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 hybrid class they made the most painful chapter of human history accessible: The Holocaust.

In most cases the Covid-19-pandemic limited international cooperation in education and students’ possibilities get to know people from all over the world. In very few cases it inspired new ways of collaboration, which is the case for this project. Since 2021 the Sapir Academic College in Sderot, Israel, and Stuttgart Media University, Germany, offer a joint online-class, tackling a very sensitive topic: In small binational teams of two or three students they worked on Israeli, German, French and American graphic novels that touch upon the Holocaust and its commemoration.

“The original idea was to do two separate classes in Germany and Israel and then meet for an exchange”,  Na'ama Sheffi, professor at the Department of Communications at Sapir College, remembers: ”As in spring 2021 we all taught online we decided to do the class together and we found out that this is the perfect way to do it – so we repeated it the same way in spring 2022, this time including a real-life-meeting and workshop as soon as this was possible”.

Projektgruppe Graphic Novels in München Change of perspective: In the NS-Doku-Center in Munich the Israeli-German group discussed with Nathalie Jacobsen how Hitler could come in power. | Bild: Katarina Bader

In the first online meetings in February 2022, the students discussed their interest in the subject, shared their insights about Holocaust memories in their respective countries and families, and formulated a code of behavior for the class. All graphic novels were presented and then – according to interest – teams were formed and worked together very intensively. In May 2022 the group met in Germany. The trip included intensive group work on the projects in Stuttgart, a visit of the NS-Doku Center in Munich, but also a party in an Israeli restaurant in Munich.

Projektgruppe Graphic Novels beim Essen Dinner at the Israeli restaurant in Munich. | Bild: Maya Bar

„It was great to witness the very honest exchange between the students”, stresses Katarina Bader, professor for online journalism in Stuttgart, “differences were not ignored but discussed and, on this very ground, real friendships developed”. Pascal Eichner, one of the participants, also emphasizes the importance of the exchange despite of initial worries to hurt one another: "Of course, the subject of the course is difficult. But it is important to talk about it. The cooperation gave us a new perspective on the subject, and we now understand it better."

Discussions with authors

Highlights of the course were two meetings with artists: The German-American graphic novelist Nora Krug, who wrote the best-seller “Belonging” and Michel Kichka, the renowned Belgian-Israeli cartoonist and author of “Second generation – things I never told my father”. 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 Academic College.

All articles are accessible on the project overview page.

What was it like to work in binational German-Israeli teams? The students who took part in the first round of the project in spring 2021 tell about their experience. | Video: Silas Swab

Authors writing for Graphic Novels