Hitler comic for German schools raises only a grim smile

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The Independent Online
SOME OF the images are realistic, others have a Munch-like nightmare quality. Naked corpses, Jews being rounded up, women and children being shot and bodies in the flames.

We see Josef Goebbels asking whether people want 'total war' and the crowds replying: 'Yes] Yes] Yes]' We see Hitler the madman, and the enthusiastic response to the Fuhrer from a people in search of certainties. We see Jewish children wondering whether they will live or die.

It is a remorseless catalogue: the incomparable evil of the crimes committed by ordinary Germans in the Fuhrer's name. And yet, the 200-page Hitler has been withdrawn 'for scrutiny' from the recommended reading list in German schools, because it is said to be inadequate to the historical task. By implication, it is too soft.

Part of the problem is that the book is published in cartoon form. Elsewhere, that has not been a difficulty: Art Spiegelman's Maus, an autobiographical cartoon account of a Jewish family in Nazi-occupied Poland, was internationally acclaimed when it was published in 1986. In Germany, however, worried critics still argue that the cartoon form is 'inappropriate'.

Simon Wiesenthal, the veteran Nazi-hunter, was among those who approved of the new book. Nevertheless, in a country still permanently wary of giving offence, that was not enough.

Wolfgang Arnold, vice-president of the committee responsible for withdrawing the book, says the visual material - an abundance of swastikas, for example - could be misused. He argues: 'I can't imagine that the book would be published in England - it makes things too pretty. You can? Well, people look at us Germans differently, and we have to be careful. We just have to remember that fact.'

And there, perhaps, lies the rub. Germans still judge themselves differently from the rest of the world, even after almost 50 years of democracy. The problem with the book is not the historical presentation but renewed fears about what others might think.

Leading article, page 13