During World War II, six million Jews, Roma and Sinti were killed by the Nazis. This murder is called the Holocaust. Since the 30s, the Jews in Germany were increasingly excluded and persecuted. Many Jews fled Germany and sought refuge in neighboring countries or elsewhere, in Palestine, the United Kingdom or the United States. After the outbreak of the war, Jews – including women, children, and the elderly – were collectively rounded up and exterminated in Eastern Europe. Other Jews were sent to concentration- and extermination camps. In the Netherlands 102.000 Jews from the 140.000 who were deported did not survive the war.
Comics and graphic novels about the Holocaust
The publication of Pulitzer Prize winning “Maus” in 1986 propelled graphic novels into the cultural mainstream. Art Spiegelman’s conflicted and harrowing look at his father’s Holocaust experiences challenged the then current narrative of Holocaust representation, garnering sufficient academic attention and raising the question of whether such a graphic and supposedly simplistic medium could accurately and sufficiently portray such brutal atrocities.
Since then, the number of comic and graphic novel representations of the Holocaust has dramatically expanded. Recent authors have concentrated on a variety of differing topics, including works focusing on the Sonderkommandos, Kristallnacht and the mass extermination of the Roma and Sinti. The integration of second generation memory work and the turn toward local and regional histories have also had a large impact on the genre, allowing questions on trauma and remembrance to come to the forefront.
“The Search” (published in translation in many countries) is an educative comic. The story is intended to teach children from 10 years upwards about the Holocaust. The creators - illustrator and history teacher Eric Heuvel and the Anne Frank House – wanted to illustrate different aspects of the Holocaust by using the graphic narrative to bring history closer to young people. In his work, the author chose to suggest violence rather than depict the violence itself. Thus, the illustrations emphasize individual suffering of the victims. Details, such as the uniforms or weaponry of the Nazis, were researched extensively. By creating different thought bubbles, the author wanted to create a more nuanced picture of the motivations and justifications of Holocaust perpetrators.
The first panel shows Nazi soldiers, part of an Einsatzgruppe, standing in a forest. They are pointing their MG-42s at a group of people, clearly Jews, standing close by. A German officer is instructing his troops to “do it for the Führer and the Fatherland”.
The panel shows a close up of the Jews we saw in the first panel. We see men, women and children. One of the men is recognizable as a rabbi. The mother and daughter are holding each other tightly. All people look scared and unsettled.
We no longer see any people. In the space where people were standing, we now see a pile of clothes and a spade stuck in the earth. We can again see the Nazi soldiers and their commandant who are holding smoking MP-40s. It is clear that each soldier regards the events differently. One soldier is drinking from a hip flask and is thinking “all these women and children…”. Another thinks “yesterday 3000, today twice as many”.
These three panels from 'The Search' by Eric Heuvel show one of the possibilities to tell about atrocities in a comic. The author succeded to visualize the murdering of the Jews without graphical representation of the murder or the bodies themselves.