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July 23, 2018 5:12 pm

Holocaust Survivor Leads Panel Discussion at Comic-Con About Art During World War II

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A flyer for Comic-Con International: San Diego. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A survivor of three Nazi concentration camps led a panel discussion about art and the Holocaust on Thursday at the Comic-Con International convention in San Diego, the Times of San Diego reported.

Many people were forced to wait outside the already packed room as Ruth Goldschmiedova Sax, 90, her daughter Sandra Scheller, and three others talked about comics used as German propaganda against Jews, art made by victims of the Holocaust and the Jewish connection to superheroes.

The hourlong panel discussion began with Sax describing her personal experiences in the Holocaust, and how she once saw Nazi leader Adolf Hitler from the window of her home in Czechoslovakia. Nazis stormed and raided her house when she was 11 years old.

Sax, an only child, was sent by train to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where she was separated from her parents, and then to the Oederan concentration camp, where she worked in a munitions factory and disobediently added sand to the guns so they would not fire. During her time at Auschwitz, she was forced to stand naked before the notorious Nazi, Dr. Josef Mengele, six times as he decided whether people should live or be sent to the gas chambers.

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Sax recalled being “shocked and surprised” by the horrific Nazi art works that ridiculed Jews, and during the panel discussion a slide was shown of a caricature published in the Nazi publication Der Sturmer that depicted a Jew begging a German, whom he once used to bully, to now help him. Sax said about the propaganda art, “I remember being scared, wondering: How could this be? It was something we could not run away from.”

Before being sent to the Nazi camps, Sax thought about becoming an artist or a fashion designer, she told the audience, according to the Times of San Diego. She explained, however, that if caught drawing what she saw in the camps, she would have been put to death. After she was liberated, Sax became a clothing designer. Scheller — who authored her mother’s memoir, Try to Remember, Never Forget — called Sax “a super-hero without a cape.”

Fellow panelist Esther Finder, president and founder of the organization Generations of the Shoah, discussed how “Nazi racial propaganda” may have “played a role in the genesis of Superman,” which was created and published by two American Jewish teenagers shortly before the outbreak of World War II. She drew parallels between Superman as an infant and Moses as a baby, and said in another comparison, “Jews are taught do good for its own sake and to heal the world, which is what Superman ultimately tries to do.”

Finder added that the Superman created by the Nazis was evil and a bully, while the American Superman “represented strength, morality, justice both legal and social, and the belief that everything would work out right.”

Panelist Igor Goldkind, a comic writer and author of Is She Available?, talked about people using comics as a way to cope with and make sense of their suffering, and said Jewish humor stemmed from the Holocaust “because gallows humor is what people do to make sense of extreme suffering. You make art and you make jokes and try to stay sane.” Scheller chimed in and said about battling the despair of the Holocaust, “we tried many medicines;  The ones that worked the most were humor and hope.”

Also discussed were artists of the Holocaust, both that did and did not survive, according to the San Diego Jewish World. Scheller showed her cousin’s drawing that she left under her pillow before she was killed at Auschwitz. She also shared never-before-seen drawings by American soldiers of Jewish partisans killed in a cave, and spoke of her mother’s art teacher whose fingers were cut off before he was killed in Auschwitz. Another artist of that time period of Dina Babbitt, who drew Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on a back wall of the children’s barracks, according to the San Diego Jewish World.

Other superheroes, such as Captain America and most of the Marvel heroes, were created by Jews. The final panelist, Robert Scott, the Jewish owner of the ComicKaze bookstore, discussed the irony of people from struggling Jewish families creating some of the most popular superheroes of today.

He explained, “[Superman co-creator] Joe Schuster’s parents couldn’t afford paper. He would go from store to store to get paper” and even drew on unused wall paper. He added that comic books are a medium available to everyone, all you need is “the ability to tell your story, unedited, unaltered, and put it out there for anyone else.”

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