I only recently discovered the fascinating blog Dumneazu, which follows threads of food, family, friends, and folklore wherever they lead across time and space, with plenty of photos from past and present. Its author is one of my favorite commenters on Language Hat. The Dumneazu blogpost on The Dwarf Jewish Theater of Maramures has got to be among the most far-outlying I’ve read all year. Here’s a taste.
There is an extensive wikipedia entry on the Ovitz Family. On arrival, the family members were selected by Dr. Jozef Mengele for genetic experiments. Thus it was that the Ovitz family, which in May 1944 arrived in Auschwitz together – seven dwarfs and the rest of their normal-sized family members – many of whom might have been murdered immediately had they arrived on their own, were not only spared the gas chambers, but were accorded special conditions which helped facilitate their survival. What’s more, they were able to convince the Nazis that their trusted family assistant and coachman Shimon Slomowitz, his wife and six children, as well as two additional neighbors from Rozavlea with no special connections to the family, were also relatives, and as such were allowed to join the Ovitz group. Incredibaly, the Ovitz’ were one of the only families to enter Auschwitz and survive intact, along with most of the other Maramures Jews whom they falsely claimed as relatives – thus attracting the protective umbrella of Mengele’s expermientation.
After the war, the Ovitz family settled in Haifa in the newly established state of Israel, where they called themselves the Seven Dwarfs of Auschwitz and began touring. Their bittersweet cabaret was an enormous success. When they retired they had enough money to buy two cinemas, a café and a large flat where they lived together. the last surviving member of the family troupe, Perla Ovitz, died in 2001 in Haifa after revealing her amazing story to Israeli journalists Koren and Negev. “If I was a healthy Jewish girl, one meter seventy tall, I would have been gassed like the hundreds of thousands of other Jews in my country. So if I ever wondered why I was born a dwarf, my answer would have to be that my handicap, my deformity, was God’s only way to keep me alive.”
I’m a little puzzled by the blogname Dumneazu. When you google it, Google asks whether you might have meant Dumnezeu, lit. ‘Lord God’. Perhaps it’s a dialectal variant.
Whatever it may be, it provides me a good excuse to disquire a bit about Romanian deferential pronouns. The nondeferential second person singular, of course, is the familiar tu. The polite second person singular is dumneavoastră (often abbreviated d-vă), lit. ‘your (plural) lordship’. The “officious” second person singular is dumneata (d-ta), lit. ‘your (singular) lordship’. (The officious second person is the one they taught us at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey—presumably suitable for interrogating people from a position of authority.) There’s even a set of polite third person equivalents: dumnealui (d-lui) ‘his lordship’ and dumneaei (d-ei) ‘her ladyship’.
UPDATE: The blogger himself clarifies the mystery in the comments:
The name Dumneazu is a dialect variant – it is actually the nickname of a friend of mine who is the lead fiddler – the primas – of a Gypsy band in Transylvania. Everybody in the band does exactly what he tells them to do, hence the nickname. In the Transylvanian dialect that they use in Maramures, and even stronger in Moldavia, the -e sounds often get elided into -ye sounds. Pe mine becomes pe minye, etc. In the Boyash (Rudari who speak Romanian, having lost Romani) gypsy dialect of Romanian spoken in Hungary and Croatia the interesting written (mostly used for song lyrics) form – mnye – is used.