According to this report, some members of the Jewish community are nervous about two new comic books on the Holocaust, intended to “introduce young Germans to the tragic fate of the Jews”.
“German officers are shown screaming at prisoners as they pile up corpses retrieved from the gas chambers. “All this has to be converted into cinders and ashes by the evening!” says the speech bubble in the story Auschwitz by the French artist Pascal Croci.
A second comic book, Yossel, by the American artist Joe Kubert, shows a boy being electrocuted as he tries to escape beneath the wires of a concentration camp fence. No concession is made to the sensibilities of the young readers; the dead bodies are portrayed as graphically as if they were the fictional victims of Batman or some other superhero.
But it’s not the content that’s causing the objections–it’s apparently the form.
“A comic strip is not the appropriate form,” said Ezra Cohn, 64, of the Jewish community in Düsseldorf. “The subject is too serious to portray in this way.”
I can just see the disconnect here, between a generation that thinks of a “comic strip” in terms of “the funnies”, space fillers in a newspaper–and a generation that cut its teeth on the Sandman saga, on Maus, on dark tales of superheroes who suffered existential crises. The graphic novel grew up a long, long time ago, and it’s more than a little absurd to suggest that the graphic form might somehow diminish the experience of the Holocaust.
I haven’t read Yossel, but Auschwitz is a gripping, grim and terrifyingly powerful work. It begins in Bosnia, in 1993, where an old couple have sought shelter in a damaged building. As they huddle together, Kazic brings up their past in the camps at Auschwitz. He and his wife survived the horros of that time; they lost their daughter to the camps, lost their humanity, their faith, but somehow, they emerged alive. Now, 52 years later, they are hunted again by another group of righteous zealots bent on ethnic cleansing. Croci sets the narrative up so that we look for the redemptive ending; surely the next panel will give us a happy ending, surely these two, who have been through so much, will survive this too. But in Croci’s merciless vision, the couple who came out of Auschwitz and struggled to lead a meaningful life after what they saw in the camps aren’t subject to the pretty, reassuring conventions of fiction.
To see something as powerful as Auschwitz as somehow less meaningful because it’s in “comic strip” form is to misunderstand the nature of writing and story-telling horribly.