Amidst all the Hollywood hubbub at the San Diego Comic-Con this past week, a low-key panel on Thursday drew a packed audience. Tucked away in a room that held only 280 people and sandwiched between events featuring A-list celebrities and exclusive movie previews, “Art During the Holocaust” offered some meaningful counter-programming to attendees.
The crowd heard a firsthand account of horrid Nazi drawings from survivor Ruth Goldschmiedova Sax. The 90-year-old, who had been a prisoner at three different camps, was assisted by her daughter, author Sandra Scheller. Together they presented cartoons and illustrations from anti-Semitic German newspaper Der Stürmer. “We were shocked and surprised by the propaganda and the way Jewish persons were portrayed,” she said. “I remember being scared. … It was something we could not run away from.”
Shifting to positive examples of Holocaust-era art, the panelists explained how American comics began depicting their heroes obliterating Nazis, referencing the iconic cover of Captain America socking Hitler in the face, and, of course, Superman himself, created by two Jewish teenagers in the 1930s. “Jews are taught to do good for its own sake and heal the world,” Esther Finder, founder of Generations of the Shoah, said. She contrasted Superman with Nazi role models, who used their “power” to destroy others.
Emotionally, Goldschmiedova Sax spoke about using art as her outlet in the camps. She would create jewelry for her mother from bullet pieces and bread, she said, combined with spit and anything she could find on the ground. As she told her story, projected images showed little clay figures and trinkets she had made almost 75 years ago. Her creativity also allowed her to imagine a life after Auschwitz, but it didn’t make the pain any easier.
“Maybe had I known about Superman,” she said, “I might have had more faith that I would be saved.”
Elazar Abrahams is a former intern at Tablet, and will attend Yeshiva University after a gap year at Netiv Aryeh in Jerusalem.