Germany Debates Value of ‘hitler’ Comic Book

Hitler’s invasion of Poland is depicted with swastika-painted Luftwaffe planes flying over an SS officer who is shooting a Polish civilian. Blood spurts out of his nose and his neck.

A few pages before, the Reichskristallnacht is featured in a cartoon of burning synagogues, broken glass and beaten and bleeding Jews.

With blood streaming out of his nose and mouth, a Jew cries to his Nazi tormentors: “What have I done? Please, let me go to my children, they are still in the burning house. I will give you what you want.’

His Nazi tormentors shout back: “And we’ll give you what you deserve.”

This is Nazism, the comic book.

Written and designed by two people from the former West Germany and published by the country’s largest comic book publisher, the book has been on the market here since 1989.

Since 1991, some 900 students and 36 teachers in both western and eastern Germany were involved in tests to determine if the comic was suitable for teaching high school students about the Third Reich.

“We had reservations ourselves,” said Franz-Josef Payrhuber, who directed the trials for the Mainz-based Institute for Teachers Continuing Education. “But we were really surprised at how positively the book was accepted.”

Cecilia Bongers, a teacher in Koblenz who was part of the trial, said she was “extremely skeptical” about using the Hitler comic. She thought the pictures were cruel and horrible and would turn students off from the subject.

She also thought the text, which uses many original citations from Hitler, was too tough.

“But my students didn’t think that at all,” she said.

However, she emphasized that the comic must be combined with other tools to properly teach the history of the Third Reich. Her class, for example, has visited Buchenwald and a synagogue and has spoken with older people in the community about the Hitler period.

Some financial aid for the book comes from the government’s Center for Political Education.

‘COULD BE MISUSED BY RADICAL RIGHT’

A plan to distribute some 5,000 books and separate educational packets was halted, in part because of reservations from the Israeli Embassy.

Miryam Shomrat, the director of the Israeli Embassy in Bonn, said that at no time did she ask for the distribution of the material to be stopped.

“I had the feeling that the comic could be misused by radical right extremists,” she said in an interview.

Shomrat also said she has trouble accepting comics as serious material for teachers.

“The reality element is lost under this method,” she said.

She expressed her concerns to Rita Sussmuth, president of the German Bundestag, or parliament, and asked if the book could be reviewed again. Sussmuth passed the request to Gunter Reichert, president of the center. Shortly after that the distribution was stopped.

Tilman Ernst, who directed the project for the center, said the distribution was stopped “due to hefty criticism from within the center.”

But he also acknowledged that the main criticisms from the center’s vice president, Wolfgang Arnold, were not made public until after Shomrat’s worries were known.

He said the distribution has been stopped only temporarily, and a group of politicians is to review the project in November. Objectionable parts could be removed or altered and the book could be sent out again, he said.

Jurgen Wilke, a member of an independent committee of experts that assisted the center in the project, said he and others had difficulty with the project’s title: Tyranny and Democracy.

“This gives the wrong impression. There was no democracy at this time.”

Solveig Weber, a spokeswoman for the Reading Foundation, said democracy was included in the title since the book and the learning material are designed to promote democracy. But she said the title could be changed.

The book has its supporters.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl and German President Richard von Weizsacker both have written letters of praise to Friedemann Bedurftig, the comic book’s author. Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesen-thal has also come out in support of the effort.

Shomrat, of the Israeli Embassy, said she didn’t want to contradict these views, but wanted to make her concerns known.

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