Memory told and drawn

Photo of author

By John

There are many books that come out to coincide with Remembrance Day, including graphic novels, narratives, essays.
It has become a graphic novel – Testimony of a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau (Becco Giallo, translated by Stefano Andrea Cresti) – the story of Ginette Kolinka, deported to Birkenau when she was 19 years old, one of the last survivors of the Shoah in France, the He will turn 99 on February 4th and has the serial number 78599 tattooed on his arm. The comic was created by a young self-taught illustrator Aurore D’Hondt, who carried out the project after hearing Kolinka’s testimony in a meeting at school . Aurore was 19 at the time, the same age as Ginette when she was arrested. «For me it was a real slap in the face. I couldn’t remain insensitive to her speech. As I listened to Ginette’s story I couldn’t help but think that the years I was living had been taken away from her in the most horrible way possible. This thought accompanied me throughout the creation of this comic”, she tells Ansa Aurore D’Hondt who was encouraged by Kolinka to continue.
A survivor of the concentration camps where she was from April 1944 to June 1945, Ginette Kolinka nee Cherkasky, who remained silent for many years, addresses readers in the opening note to whom she says: «It’s my story, the ‘I suffered. Many died (my whole family), they never returned. A smell cannot be described. You can’t feel the beatings. I do. I received them. You cannot see the one who suffers them fainting at the feet of the tormentor.” Born in collaboration with the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah, nominated for the prestigious Une Case En Plus 2024 Award, the comic is a raw and dry visual and narrative testimony and therefore even more incisive, also accompanied by short historical notes.
The little-told stories of the Jews who rebelled against Nazi violence by joining the Resistance are retraced by Loredana Frescura and Marco Tomatis in Judith (Giunti Biblioteca Junior), intended for boys and girls aged 12 and over. Inspired by real testimonies, by lives that have crossed history trying to change it, in the book Judith, a 14-year-old Jewish girl from a small village in Poland, is locked up in the ghetto together with her large family, at the outbreak of the war. At the beginning the girl does not fully realize what is happening around her, but the concentration camp experience will be only the first of the many abuses that she and her family will have to suffer. One day, they are all gathered in front of a large pit. As people fall around her, Judith is grazed. Surviving that horrible massacre has only one meaning for Judith: she will have to testify to the world what happened. «I want justice. And it can only happen if some of us live” is told in the book. Frescura, author of over thirty books for children, teenagers and adults, and Tomatis, for years a comics screenwriter for the drawings of Cinzia Ghigliano, have already written about ten books together including «With the world in your eyes», with which they won the 2006 Andersen Prize.
The true story of Felix Kersten, Heinrich Himmler’s doctor who saved more than 100,000 people of different nationalities, including sixty thousand Jews, putting his own life at risk, is reconstructed by the French historian François Kersaudy in the book Kersten’s List. A righteous man among demons (Rizzoli, translated by Andrea Zucchetti). Kersaudy, in addition to having studied “Kersten’s lists”, drew on archives, memoirs, diaries, notes and depositions of the main protagonists to convey the story of an incredible man. A renowned physiotherapist specializing in therapeutic massage, on the eve of the Second World War Kersten received the greats of Europe in his studios in Berlin and The Hague: magnates of finance, industry, politics and diplomacy. In 1939 his life takes an unexpected turn when he is asked to visit Heinrich Himmler, the powerful Nazi leader, who makes Kersten his irreplaceable personal doctor. For his part, Kersten, exploiting the trust and gratitude of the fanatic executioner, will manage to save many prisoners from Nazi hell: a complex and surprising human story in which terror, cowardice, generosity, fanaticism and heroism are intertwined.
And Christian Jennings talks about salvation in the volume The Italians and the Final Solution. Who opposed the Nazis? And how? (Longanesi). The head doctor of the Fatebenefratelli in Rome, Giovanni Borromeo, who invented a highly contagious infectious disease, Syndrome K, to save hundreds of Jews from deportation. Gino Bartali who delivered messages to the partisans hiding them in the barrel of his bicycle. Sister Riccarda, who hid entire families in the convent. He sought the stories of the many Italians, often forgotten, who with courage and determination saved the lives of many Jews, the English historian and journalist Christian Jennings. He went to discover their names and the incredible actions they performed, digging into the archives, drawing on materials that were often unpublished in Italy, Germany, the Vatican, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the USA. A great research work that became a book with 15 main protagonists including Riccardo Pacifici, Adriano Ossicini, Virginia Montalcini, Primo Levi, Clotilde Piperno and Augusto Segre. The prologue of the book is “A postcard from the train” with the last message written to her family by the Italian Jew Wanda Abenaim, betrayed by a tip-off. Jennings highlights the resourcefulness and resolute courage of the Italians when Hitler gave the order to his officers to implement the “final solution of the Jewish question”.