This is Dave Sim’s first major project since the end of Cerebus, which was the longest-running independent comic book series in history. This new book might seem a bit strange coming from the creator of the aforementioned eponymous anthropomorphic aardvark barbarian; Judenhass is German for “Jew hatred,” and this is a book about the Holocaust, or Shoah, the preferred Hebrew term. Weighty stuff, of course, and while others have tackled the subject in this format (most notably Art Spiegelman in his Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus), in Sim’s introductory pages he asserts his belief that it’s a subject that’s particularly important for the comics genre because of how many of its earliest pioneers were themselves Jewish, and who “but for geographic happenstance and the grace of God” could have easily ended up being murdered by the Nazis simply for the crime of being Jews.
Not Jewish himself, Sim also says he feels it is especially vital for non-Jews to engage in the process of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, pointing to what he calls “a central and malignant evasiveness on the part of non-Jews” when it comes to participating in creative discourse on the subject. Judenhass is not a narrative work; it mostly consists of Sim’s almost-photorealistic illustrations of major figures involved in the politics of the time, as well as the Nazi death camps and some of the atrocities that occurred within them. These images are interposed with selected quotations about the Jews from sources as varied as the Hadith, the writings of Martin Luther, and even from an interview with Marlon Brando, to show how “the historical record of non-Jewish culture and its tolerance for and embrace of Jew-hatred shows…that the Shoah was very much inevitable.”
Also quoted are the words of leaders of nations throughout the world, including Canada, which–knowing full well what was impending in Europe–nevertheless refused to allow Jewish refugees from the Nazis into their countries. The whole book takes about half an hour to read, but it is a powerful and chilling experience. “Unfortunately in this age of diminishing attention spans,” Sim writes in his concluding notes, “it seems to me that there is also a need for distillations of the facts that allow even the slowest reader and the most reluctant reader to comprehend and convey some measure of the enormity of the Shoah and the profound level of enmity against Jews which made it possible.”
Sim sees this book as potentially a tool for teachers to introduce their students to the study of the Holocaust, and I think that it would indeed be quite a revealing entrance into the subject for that age group, or anyone, really. (Richard Rosenbaum)
by Dave Sim, 65 pgs., Aardvark-Vanaheim, P.O. Box 1674, Station C, Kitchener, ON, N2G 4R2, judenhass.com, $4