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Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Family Secret & The Search - Holocaust graphic novels from the Netherlands

Info below sent by Theodoor Westerhof

two comic books published by the Anne Frank House (the foundation, so in Dutch it is called the Anne Frank Stichting). Currently there are two museum expositions in Amsterdam related to these books. The first book is already available in English and German. The second will be. The English titles are "A Family Secret" and "The Search", the original Dutch titles are "De Ontdekking" (The Discovery) and "De Zoektocht"(The Search/The Quest). The first book was made in cooperation with the Resistance Museum Friesland, The second with the Hollandsche Schouwburg. Both were drawn by Eric Heuvel.

The available book (from 2003):

The Frisian Resistance Museum, click on General:

It does have in its Dutch section a page on the first book, which was a free gift to all kids in the second year of secondary education in 2005, to promote the education about WW II. The second book is on the same age level. The cooperation here is with the Hollandsche Schouwburg.

Where the education part of the first was about the War, with quite some attention to the Holocaust/Shoah, the second is much more about the Shoah. (Sometimes I think that the attention for the Shoah part of the Holocaust is a bit overdone, the Jewish victims outnumbered in the Netherlands the other "ethnic" victims just by a factor 400 or so.)

Site of the first book (Dutch, with animation and stuff to print out) :

Site of second book (Dutch, with animation and stuff to print out):

The other Resistance museum (The one in which they have an exposition like they had in the Frisian some time ago, but inspired by both books, it's saving grace is that it is very close to De Hollandsche Schouwburg.)

Anyway the story: Dutch boy Jeroen looks for stuff to sell in his grandmother's attic, he finds stuff and Grandmother tells about (German) Jewish friend Esther Hecht, the invasion, Nazi-obeying police officer (father), resistance brother, SS-volunteer brother, the German violence against peaceful protest against the persecution of Jews, aunt in the Indies, more about the persecution of Jews, the hunger. The liberation, (NOT a nice period either). On memorial day (4th of May), Jeroen goes to the Memorial thing, where a Jewish lady living for over half a century in the States, (of all places! That must have been an Anne Frank idea, if you ask me, why not a nice country like Israel or Canada?) turns out to be Esther Hecht, now Mrs. Leibowitz, the old friends are reunited and grandma's dad turns out to have saved Esther.

(This story you can already order in English, cheaper than the regular hardcover edition).

It's quite unclear how much time passes in between the book. Has Esther been to the States or is it just the 6th of May or so? It turns out that Esther has a son and a grandson living in the Netherlands (except for the bar mitzvah pic always in baseball cap), that the name of the grandson has a Dutch spelling, that the Bar Mitzvah of Daniel (with ".." on the e) is the reason Esther is in the Netherlands. (Text balloon in said picture is in Hebrew, interest in a scan?). It's a bit weird, why should a nice US-Jewish boy move to the Netherlands, a country with a very clean history when it comes to religiously motivated violence against Jews, or the same violence native in origin (MIND the qualifiers), a country where Easter has never been a reason to worry. Two reasons come to mind, nice Dutch Jewish girl and job, the former seems more likely (NAME of SON!).

We get a bit of her history in Germany, rise of Hitler, lots of the A-S word description and so, move to the Netherlands, she knows a Jewish athlete, Bob Canter, a fighter, boxer, which was more or less the typical Jewish sport. Nazis came, and all, quite limited but rather instructive. After the nice hiding history, we get the story of Auschwitz and the death marches. That is by way of Daniel using internet to contact the family of Bob Canter. Esther visits Bob and after Esther telling her friends and grandson. Grandma finds an old photo book that belongs to Esther and Esther and Daniel watch the past that was taken from them in an attempt to take their future.

There are quite some things which do irritate me a little:

1. 55% of the surviving Jewish Dutchies did NOT emigrate. Emigration to US and Israel, who stayed or at least stayed in the country? A bit attention for the folks who refused to move in a way which would make at least Europe a bit more Judenrein, is deserved, at least a sketch of the absolute non-discrimination policy (I would guess that it helped getting anti-Jewish feelings back to the normal level, the government not being (extra) nice to Jews, but it still was heartless and callous, though it may have been the wisest thing to do in the long run).

2. The [cursed] route from Westerbork to Auschwitz starts wrong, those trains went NORTH from Westerbork, not south. Believe me, I have been travelling on that track twice a week for years.

3. Westerbork was not really a bad place to be either(provided you could STAY, which nobody could (be sure of)), Erika that was a bad place for Jews, a bunch of really monstrous Jew haters, getting a reward if they KILLED a Jew FLEEING. Westerbork had enough good sides to leave the prisoners hope. So what's so bad about transporting Jews TO Westerbork? And FROM Westerbork? That question should have been given more attention.

4. Auschwitz bombardment- indignation. "The gas chambers should have been bombarded." I am convinced that that would not have been a rational decision.

There was a WORLD WAR going on, dropping bombs on a prisoner camp would very likely just have helped the Nazis killing Jews and other "unwanted people". There was no strategic purpose served, justifying the expected collateral damage and it would have given the Germans an excuse. Realistically, if it had been possible to bomb the gas chambers, the elite units capable of doing so, should not have been wasted on such an unimportant, difficult and hard to reach target.

5. The "Joodsche Raad" is getting a bit too much of a positive press, should be more balanced. There was a joke, but one with more than a core of truth about Jews being more afraid of the Jewish Council than of the Green Police. Mind you, that was the Amsterdam one.

Some others really tried to resist and could have a somewhat better survival rate (a loss of two-thirds of the congregation is still an excellent survival rate!)

[THIS is the very exposition Krolik (Rebeca R.) comes from.

Reading in the links about the toys, especially Bear helps to discover what Krolik means. You see that the exposition in Mechelen ended January 2004, so that must be about the time Rebecca R. is situated, the toys in this exposition are (at least mostly) not the ones from Jersusalem, but "Dutch" ones.

(some of the toys in this expo). (No English text available)]

Sorry, but this is quite important about another "Jewish" comic. That one was presented in De Hollandsche Schouwburg, though it's fully Belgian, except for the pre-publication]

My own judgement:

Based on the original Dutch set:

Good, if you want an introduction to WW II in general and the Shoah in specific from a Dutch p.o.v. these books will be probably the best that will be available in the English language. With the continued popularity of Anne Frank, they might be welcome gifts to somebody with a deep interest in a combination of the topics.

Here and there a bit too one-sided pro-Jewish, though not very much so, to the reader who is either neutral or pro-Jewish already, but taking into consideration that the intended public for the original version might well include people who grow up with rather negative connotations concerning Jews, that is understandable.

If you want to have all the (educational) comics on the topic, buy it. If you want an introduction to the topic, but aren't much of a reader you should get them too, but if you got to the end of this message, you cannot fall in this category.

It is an education comic, definitely not EDUTAINMENT, OK there are happy endings, two friends reunite, a Jewish boy and his grandmother get a book with family pictures back, a man whose remembrance was black turns out grey, looking at the pictures even light grey. But that doesn't change the fact that many of the characters are murdered. Whether it is a fitting present I don't know, but in many contexts it is not.

On the other hand, it definitely would deserve a place in a library, the Dutch ones are much borrowed from libraries, and as an "easy" introduction to a difficult topic, backed by the Anne Frank House, with Esther Hecht more or less a surviving Anne Frank, it would certainly have value, if only as introduction level background to Anne Frank.

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