Auschwitz is the symbol of the Holocaust!
It has become synonymous with the suffering and murder of the millions who agonised under Nazi rule. As such it has become a sacred space, compounding the horror of the Holocaust into one easily recognisable image, this post aims to analyse how this space is used within Comic Books, and question if there is ever a time to incorporate Auschwitz and its symbolism into entertainment of this kind.
When I first realised that Auschwitz had been used within comic books, i can admit that I was repulsed. Then I began to think about works like Maus. A truly great visual representation of the Holocaust. With this my mind wavered, and because of this I have split the post into two categories, those published to educate about the Holocaust and those that are published for entertainment and not wholly concerned with historical accuracy.
With the publication of Maus in book form in 1991, the idea of education about the Holocaust in Comic Book form was created. Maus is the only Graphic novel to ever win a Pulitzer Prize and has frequently been used as a teaching resource for the Holocaust. Through the depictions of Jews as Mice and Nazis as Cats the horror of the ghettos and camps is explored. Maus has gone on to inspire several more Graphic Novels and Comics that have been based on true life experiences of Auschwitz. Most notable among these may be the series developed in Poland 'Episodes from Auschwitz' , each novel tells the story of a real event in the camp, allowing the reader to interact with the characters on a much deeper level. I believe that the educational benefits of these Comics requires a post of it's own, so this discussion will now focus on entertainment.
Auschwitz has repeatedly been used within Comic Books as a place of abject horror and suffering, while some have been able to do this in a sympathetic and educational manner, others have been incredibly lacking in this sense, leading to a question, why such a dark time has any reason being used in this entertainment media? As said some Comic Books deal with the harrowing subject well, an example of this is the Magneto: Testament series, providing the background to the X-Men character of Magneto and his time within Auschwitz working within the Sonderkommando. The muted tones and recreation of events are able to convey some of the atmosphere and stories of survivors that have been shown in educational Comic Books. The recreation of Auschwitz within this Comic Book is also shown alongside facts about the horror that went on within the Holocaust, giving a wider meaning to the setting which other books fail to do.
However this is the only Comic Book that has handled Auschwitz in a way that is comfortable to view, the others seem to include it for added horror that has little to no bearing on the actual story. Auschwitz is repeatedly shown in other X-Men comics due to Magneto's back story, but it is never handled in such a way again, rather being edged into the comic with little point and just to make the reader feel uncomfortable it seems. This however is not the worst culprit in the use of Auschwitz being put into a comic just to provide a distressing image. That would have to go to The Curse of Spawn...
This imagery of Auschwitz is uncomfortable and disgusting. The caption 'More Fuel for the Ovens' is a suggestion of the pointlessness of the children's lives as well as the graphic depiction of their death. Although in this context these images are merely for entertainment and used to show horror. These are true life events and this was the fate of thousands of children, for it merely to be turned into a snapshot in a Comic Book is a slap in the face to their memory. It is also in no way relevant to the actual story of the comic which makes it even more unpalatable, it is unnecessary and feels forced in as if to merely create shock horror.
If graphic imagery of Auschwitz wasn't enough, then how about the suggestion that superheroes were all that the allies needed to stop the Holocaust? I'm sure survivors feel assured that their suffering could all have been stopped if those fictional heroes were real!
Nice one Human Torch! stopping the horror of Auschwitz there, that's not deeply insulting at all. Oh and what was the relevance of this? None only to prove that with America's Avengers the horror of Nazism could be stopped? However this isn't true and provides no relief for victims or knowledge for readers.
However we shouldn't feel bad about our lack of success in defeating the Nazi's, because even Superman couldn't stop The Holocaust, he tried though apparently, so that's reassuring. Although he does place the death of millions on the same level as saving his old love Lana. Not sure they're quite on the same scale there.
The subject of Auschwitz is a contentious one, whilst I have slightly warmed to the idea of Auschwitz in Comic Books and the uses they have in education media, I am still of the opinion that the matter needs to be dealt with much more sympathetically and that if it is to be published within Comic Books it should form a vital element of the story and that key facts must also be published about the atrocities that took place within the space. For it to just be used as a means of conveying shock and horror is distasteful and really quite upsetting. Furthering the point the idea of fictional characters stopping one of the greatest tragedies of real human history, is an outrageous claim.