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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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But the database shows that at the end of May 1933, after Jews in Worms were assaulted and their stores boycotted, Reinman returned home. This is when he drew “our” picture of the Old Synagogue. The choice of subject was hardly coincidental: In what would be German Jewry’s last hurrah, the Worms Jewish community was preparing to mark the shrine’s 900th anniversary on June 3, 1934. A contemporary of his parents would recall: “Prominent men and women came from far and near to be our guests. … It was a dignified but sober celebration. This was no occasion for rejoicing any more, for the coming events already cast their shadow.” Nearly all the city’s 1,000-odd Jews attended the ceremony, but no representative of the civic authorities did.

Among the many Jewish dignitaries, the rising young rabbi and anti-Nazi activist Joachim Prinz exhorted “all Jews living in Germany to lay plans for an unprecedented act, mass emigration. I do not know how many heeded my words or had already decided to leave without my prompting.” Paul Reinmann was among the latter, whether or not he was present at the ceremony: On June 15 he stepped off a steamer in New York. Reading between the lines of the names and dates, it’s obvious that with commendable foresight, Reinman had either resolved on his own or was tasked by his parents to get the family out of Hitler’s reach.

The young immigrant entered his occupation as “painter/commercial artist.” He gave his “destination” as his aunt Johanna, who had arrived in the United States around 1890 as a girl; by 1934 she was widowed. She presumably gave Reinman the essential sponsorship for immigration, as she had for his cousin Willi in 1927.

In his 1988 interview, Reinman described a relatively easy and fortunate entry into comics: First he secured a “commercial art” position with a mail-order company, but when it moved to Chicago, he preferred to stay in his folks’ prospective port of entry. “I walked into MJL Comics (now Archie Comics) and found a job.”

Seventeen years earlier, he related a much more difficult course. “My first job was as assistant to a designer of neon signs. Then the going got tough and I took any kind of job just to make ends meet, and I worked in the check room of an exclusive men’s club on New York’s East side … but luckily I had a chance to get back to art and I took a job in a studio of a match factory. Here I did designs of match covers and lettering. A few years later I quit and started to freelance in posters, fashion drawings, and package designs. Then I brushed up on my drawing technique and practiced illustration in many mediums. I succeeded in getting assignments for dry brush drawings for pulp mags, and following this I broke into Comic Book Cartooning.”

The volume of Reinman’s known output, when he began to get credits in 1940, was prodigious; before then, he must have worked even harder not only for his own upkeep but to save for his family’s passage and resettlement. Within four years, he brought over his parents Bernhard and Anna, all his siblings, and the latters’ spouses. His younger brother Friedrich and sister Emmy joined him in 1936; their parents in 1937 (along with Willi’s brother Ludwig, also an artist); older sister Alice in March 1938. By the time of Kristallnacht that November, only Hans remained.

In Worms, the synagogue was actually targeted only on the morning of Nov. 10, after a night of rampage against Jews and their homes and businesses. The rabbi noticed a fire and managed with some colleagues to put it out. But the arsonists returned with police protection and overcame the vice-principal of the Jewish school, Herta Mansbacher, who tried in vain to block them with her body; no stone moved to shelter her, and no firemen came to fight the blaze. The synagogue was left gutted and roofless and its community subjected to intensifying persecution. With war and calamity looming, Hans married in February 1939 and managed to get out to England with his bride. Willi’s parents, Max and Flora Reinmann, and their daughter Elsa were still awaiting a U.S. visa in 1940. By then it was too late. They had already lost their home and wine-trading business and were subsisting on “remissions from family abroad” and sale of their furniture—and worse was to come.

Hans’ subsequent travails illustrate the difficulties Paul faced in getting his family not only out, but in. Hans was interned by the British as a national of a hostile power, shipped to a detention camp in Australia, and then made his way through India to Palestine. (Could he have been carrying Paul’s drawing through this odyssey, and left it in Jerusalem? We doubt it.) He was reunited with his wife in the United States only in November 1945. Paul had completed his self-assigned mission. In September 1938, he married Dora, two years his junior, a native of Reichelsheim, not far from Worms—whom perhaps he had also helped bring to America. His later comics collaborator Joe Sinnott recalled, and Paul mentioned in his 1961 bio, that the Reinmans had a daughter who was then 17. But neither of them provided her name, and we have not yet been able to locate her. (If she reads this, please contact us by commenting or emailing info@tabletmag.com.)

In 1942, the Nazis had to use heavy hydraulic equipment when they came to tear down the synagogue’s “mighty walls,” as recorded by the son of the city archivist at the time, Friedrich Illert. His father’s pleas of “museum value” had succeeded in preserving some of the synagogue’s artifacts, including the scorched Torah scrolls, but not even a remnant of the edifice. “Soon grass and weeds grew over the ruins, and the children played there.” Not Jewish children: By then the 400 Jews who remained in Worms had been crammed into a few houses around the Schul and then “transported” to the east for extermination.

***

Eighteen years after Wonder-Wall, Tschernichowsky, by now in Palestine, again evoked medieval Worms in a cycle of ballads. One, The Nameless Candles, describes memorial flames that used to be lit in the Old Synagogue for the souls of two mysterious strangers who gave their lives to save the entire congregation from death for alleged blasphemy. Martyrdom, he wrote, was still stalking the Jews:

By fiery death or water, by arrow or the axe,
Two thousand years ago, tomorrow—or today, perhaps?

The poem is dated March 17, 1942. Three days later, Willi’s sister Elsa, 39, who had already been subjected to slave labor, was deported to Nazi-occupied Poland, in the same transport as the heroic Herta Mansbacher. Both were gassed at Belzec. Elsa’s parents, Max and Flora, as well as Paul’s Aunt Emma, were shipped that September to Theresienstadt among the last of the city’s Jews; Max perished there, and the two women at Auschwitz.

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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