Comics to teach Germans about Nazis

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The Independent Online

Comic books land in German classrooms today to help schoolchildren learn about Hitler and the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Entitled The Search, the cartoons are similar in style to the Tin Tin books, but their subject matter includes Hitler's rise to power and the horror of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

The comic strip has been produced by the Dutch-based Anne Frank Centre, and relies heavily on drawings by the Dutch artist, Eric Heuvel. It will be used during history lessons for pupils aged 13 to 16 in Berlin and the state of North Rhine Westphalia from today, the end of the week that marked the 75th anniversary of the Nazi Party gaining power.

The comic tells the story of a fictional Jewish family called Hecht who initially think: "Nobody will vote for the Nazis because they talk such rubbish." Their story begins in 2007 with Esther Hecht telling her grandson Daniel of her parents' arrest by the Nazis at the beginning of the Second World War and their subsequent deportation to Auschwitz with a neighbour called Bob.

Esther manages to escape the death camp, but her parents are murdered there. She begins to talk about her experiences only after Daniel manages to find Bob, who also survives Auschwitz, through the internet.

The Search covers the key elements of the Nazi era, including Hitler's appeal to the German masses and details of the infamous Wannsee conference of 1941 when the regime decided on the so-called "final solution" which laid plans for the systematic extermination of all Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.

The book also manages to convey the arbitrary nature of brutality in the death camps: in one scene an Auschwitz inmate is shot dead on the spot for appearing on parade without a cap. The next comic picture shows a shocked Daniel asking: "What! He was shot dead just for not wearing a cap?"

The Berlin branch of the Anne Frank centre said that The Search had already been tried and tested on Dutch schoolchildren. "Telling the story of the Holocaust in comic form strikes a chord with younger readers," a spokes-man said yesterday. If it proves successful as a teaching aid, the book will be introduced at schools throughout Germany.

Despite a range of documentaries, interviews and articles about the darkest period in the country's history, ignorance about the era among ordinary Germans is not uncommon.

Yesterday, Julianne Ziegler, a hostess on a television chat show run by the Pro 7 channel, was fired from her job after jokingly using the Nazi term Arbeit Macht Frei, which translates as "Work Makes [You] Free", while talking to a viewer on air. The words are an inscription above the gates of the Auschwitz death camp and were once a cynical message to the inmates held there.

Ms Ziegler might not have made her tasteless mistake if she had read another German language publication which has coincided with the Nazi anniversary, a 1,000-word dictionary of now largely taboo Nazi terms called Dictionary of Coming to Terms with the Past.

The work deals with such German language pitfalls such as "final solution" or endlösung which its author, Gerog Stötzel, points out does not mean the answer to a difficult problem but is rather the Nazi term for the extermination of the Jews.

Likewise, the word selektion or "selection" is not something chosen but the death camp practice of "selecting" Jews for the gas chambers.

Other more harmless words used frequently by the Nazis such as mädel, which means girl or maiden, have nevertheless crept back into today's spoken German.

"Young people simply don't know that the word was used by the Nazis," Mr Stotzl said yesterday.