Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Interesting article in the Times this morning about a comic book, called The Search, being used to teach German 8th graders about the Holocaust:

The Anna Frank Haus in the Netherlands put it together by joining a team of experts with Eric Heuvel, a Dutch comic artist, whose previous book about the war in the Netherlands was distributed to 200,000 schoolchildren there. Some 20 classrooms, grades 7 to 10, here in Berlin and in North Rhine-Westphalia, are testing the new book. There are versions in Dutch, German, Hungarian, Polish and English.

“It would not have been possible as a history text 10 years ago,
when people here assumed comics were only for those who couldn’t read properly,” Ms. Harms, from Reprodukt, the comics publisher, said.

The visual style of “The Search” is clear, simple, pastel-colored, in a classic Belgian-Franco comic tradition. “Less is more,” Mr. Heuvel, the artist, said in a recent telephone conversation, acknowledging that he pilfered liberally from Tintin’s inventor, HergĂ©. “We spent endless hours making sure that the Nazi costumes were kept to a minimum because boys can glorify these things.”

Thomas Heppener, director of the Anne Frank Center in Berlin, said, “There was also a lot of discussion about color.” Black-and-white, he noted, is now a clichĂ© of art and movies about the Holocaust. Color is less melodramatic. “And you know the trees were still green at Auschwitz,” he added.

It’s a bright autumn day in the book when Esther’s parents are rounded up and sent off to die. The comic is more heartbreaking for being understated and cautious about violence. Ruud van der Rol, one of the writers, explained: “There are no piles of bodies, because we knew from experience that this could block children from dealing with the whole subject. Also — and we had endless conversations about this — we decided not to show Hitler as a beast or inhuman because the Nazis, after all, were human beings. That’s the point. Anyone can be a perpetrator or a hero. The choice is yours.”

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