Holocaust in Graphic Novels Maus and beyond

Graphic Novels are more than “comics for snobs” – they can be a constructive means for mediating complex historical topics to students. In an Israeli-German online class in Spring 2021 they made the most painful chapter of human history accessible: The Holocaust.

An international cooperation in the middle of the Covid-19-lock-down? Working in binational groups on a sensitive topic when you are hardly allowed to leave the house? “Yes, we can”, decided a group of eleven German and Israeli students in March 2021 and started a joint class on the “Representations of the Holocaust in Graphic Novels“. In small binational teams of two or three students they worked on Israeli, German and American graphic novels that touch upon the Holocaust and its commemoration.

The students tell about their experience: What was it like to work in binational online teams for an entire semester? Video: Silas Swab

The class was launched by Prof. Na'ama Sheffi from the Department of Communications at Sapir College and Prof. Katarina Bader from Stuttgart Media University (Hochschule der Medien in Stuttgart). In the first meetings, the students discussed their interest in the subject, shared their insights about Holocaust memories in their respective countries, and formulated a code of behaviour for the class. All graphic novels were presented and then – according to interest – teams were formed and worked together very intensively.

“For the working-process in a digital setting it hardly makes a difference whether you sit in Sderot, Tel Aviv, Stuttgart or somewhere in the Black Forest”, Katarina Bader says, “and I was delighted to see that the teams also talked about a lot of other relevant topics: Vaccination progresses, the political situation in both countries, family history… it got the feel of a real students-exchange”.

Sensitivity to their companions

“This course was a true magic, a ray of hope in a most challenging year”, Na´ama Sheffi adds. “Moreover, the students dealt with the dark history of our two nations in an inspiring manner which was manifested in outstanding attentiveness and sensitivity to their companions. Hopefully, this encounter will influence their empathy to the 'others' in further occasions”.

Highlights of the course were two meetings with artists: twice Eisner Award winner, renowned graphic novelist Rutu Modan; and Michal Paz-Klap who curated an exhibition of the Holocaust in graphic novels at the Holon Museum of Comics.

The course is supported by a grant of the regional parliament of Baden Württemberg for Israeli-German exchange programs and is facilitated by the Unit for Academic Internationalization at Sapir College.

All articles are accessible on the project overview page.

Authors writing for Graphic Novels