of SS staff, and just behind the wall exists terrifying camp life,’ Dagmar Kopijasz from the foundation said in a video.

The social club at Auschwitz which was set up by the Nazis at the concentration camp in German-occupied Poland so that SS officers and their families could enjoy themselves. An historian has described it as at the 'epicentre of extermination' where the perpetrators of the Holocaust came to eat, drink and relax with their wives and children

The social club at Auschwitz which was set up by the Nazis at the concentration camp in German-occupied Poland so that SS officers and their families could enjoy themselves. An historian has described it as at the ‘epicentre of extermination’ where the perpetrators of the Holocaust came to eat, drink and relax with their wives and children

Photos from wartime show the rear doors to the social club. In the less than three years it was open, the club hosted diversions such as cabarets, sketches, orchestral concerts and boxing matches. There was even horse riding and horse-drawn carriages organised for children in front of the building.

Photos from wartime show the rear doors to the social club. In the less than three years it was open, the club hosted diversions such as cabarets, sketches, orchestral concerts and boxing matches. There was even horse riding and horse-drawn carriages organised for children in front of the building.

‘Here you can see the perpetrator, the hangman, the executioner. This was an ordinary man just like every one of us. It is people who brought all this on other people.

‘SS soldiers came here to grab a lemonade, with their wives on a date, for a dancing night. It was the epicentre of extermination.’

‘They [soldiers] needed to eat, they wanted a drink after work, they wanted to be entertained,’ Kopijasz said in an interview.

‘People don’t want to think about the perpetrators as being ordinary people. But they were.

‘They were people like us, the only difference is that they murdered people when they were at work,’ Dagmar Kopijasz from the foundation said. 

‘The history of Auschwitz and education about the Holocaust is not complete without this building and its story.’ 

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