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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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“We buy junk, we sell antiques.”

The kind of store that features a sign like this has long attracted me and my partner in research and family, Isabella Ginor, avid collectors of objects whose hidden stories grant us hours of enlightening investigation. Jerusalem, our hometown, has long been a fertile milieu for this hobby, but its golden age may be approaching an end. The second-hand dealers are clearing the homes of the very last Yekkes—the German and Austrian Jews whose influx into Palestine during the 1930s brought an abundance of Mitteleuropa culture and its artifacts.

This summer, from the dusty floor of such a store, I picked up a small picture in a prewar-vintage frame. After wiping it off, we saw a pen-and-ink drawing. It showed, in near-architectural precision and detail, an old stone building with a gabled roof and arched Romanesque portal that looked vaguely familiar.

Paul Reinman, Synagogue in Worms

Paul Reinman’s pen-and-ink drawing of the Worms synagogue. (Courtesy of the author)

The signature was very clear: “Paul Reinmann, 33.” But Isabella’s sharper eyesight also made out a faint pencil inscription: “Synagoge zu Worms.” My schoolboy memories came flooding back. “That’s Worms in Germany, one of the oldest Ashkenazi communities,” I said. “And this must be the medieval Rashi Synagogue. Wasn’t it destroyed by the Nazis?”

If I showed any hesitation, Isabella overruled it: “So this is a piece of heritage, and we have to rescue it.” We paid the $5 asking price and hurried home to learn more—first of all, who this Paul Reinmann was. His work looked better than a gifted amateur’s, but neither of us had ever heard his name.

A quick search online produced thousands of hits and hundreds of images. Nearly all of them involved American comic books. A Paul Reinman—single “n”—was from 1940 a stalwart of the industry, best known as a regular “inker” for some of the legendary artists in its “Silver Age” such as Jack Kirby (Kurtzberg), as well as Joe Kubert. That is, Reinman filled in the detail for the printed versions of Kirby’s penciled sketches, which earned him too a niche in the comics pantheon. He also penciled less-known comics of his own.

“Pencilers” get most of the vast comics literature’s attention. Like vice presidents, inkers rarely get more than footnotes, and virtually nothing had been published about Reinman’s persona. The only detail we found about his early biography was his birthdate in Germany: Sept. 2, 1910. But could this be the same person? Where we found a signature, it was in comics-style block letters rather than in our drawing’s longhand.

I’ve never been much of a comics aficionado. In 1950s Tel Aviv, before English instruction began in sixth grade, I scored great success translating Little Lulu and Dennis the Menace for my classmates. My source was the colored Sunday funnies that my beloved Aunt Evelyn faithfully clipped and sent from New York. But that’s about as far as I got, and the superhero or horror genres that became the industry’s core—and that provided Reinman with his bread and butter—never appealed to me.

So, with guidance from Tom Kraft, Isabella and I contacted some actual authorities in the field, who were just as intrigued by this mystery. First, comics maven Jim Amash confirmed that some of Reinman’s first strips did bear a matching script signature. “So,” he asserted, “you have the right man.” Then Rand Hoppe, the curator of the Kirby Museum, helped us to enlist researcher Alex Jay, who made our day by establishing that on arrival in the States, Reinman still spelled his surname with a double “n”—and gave Worms as his birthplace.

From this start we gradually discovered how the 23-year-old Paul Reinman and his drawing’s subject encapsulate the lost grandeur of German Jewry, as well as its survivors’ cultural contribution in America and elsewhere.

***

Worms and its neighboring Rhineland cities of Mainz and Speyer were the cradle of Ashkenazic Jewry and the centers of its scholarship, in the first millennium C.E. It was at a gathering in Worms, around the year 1000, that Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz proclaimed his epochal bans—one on polygamy and the other on divorcing a woman against her will. On both, he may well have been responding to Worms’ formidable ladies: When over the following decades a synagogue was built for the community’s men, it was followed by an adjoining one for women—the first of its kind. It faced the ark at a right angle to the men’s synagogue, and at the same distance. A female shlichat tzibur standing at an aperture in the partition between the halls would lead her companions in prayer, a notably progressive practice for its time. There were qualified candidates for this role among medieval Worms’ learned Jewish women, as a present-day counterpart, Rabbi Elisa Klapheck of the Egalitarian Minyan of Frankfurt, described in a lecture at the site this Sukkot.

Paul Reinman

Paul Reinman

The region’s Christian rulers and populace were less enlightened. During the Crusades and on recurring occasions afterward, such as the Black Death, the Rhineland Jewish communities suffered unspeakably bloody pogroms and expulsions that were lamented in generations of literature (including the last verse of the Hanukkah hymn Ma’oz Tzur). The synagogue that Reinman drew incorporated the foundations of one that was begun in 1034—which made it the oldest in Europe still occupying the same site—but was destroyed soon after. It took on the shape that he depicted around 1175: old enough to breed legends, which also feature women.

The wall on the left of Reinman’s drawing is the exterior of the “women’s synagogue.” On the outside of its opposite wall, a shallow rounded niche in the masonry was for centuries pointed out as the site of a miracle. A pregnant Jewish woman was almost run down by crusader horsemen (or the local nobleman’s—or bishop’s—own carriage; versions vary). The narrow alley afforded her no escape, but when humans showed no mercy, the stones did and gave way to accommodate her. So, it was said, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi (Rashi) was safely born two days later, to become the greatest Bible and Talmud commentator.

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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
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