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  • Charlotte Mears

Dutch Comic Book Reflections on the Holocaust

Following on from the previous blog post and it's focus on comic book series that were researched and published in collaboration with a Historical Institute. This post discusses the two part Graphic Novel series created in collaboration with the Anne Frank House, Amsterdam. It seeks to tell the story of not only the fate of the Jews under the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, but also how the population reacted and interacted with their previous neighbours.

The two books tell the interlinked stories of Helena and Esther who were both young girls at the time of the Second World War. Esther is a Jew and her life faces increasing hardships under the Nazi occupation particularly due to the Nuremberg laws and Nazi propaganda in schools. This culminated in the deportation of her parents and Esther being forced into hiding. Whereas Helene an Aryan child, watches her families increasing fragmentation as they struggle with the moral and social issues of living under the Nazi regime and the loss of her best friend.

The story deals with complex moral issues, such as family guilt; Helena’s father helped the Germans, as a police man, and actively participated in the deportation of Esther’s family. However, he also helped to save Esther herself? This bring complex questions of morality and guilt of the people of the Netherlands. Can the saving of one child make up for the help in the murder of thousands of others? These moral choices are further exemplified with the choices of Helena’s brothers, one who fights for Germany, and another who joins the resistance. What ‘A Family Secret’ excels at, is to question the notion of how the lives of the Dutch people were affected and the choices that they had to make. IT does not shy away from the guilt of some dutch people.

These questions of moral choices and bravery are further shown in ‘The Search’ where Esther is helped by members of the Dutch population, hidden in a farm and then helped by another Dutch rural couple showing that among the Dutch population many were willing to help the Jewish population.

However, the story told through flashbacks to its detriment can sometimes read as too simplistic. A Teenage Boy with no knowledge of the Holocaust? Or the Occupation of the Netherlands by Germany? Or Auschwitz as a place? All whilst living in the Netherlands, at the turn of the century. Is somewhat far-fetched. Further the over simplistic nature of the story telling begins to make the issues expressed in the book feel contrived, for the age of the reader, the story and narrative should be more developed.

The narrative also becomes further problematic in ‘The Search’ when the third character of 'Bob' another Holocaust survivor is entered into the frame. With the character of Bob the reader is to learn of the fate of the Jews who did not escape, the narrative becomes rushed, displaying facts of Auschwitz in boxes and seeming to work through a checklist of the most well-known and easily representable horrors of Auschwitz (Arrival, Sauna, Starvation and the Sonderkommando) this intrusion of a new narrative within what is supposed to be Esther’s story influences the narrative and removes some of the emotional connection that had been achieved in ‘A Family Secret’. Arguably this would work better as a trilogy, with Bob able to express his hardship and the fate of the deported Jews of the Netherlands in his own exclusive tale. Creating a more complex story that would be more easily relatable and understandable.

The work of the Anne Frank Museum in these comic books is hugely beneficial for an audience of young adults beginning their journey of Holocaust knowledge. Particularly it excels in weaving together the stories of the Occupation under the Nazi regime and how this impacted on all of the population, although in many different ways everyone was affected. You are able to create emotional attachments to the characters of Helene and Esther. However the graphic novels failure is in the attempt to cram every experience of the Holocaust into two issues. This is the chief problem. The emotional connection and understanding is undoubtedly damaged as the pace of the tale is accelerated.

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