70 years of comic strips at Paris' Holocaust Memorial

Horst Rosenthal, Shoah Memorial Collection Paris
Text by: Rosslyn Hyams
3 min

How do cartoons colour the image of the Holocaust, the Nazi, genocide of the Jews in the 1930s and 40s? History and eye-witness accounts mix in pictorial story form to produce sometimes larger than life, sometimes artistic renditions of this dark period.


About 200 documents, one of them a ‘survivor’ itself, are on show in a small but dense exhibition at the Memorial de Shoah, the Holocaust Memorial in Paris.

Be prepared for sudden mood changes as you go from one page of paper to the next comic layout board.

The exhibition begins with original drawings by victims or survivors of the detention camps and death camps in Europe, and includes a miniature comic book.

The author, Horst Rosenthal, is a Jew, who fled Germany for France in 1933. He was sent to the Gurs detention camp in south-west France in 1940 

He portrays himself as Mickey Mouse faced with the absurdity of his detention.

 "Horst distances himself from his harsh reality by seeing himself as a fictional animal," Curator Didier Pasamonik said.

The exhibition which includes a number of original comic boards, old and new, moves chronologically through some less well-known European comic strips and on to more famous references from the United States, with their ugly wartime illustrations of Nazis in the Marvel super-hero comics up to 1941.

Calvo, Will Eisner, Wolinski, Enki Bilal, Art Spiegelman and David Lloyd are some of the better known cartoonists in the exhibition.

Even still, there is also place for young artists like Fanny Michaëlis, whose imagination and decorative pencil illustrate the memories from the stories of her German-born grandfather who left for France between the two world wars.

The exhibition is frank, showing some works which were controversial when published.

Pasamonik says Speigelman’s 'Maus' in the 1980s marks a distinct shift in the portrayal of the Holocaust by comic-strip authors.

"It becomes an art form as well as a narrative form," he said.

Since then, as the exhibition shows, a general change came in comic-strip work, particularly on the illustration side, which becomes infused with individual style.

Shoah and Comic Strips, the exhibition, ends with original comic-strip boards telling stories of the Armenian genocide, the genocide of native Americans in Paraguay at the hands of white settlers and the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda.

The history of cartoons and comic strips is one way of looking at this exhibition. Questioning the effect this form has on the way the Holocaust and other genocide stories are told, and how that in turn affects the reader, is another way of contemplating it.

Until 30 October 2017 at the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris (information panels in French and English).

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