Early Representation of the Holocaust in Comic Books.
The inclusion of the Holocaust within the medium of the Comic Book is not a new phenomenon. Rather it has been used to express experience and pass judgement on the actions of the Nazis, particularly the Concentration Camps, since before the war had even ended. This was achieved through prisoner recollections manifested in drawings which were then used to create narrative that would tell of the trauma of the camps in an easy to understand and instantly recognisable format. These early comics give an insight into the manner in which victims sought to come to terms with Nazi persecution and how information was disseminated at all levels of society.
Mickey au Camp de Gurs
The comic was an early artistic endeavour to highlight the conditions of the camp, Mickey au Camp de Gurs was created by Jewish prisoner Horst Rosenthal between 1940-42, whilst interred in the French Vichy camp of Gurs (A small town in South West France). The figure of Mickey Mouse takes on the role of prisoner and is used to describe everyday life in the camp and the abuses carried out upon those interred. Whilst no active violence is displayed, in direct contrast to what is known of conditions. Rather the decision has been made by the author to express the suffering through the detailing of bureaucratic mistreatment namely with the withdrawal of food, hard labour and the stripping away of humanity.
The choice of Mickey Mouse, unlicensed for the purpose by Disney, is effective in presenting a recognisable character to act as guide through the camp, the ease in accessibility and understanding is further emphasised by the childlike language used in descriptions. The primary aim is to create awareness for any reader which is achieved through simplicity.
The book seeks not to pass moral judgement on the Nazis and instead shows the futility of the inmates in the camp, the author understands that there is no escape for the Jews or the enemies of Nazism. Rather the last scene echoes these feelings as Mickey is able to erase himself from the camp, escaping back to America, the land of Liberty, Freedom and Equality, the values that have been destroyed under Nazism. While the horrors of Gurs camp continued for the author and the others interred there. Horst Rosenthal was killed in Auschwitz in 1942.
La Bête est Morte
Is a two piece Graphic Novel published in 1944 after the end of the occupation of France, but before the conclusion of the Second World War. It seeks to portray the lives and hardships of the French whilst under Nazi occupation. The comics aim is undeniably patriotic in its attempts to link Nazism, with the Beast and war, while portraying the French as an ingenious nation that survived the Occupation and upheld French values. It emphasises the survival of the French and it’s the countries needed rebuilding. The comic aims to express the importance of memory for France, that future generations should know of the suffering of their ancestors. This is imparted through the Old Squirrel a decorated veteran of the war who tells the stories to his grandchildren.
The comic highlights the sacrifice and hardship of those under Nazism both in France, occupied countries and those that were interred in Concentration Camps. It creates a common sense of suffering for all to reflect on and then rally to rebuild around. Of further note is the depiction of the Holocaust in two boxes, showing the deportation and extermination of Jews from camps. This depiction shows knowledge of the Holocaust in France and the limited way in which this was associated with those under occupation. The plight of the Jewish French are only in these two boxes they still remain removed from French citizenry as a whole.
Master Race- Impact #1
The next time that the Holocaust is mentioned in a Comic Book is not until 1955 with the publication of Master Race in Impact #1. The story deals with the continuing impact that the horrors of the Holocaust have upon survivors and the guilty. Whilst the story initially has the reader believe that we are watching the psychological trauma of a survivor from Bergen Belsen as he tries to out run his past and his former tormentors there is in fact a twist. The switch of the storyline rather shows the former Commandant of Bergen Belsen hiding from his guilt and moral dilemmas when he comes face to face with a man previously under his control.
The end of the Commandant under a train whilst chased by the physical manifestation of his guilt and the moralising tone of the story, casts the reader to think of not only the wider guilt of the German people but further how the crimes of the Holocaust in the 1950s were swept under the carpet with the threat of the Cold War. Thus, allowing many former Nazis to go free. It offers the explanation that some may not be running from the horror of the memories of their suffering but rather running from the manifestations of their guilt.
The early representation of the Holocaust within Comic Books offers a chance to learn about the manner in which prisoners and those held captive attempted to deal with their experiences. This is manifested in many different ways: through representation of everyday life in an attempt to understand such as with Mickey Mouse, or as an attempt to understand how it is possible for society to rebuild and move on from its collective trauma. These themes of rebuilding and guilt continue to feature heavily in contemporary representation.