Hitler comics help German kids learn about the Nazis
The initiative is focused on helping German children learn more about their country's past.
Berlin -- School authorities in Berlin are introducing Hitler comics as textbook supplements in the wake of studies showing that a whole generation of post-unification German children know shockingly little about their nation's history.
The comic books trace the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany's descent into barbarism through the eyes of a Jewish family.
In full-colour panels, the family members use the Internet to trace their lost relatives, victims of the Holocaust. Pictorial flashbacks graphically show Hitler and his henchmen as well as the horrors of his war and the gas chambers.
"Die Suche" (The Search), as the comic book is entitled, is the first attempt to use a graphic novel as an aid in teaching history in Germany. The comics are being tested in public schools in Berlin and in North Rhine-Westphalia for the spring 2008 semester.
Pupils in grades seven through 10 will be given the graphic novel as teaching aids, and it was unveiled on the 75th anniversary of Hitler becoming chancellor on Jan. 31, 1933.
Lack of knowledge
Recent surveys show that Germans under age 20 have an appalling lack of knowledge about 20th Century history. While all of them know and recognize Hitler, only one in three was aware of what the word "Holocaust" means. And fewer than one in ten could identify Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels or other Nazi henchmen.
Terms such as the Sudeten Crisis or the Siege of Stalingrad were unknown to all but a handful of pupils. Almost none could give the date of the start of World War II, and fewer than 20 per cent could name the four Allied Powers, which occupied post-war Germany.
So most educators have welcomed the move.
"We are very excited about this," one school administrator told RTL Television. "There is an appalling ignorance among teenagers about anything prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989."
The response among students is mixed, however.
"I think these comics are tasteless and way uncool," said one 17-year-girl. "I mean, do they think we're children?"
"I think it's about time that the schools realized that graphic novels are here to stay and that they can teach a dry subject better than some dumb textbook," a 16-year-old male student told an interviewer.
In a nation where any representation of swastikas or other Nazi regalia is forbidden by law, the graphic-novel approach is unprecedented. Even some textbooks black out swastikas, such as those on the ill-fated airship Hindenburg, for fear of violating the law.
Any public mention of the Nazis is fraught with controversy in Germany.
An show host for a major TV network was summarily fired in recent days for an off-hand joking remark to an on-air caller about how some jobs are practically like a being a slave labourer in a concentration camp.
Just last week a rap musician was thrown off of the German version of the reality TV show "I'm A Star Get Me Out of Here" following a report that he had given the stiff-armed Hitler salute and had made an xenophobic remark.
The incident did not occur during the taping of the show, but only at a hotel in Australia prior to his participation in the show.
Nonetheless, the celebrity was instantly thrown off the TV show and was flown in disgrace back to Germany, where he issued a profuse public apology for "a very stupid lapse."
Tried and tested
But "The Search" blatantly depicts Nazi storm troopers marching in front of Hitler with swastikas all around.
Produced by the Dutch-based Anne Frank Centre, the graphic novel uses a very familiar classic mid-20th Century comics art style. The primary sketches were done by Dutch artist Eric Heuvel who drew heavily on the bare-bones style of the Belgian comics artist Herge in his world-famous Tin Tin comics in the 1950s and '60s.
The fact that "The Search" is very traditional in style is intentional, according to the Anne Frank Centre. A more cutting-edge style of art might have been interpreted as making Nazism seem glamorous. But the 1950s style beds the graphic novel firmly in a bygone era, which should remain bygone.
The Berlin branch of the Anne Frank centre said that "The Search" had already been tried and tested on Dutch schoolchildren.
"Telling the story of the Holocaust in graphic-novel form strikes a chord with youngsters," a spokesman said in unveiling the project.
4 February 2008
DPA with Expatica