Polish comic books to raise Holocaust awareness among youth
The illustrations in the series, called "Episodes from Auschwitz," do not spare readers from "the nightmarish depravity of Auschwitz."A Nazi death camp may not seem a fit topic for comic books but a new series with real-life stories from Auschwitz has come out in Poland -- in Polish and English -- to teach youngsters about the Holocaust.
The drawings, at times as raw as the reality, are offset by the humanity of real, historically documented prisoners -- and jailers -- like the doomed, young lovers in the first adventure, "Love in the Shadow of Death."
The creators Beata Klos and Jacek Lech said they mulled over the idea for years and the format -- 40-page, soft-cover comic books -- was deliberate.
"We think the history of the death camps isn't sufficiently taught to the younger generations and rarely in a way that would draw their interest," said Klos.
The illustrations in the series, called "Episodes from Auschwitz," do not spare readers from what their website calls "the nightmarish depravity of Auschwitz."
A proviso recommends the comics not be read by those under 16.
A legendary story
More than one million, mostly European Jews perished in Auschwitz -- in the notorious gas chambers or worked to death as slave labourers -- during the German Nazi occupation of Poland, and the first book shows piles of naked corpses and sadistic camp guards.
One page has dramatic frames of the heroine on the ground, kicked and beaten with a pole by uniformed guards before being hauled off to a death whose details were never known.
The book says it's a story that "became legendary in the camp," that of Edward Galinski, nicknamed Edek, a non-Jewish Pole and one of the first prisoners sent to Auschwitz in 1940, and Mala Zimetaum, a Polish Jew arrested in Belgium in 1942.
Mala's knowledge of languages saved her from the gas chambers and got her a "good" job, allowing her to help others.
A third figure, Nazi SS officer Edward Lubusch, an ethnic German who grew up in Poland, helped the couple escape on June 24, 1944 but they were caught 12 days later and executed -- she only 26, he 21.
Based on facts
"These three people behaved in such noble manner!" said Auschwitz historian Adam Cyra, who acted as a consultant along with camp survivor Kazimierz Smolen.
"The publishers did well to learn from eye-witnesses who survived," said Smolen in comments on an independent website.
Defiant to the end, Mala slashed her arms and gave her executioner a bloody slap. "Mala did it her own way," the blurb reads.
So did Edek. Standing at the gallows before other prisoners forced to watch, he thrust his own head into the noose and jumped -- shocking the hangmen who forced his body back onto the platform. "At the end Edek surprised them once again," a blurb reads, when he shouted something -- "perhaps it was 'Long live Poland' or the beginning of our national anthem."
A frame shows prisoners removing their striped caps in respect, further irking angry guards.
"They probably started to regret that it was a public execution," reads a blurb.
The work, with a print run of 2,000 copies in each language, was published in May, and has been applauded by both the official Auschwitz museum and Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich.
A second comic, on Polish anti-Nazi resistance fighter Witold Pilecki, is due out in August and a third in September, Klos said.
"The entire story is based on completely authentic facts (...) a lot of testimony from former prisoners,” said Auschwitz museum director Piotr Cywinski. “This is exactly why we agreed to distribute it. Seventy percent of our visitors are youngsters but it's difficult to get them interested (in Auschwitz) using thick history books."
He hailed the work's "educational" message in not only helping teenagers to understand what the Nazi genocide against the Jews meant but in showing that the Nazis were also targeting others, including non-Jewish Poles, gypsies and political opponents.
"Many people don't realise that more or less as many non-Jewish Poles were murdered as were Jewish, it's the percentages that were different: it was 90 percent of Polish Jewry and 10 percent of the general Polish population," the rabbi said.
The Nazis ran Auschwitz-Birkenau, near the southern Polish town of Oswiecim, from 1940 until it was liberated by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945, three months before Nazi Germany was defeated by the Allies.
It was among the most notorious facilities in Adolf Hitler's plan of genocide against European Jews, six million of whom perished at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.
See www.episodesfromauschwitz.pl for more information.