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A Find Unlocks Comics Mystery

A drawing by an American, discovered in a Jerusalem junk shop, reveals German Jewry’s lost grandeur

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This version at least is apocryphal; the “women’s synagogue” was built after Rashi’s time, and he was born in Troyes, France. But he did come to Worms to study at its renowned yeshiva, became its best-known graduate and teacher, and the synagogue’s semicircular study hall (its roof is visible above the wall on the drawing’s right side) was named for him, among other landmarks. The miracle, which was originally attributed to the mother of the earlier sage Rabbi Yehudah the Pious (he-Hasid), was gradually transferred to his illustrious successor’s.

The modern Hebrew poet Saul Tschernichowsky focused on the terrified mother rather than her unborn child when he adapted the folktale for one of his best-known ballads, The Wonder-Wall of Worms. Tschernichowsky had studied medicine at nearby Heidelberg (together with the subject of my and Isabella’s previous Tablet article, Dr. Max Eitingon) around the turn of the 20th century. But by the time he wrote the poem in 1924, its final stanzas were a prophecy soon to be fulfilled (my translation):

Thus was it in those days of yore
When evil bathed the town in gore
And human beasts did reign.

When arrant villains held their sway…
But had this happened in our day
Not even stones would budge.

So, Reinman could hardly have chosen a subject more evocative of German Jewry’s past—and its impending fate. The ancient Jewish cemetery, Heilige Sand (Holy Ground), in the shadow of the city’s Gothic cathedral, was already rather derelict. Martin Buber (whose forebears also hailed from Worms) described a visit there in a famous disputation with a Christian cleric in January 1933: “Death has befallen me … but the covenant has not been revoked. I’m lying on the ground, tumbled like these tombstones. But I have not been rejected.” Buber was referring to the covenant with God, but the attempt of many Jews to forge a covenant with their country as “Germans of Mosaic faith” was rejected within weeks after he spoke, when Hitler took power.

The Worms congregation had long since been split on its religious observance: As emancipated Reform progressed in the mid 19th century, a church-style organ was installed in the synagogue (to be played by Christians on Shabbat). In 1842, the partition between the men’s and women’s sections was removed entirely. Samuel Adler, the son of a Worms rabbi, led prayers there in German rather than Hebrew—a practice he continued as rabbi of New York’s Temple Emanu-El. Those of Worms’ Orthodox worshippers whose sensibilities were offended set up a separate synagogue nearby, so that Rashi’s was now called the Old Synagogue, Alte Synagoge or Schul.

All Jews, however, were compelled by the Nazis to wear the yellow badge—reviving a medieval decree that required the Jews of Worms to display a yellow cloth in their garb. Then, on Kristallnacht, 74 years ago Friday, the Worms Schul was one of over 1,000 synagogues that were sacked and burned. Reinman’s sketch is then probably the last artist’s impression ever made of the venerated shrine.

It might have made a neater story if we were able to connect Reinman’s German past with his American career, but we can’t—or at least not conclusively. Expert opinion holds that “Holocaust comics” (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) was a much later phenomenon. Although the comics industry was heavily Jewish, Marvel Comics—where Reinman did his best-known work—even came out with a completely unrelated character named “Holocaust.” But there were next to no genuine Shoah topics before Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking Maus first appeared in 1972, when Reinman’s career was approaching its end. Comics scholar Michael Vassallo searched his vast collection and found only one exception with art attributed to Reinman. These two rather crude pages in a 1952 Atrocity Story tend to prove the rule: The Holocaust is presented as a prelude to “Red” war crimes in Korea, and the Jewish identity of most victims is never mentioned.

This does seem to be a generational matter: Spiegelman stressed his identity as the son of survivors; Reinman was almost one himself. He also penciled a story about a Serbian anti-Nazi guerrilla leader, but though one can hardly believe that his post-1933 Jewish experience left no mark on his psyche, overall he appears to have been one of his many contemporaries who suppressed the trauma. Likewise, I’d beware reading too much into his work on Bible Tales for Young Folk, a short-lived and Christian-oriented series in the early ’50s. In most cases, the artists didn’t originate the titles, plots, and texts anyway.

Also quite typically, Reinman appears to have been reticent if not reclusive overall. There are only a handful of grainy photos of the artist—the best appears here thanks to Bill Hillman of ERBzine.com—and a single known press interview, given at age 67 to the Palm Beach Post (and also located for us by Hoppe). Either Reinman mentioned his background only in passing, or the reporter cut any detail (and referred, erroneously, to “Hitler’s rise to power in the late 1930’s”).

***

That reporter also missed a better story: Reinman may have drawn imaginary superheroes, but he was a modest hero himself. A database of Worms Jews, painstakingly assembled by the city’s archive, shows that Joseph Paul Reinmann was the second of five children (and the oldest son) of a real-estate agent and farm-produce broker who lived in the Worms suburb of Pfiffligheim from 1908. He told the Florida interviewer that he began to draw at age 3. In a bio that he provided in 1961 for a typewritten Tarzan comics fan newsletter (unearthed by Vassallo), Reinman recalled that “before I went to school, I must have shown quite an interest and skill in drawing, because … my grandfather always bought crayons and paper for my artistic efforts.” His formal education was limited to high school, with little artistic training or none; then “I succeeded in getting a job in a department store as an apprentice for sign painting and show card writing.” By age 22 he had moved 200 miles away, for “commercial employment” in Germany’s industrial heartland. “I worked for many leading stores as a fashion artist and designer of window displays.” Reinman omitted any mention of his subsequent history until coming to America in 1934.

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Sylvia says:

For more on the Jews of Worms, see Nils Roemer’s “German City, Jewish Memory: The Story of Worms” Brandeis University Press http://www.upne.com/1584659211.html

Peter Crane says:

This is a fascinating article, and I hope it comes to the attention of Michael Chabon, because of its relevance to his novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.”

I wish to take issue with a subsidiary point, in the following sentence: “Buber was referring to the covenant with God, but the attempt of many Jews to forge a covenant with their country as ‘Germans of Mosaic faith’ was rejected within weeks after he spoke, when Hitler took power.” Why do you use the term “Mosaic,” with its implication that people were ashamed to call themselves Jews? In fact, the organization that represented the vast majority of German Jews was called “Central-Verein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens” — the Central Union (or League) of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith.”

The Central-Verein had its origins in a pamphlet published, at first anonymously, by Raphael Löwenfeld in 1893. He was Tolstoy’s German translator and had just published the first biography of him in any language; he would open the Schiller Theater as a “people’s theater” the following year. Löwenfeld was responding to a plea to the Kaiser from some prominent Jewish leaders, asking for him to extend his protection to the country’s Jewish community. Löwenfeld was incensed. In “Schutzjuden oder Staatsbürger,” (Protected Jews or Citizens of the State), he argued that to ask for protection was a sign of subservience, demeaning to the Jews. Instead, he wrote, “Helfen wir uns aus eigener Kraft!” — “Let us help ourselves by our own strength.” That meant insisting on equal rights, no more and no less than any other citizen, and defending those rights through political action and the light of publicity. He wrote, “We are not German Jews, but German citizens of the Jewish faith.”

Out of this pamphlet came, very shortly, the Central-Verein, founded at a time when Theodor Herzl was still toying with the idea of solving the Jewish question by leading a mass conversion of all Jewish children to Catholicism, under a deal arrived at between himself and the Pope.

There is a tendency today to sneer at the assimilationist Jews of the 1890′s and later, as though they were somehow degrading themselves in their eagerness to be part of German society. In reality, the Central-Verein, whose members were not ashamed to have the word “Jewish” in the title of the organization, represented the German Jewish civil rights movement, comparable to the NAACP in the United States. (Typically, its membership outnumbered the Zionists in Germany by five or six to one.) It is noteworthy and probably not coincidental that both in Germany and in South Africa, where the young lawyer Mohandas Gandhi worked for Asian civil rights, the initiative came from men influenced deeply by Leo Tolstoy.

A last point: it is easy, in retrospect, to imagine that the Jews of Germany should have seen what was coming. (Though no one seems to suggest that the Jews of France should have foreseen that someday they would be rounded up by French policemen and turned over to their murderers.) But in the 1880′s and 1890′s, Germany was the place that Jews came to when they wanted to escape from oppressive anti-Semitism. Friedrich III, the Kaiser who tragically reigned for only three months, described anti-Semitism as “the shame of the age.” All that probably made it that much harder for many Jews to comprehend the changes that took place once Hitler was in power.

The Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin, burned on Krystallnacht, is emblematic. When it was opened, the Kaiser visited, and during the First World War, Russian Jewish prisoners of war were brought from their prison camps to the synagogue for High Holy Day services. One of those associated with it was the great blind organist, Richard Altmann. My grandmother, who had sung in the synagogue choir, and was in New York by 1936, pounded the pavements on his behalf, and interested an organization that aided the blind. They found him a job. All that was needed was a U.S. visa, but that was denied, on the grounds that a blind man might become a charge on the state. The Nazis later murdered him.

– Peter Crane, Seattle

Dr. Michael J. Vassallo says:

Gideon, a wonderful job of opening up the life of one of my favorite artists, a life previously unknown. I’m happy to have been able to help out a bit and pleased the images were usable.

What a fascinating and moving article.

I read this essay with fascination. It ended with me feeling breathless from the last
few paragraphs. I wasn’t familiar with Paul Reinman until I read this article. (In fact, I wasn’t aware of the importance of Reinman and others who were even more noted for developing the comic strips of our early childhoods to the art form we now are aware of as the “graphic novel.”

I
hope to remember Paul Reinman and his work that Gideon Remez brought so vividly in the Tablet.

Dana Gordon says:

It’s clear from Reinman’s passionate art–the “comics” shown with this article–that he found a way to express the horrors that he escaped.

Nick Caputo says:

Gideon,

Your article on Paul Reinman and the discovery of his sketch is an important document, It takes the reader on an odyssey, tracing not only Reinman, but his family and their journey at a devastating point in history. I’m glad I was able to contribute in a small way, but your research has added a deeper layer to Reinman’s life,an artist I’ve always found to be fascinating. Unfortunately, his life in comics was largely ignored by comics fans and scholars, since he was not considered to be a top talent. A long interview with Reinman would not only have been fascinating for his work in comics, but for the story of his life, much of which is lost to time.

I’ve provided a link to your article on my comics blog, along with further discussion on Reinman and his work for those interested

http://nick-caputo.blogspot.com/2012/11/paul-reinman-1933-drawing.html

thank you gideon for thiy nice job, and neshikot to isabella

Ivy Garlitz says:

Thank you Gideon Remez and Tablet for a fine article. I also hope that it comes to the attention of Michael Chabon. I was born in Miami and I was a comics fan ever since I was a small child. I lived in Stuttgart, Germany in 1987 and I had many close friends who were in the US Army and were based there. We attended Rosh Hashonah services in Worms at the synagogue. I remember after the services we saw the mikveh that was adjacent to the synagogue. Later that year I moved to Poland where I worked as a teacher of English. In 1990 I moved back to Germany, to Frankfurt. In the spring I went on a weekend trip to Heidelberg. The train passed through Worms on the way back. I got off the train to see the synagogue again. I couldn’t enter it, but I walked around it and the Jewish cemetery. I was very moved to see that the tombstones of the great rabbis buried there had stones placed in remembrance and notes tucked under the stones. It gladdened me to see that Jewish life in Germany was continuing. The Wikipedia entry for the Jewish cementary in Worms shows recent pictures with stones on the tombstones and folded papers left before them.

Ivy Garlitz says:

A large number of the artists, writers, and editors who originated the American comic book industry in the 1930s and 1940s were Jewish. However it was very unusual for them to depict Jewish themes or characters in their stories. Overall, depictions of Jewish themes were rare in American popular media at the time. Yet even in the 1970s and 1980s comics artists and writers were reluctant to give characters Jewish names: I remember that in one 1977 Superman story it was revealed in a flashback that a character in then current storylines, Morgan Edge, was originally named Morris Edelstein: his media empire began after he won a TV station in a poker game, beating a bigot who snarled that he didn’t like “his kind”. The story didn’t state that Edelstein was Jewish: the reader had to infer it from Edelstein’s surname. Still, some comics appeared that explicitly portrayed Jewish themes, In 1946 Joe Kubert ‘s “the Golem” was featured in the third issue of a comic called The Challenger from Interfaith Publications . EC Comics is now legendary for their greatly influential horror and suspense titles that were hugely successful in the early 1950s Publisher William Gaines and editor Al Feldstein, both Jewish, promoted many stories that directly addressed social issues, including anti-Semitism. The most renowned is Bernard Krigstein’s “Master Race” from 1955′s Impact. The protagonist is a former Nazi death camp commandant named Reissman who had managed to elude justice until he is spotted ten years later riding a New York subway.

It’s significant that at a time when American popular media rarely addressed the Holocaust Reinman published a story that expressed the American public’s horrified reaction to learning of the extermination camps and the tragic fate of millions. His portraits of the survivors indicates an strong awareness of how narrowly he escaped that fate. I’m very glad that this article has made his story available.

Ivy Garlitz says:

A large number of the artists, writers, and editors who originated the American comic book industry in the 1930s and 1940s were Jewish. However it was very unusual for them to depict Jewish themes or characters in their stories. Overall, depictions of Jewish themes were rare in American popular media at the time. Yet even in the 1970s and 1980s comics artists and writers were reluctant to give characters Jewish names: I remember that in one 1977 Superman story it was revealed in a flashback that a character in then current storylines, Morgan Edge, was originally named Morris Edelstein: his media empire began after he won a TV station in a poker game, beating a bigot who snarled that he didn’t like “his kind”. The story didn’t state that Edelstein was Jewish: the reader had to infer it from Edelstein’s surname. Still, some comics appeared that explicitly portrayed Jewish themes, In 1946 Joe Kubert ‘s “the Golem” was featured in the third issue of a comic called The Challenger from Interfaith Publications . EC Comics is now legendary for their greatly influential horror and suspense titles that were hugely successful in the early 1950s Publisher William Gaines and editor Al Feldstein, both Jewish, promoted many stories that directly addressed social issues, including anti-Semitism. The most renowned is Bernard Krigstein’s “Master Race” from 1955′s Impact. The protagonist is a former Nazi death camp commandant named Reissman who had managed to elude justice until he is spotted ten years later riding a New York subway.

It’s significant that at a time when American popular media rarely addressed the Holocaust Reinman published a story that expressed the American public’s horrified reaction to learning of the extermination camps and the tragic fate of millions. His portraits of the survivors indicates an strong awareness of how narrowly he escaped that fate. I’m very glad that this article has made his story available.

Ivy Garlitz says:

A large number of the artists, writers, and editors who originated the American comic book industry in the 1930s and 1940s were Jewish. However it was very unusual for them to depict Jewish themes or characters in their stories. Overall, depictions of Jewish themes were rare in American popular media at the time. Yet even in the 1970s and 1980s comics artists and writers were reluctant to give characters Jewish names: I remember that in one 1977 Superman story it was revealed in a flashback that a character in then current storylines, Morgan Edge, was originally named Morris Edelstein: his media empire began after he won a TV station in a poker game, beating a bigot who snarled that he didn’t like “his kind”. The story didn’t state that Edelstein was Jewish: the reader had to infer it from Edelstein’s surname. Still, some comics appeared that explicitly portrayed Jewish themes, In 1946 Joe Kubert ‘s “the Golem” was featured in the third issue of a comic called The Challenger from Interfaith Publications . EC Comics is now legendary for their greatly influential horror and suspense titles that were hugely successful in the early 1950s Publisher William Gaines and editor Al Feldstein, both Jewish, promoted many stories that directly addressed social issues, including anti-Semitism. The most renowned is Bernard Krigstein’s “Master Race” from 1955′s Impact. The protagonist is a former Nazi death camp commandant named Reissman who had managed to elude justice until he is spotted ten years later riding a New York subway.

It’s significant that at a time when American popular media rarely addressed the Holocaust Reinman published a story that expressed the American public’s horrified reaction to learning of the extermination camps and the tragic fate of millions. His portraits of the survivors indicates an strong awareness of how narrowly he escaped that fate. I’m very glad that this article has made his story available.

Ivy Garlitz says:

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Ivy Garlitz Dennett-Thorpe says:

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continued says:

A large number of the artists, writers, and editors who originated the American comic book industry in the 1930s and 1940s were Jewish. However it was very unusual for them to depict Jewish themes or characters in their stories. Overall, depictions of Jewish themes were rare in American popular media at the time. Yet even in the 1970s and 1980s comics artists and writers were reluctant to give characters Jewish names: I remember that in one 1977 Superman story it was revealed in a flashback that a character in then current storylines, Morgan Edge, was originally named Morris Edelstein: his media empire began after he won a TV station in a poker game, beating a bigot who snarled that he didn’t like “his kind”. The story didn’t state that Edelstein was Jewish: the reader had to infer it from Edelstein’s surname. Still, some comics appeared that explicitly portrayed Jewish themes, In 1946 Joe Kubert ‘s “the Golem” was featured in the third issue of a comic called The Challenger from Interfaith Publications . EC Comics is now legendary for their greatly influential horror and suspense titles that were hugely successful in the early 1950s Publisher William Gaines and editor Al Feldstein, both Jewish, promoted many stories that directly addressed social issues, including anti-Semitism. The most renowned is Bernard Krigstein’s “Master Race” from 1955′s Impact. The protagonist is a former Nazi death camp commandant named Reissman who had managed to elude justice until he is spotted ten years later riding a New York subway.

It’s significant that at a time when American popular media rarely addressed the Holocaust Reinman published a story that expressed the American public’s horrified reaction to learning of the extermination camps and the tragic fate of millions. His portraits of the survivors indicates an strong awareness of how narrowly he escaped that fate. I’m very glad that this article has made his story available.

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Ivy Garlitz says:

I’m sorry for the multiple posts. The website didn’t seem to be working. Please delete them.

2000

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The Comic Art of Paul Reinman

Pages from 1950s American comics