A Find Unlocks Comics Mystery
A drawing by an American, discovered in a Jerusalem junk shop, reveals German Jewry’s lost grandeur
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 email@example.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.
Artists, particularly in theater, are still plagued by the slur “Gay Commie Jew.” But how did it come about?