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Holocaust graphic novel wins award

Charlotte Schallie paired graphic novelists with four child survivors of the Holocaust to save their stories.

October 17th, 2022

Holocaust survivor, David Schaffer on the steps of his Vancouver house between Charlotte Schallie (left) and Miriam Libicki. Photo by Mike Morash.

“Visual storytelling in graphic narratives is especially effective for life stories of survivors who were children during the Holocaust, as images often tend to be so deeply imprinted in a child survivor’s memory,” says UVic scholar and Holocaust historian Charlotte Schallie.

by Alan Twigg

At the outset of 2020, Charlotte Schallie at the University of Victoria developed a new program to foster collaborations and intercultural exchanges entitled “Narrative Art and Visual Storytelling in Holocaust and Human Rights Education.” The program expanded upon a literary form that was first explored in BC by David Lester with his graphic novel, The Listener (Arbeiter Ring Publishers, 2011). Specifically, Schallie instigated collaborations for new, Holocaust-themed graphic novels.

“If you read a graphic novel,” she told CBC’s All Points West, “it is as if you’re watching and reading a movie at the same time. Visual storytelling in graphic narratives is especially effective for life stories and memories of survivors who were children during the Holocaust, as images often tend to be so deeply imprinted in a child survivor’s memory.”

Under Schallie’s direction, graphic novelists were paired with four survivors: Emmie Arbel of Kiryat Tiv’on in Israel; Nicole and Rolf Kamp in Amsterdam, Holland; and David Schaffer of Vancouver. After his family was deported to Transnistria, Schaffer survived the Holocaust as a boy in Romania. Miriam Libicki, a graphic novelist based in Vancouver, was paired with him. Her own grandfather, also a survivor, died three years prior to the project and she regrets not having learned his Holocaust story.

“We have fewer and fewer survivors left,” Miriam Libicki told All Points West, “and I think it’s really important to have the stories first and to not only have them as documents, but to know what the survivors themselves think is important about their stories, what they care about, what are the lessons or the facts they want future generations to take from this story.”

In addition to the graphic novelists, Schallie assembled a team of professionals over a three-year period to participate in the project including Holocaust and human rights education professionals, historians, student teachers, high school teachers, librarians and archivists.

“Eliciting experiences and memories of extreme human suffering from the survivors necessitated a research process and practice that privileged their safety by minimizing the risk of re-traumatization, managing potential triggers and providing sustained support for all participating project partners,” said Schallie in an article she wrote for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre magazine, Zachor (Fall, 2022). “This approach ensured that we – the stewards of survivor memories – honoured what we felt was our obligation and duty to amplify the voices of the Holocaust survivors.”

The collaborations for But I Live: Three Stories of Child Survivors of the Holocaust (University of Toronto Press) have resulted in national recognition as the winning entry in the Biography/Memoir category for the annual Canadian Jewish Book Awards.

All eight winning authors for the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards will be present for a ceremony on Oct. 23 at York University. Interested viewers can attend live on a Zoom session at 2 pm on that date. The ceremony will also be made available for later viewing on the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards YouTube channel.

Charlotte Schallie (centre) with David Schaffer and Miriam Libicki at David’s home in Vancouver, 2020. A documentary film about their collaboration for a graphic novel has been posted as “If We Had Followed the Rules, I Wouldn’t Be Here.” Photo by Mike Morash.



Charlotte Schallie has also co-edited After the Holocaust: Human Rights and Genocide Education in the Approaching Post-Witness Era (University of Regina Press, 2020). Along with “new” Holocaust survivor stories, now ostensibly among some of the last in living memory to be collected, this composite volume combines Jewish scholarship, activism and poetry with perspectives on Canadian anti-Semitism, the legacy of human rights abuses of Indigenous Peoples in Canada as well as the internment of Japanese Canadians in World War II.

As an Associate Professor and Department Chair in the department of Germanic and Slavic Studies at the University of Victoria, Charlotte Schallie is an expert in contemporary German, Austrian and Swiss culture and literature; as well as diasporic, transnational and postcolonial literature. Her research interests include post-1945 diasporic and transcultural writing/filmmaking, memory studies, Jewish identity in contemporary cultural discourse, as well as teaching and learning about the Holocaust.

Arguably her major work is Under Swiss Protection: Jewish Eyewitness Accounts from Wartime Budapest (Columbia University Press, 2017), co-authored with Agnes Hirschi.

By October of 1944, when the Nazis were making raids on Jewish homes in Hungary, the Danube was strewn with Jewish corpses. As Vice-Consul at the Swiss embassy, Carl Lutz negotiated with the Nazis, including Adolf Eichmann, to enable him to issue “protective letters” for Jews to emigrate. About 3,000 Jews received temporary sanctuary in a former glass factory, dubbed the Glass House, living in extremely crowded and unsanitary conditions, hoping to be processed.

One of the Jews who was saved by the interventions of Carl Lutz was Andras Spiegel who changed his name to Andrew Simon and became the producer for the long-running CBC Radio program Cross Country Check-up. “I thank him for my own life and my parents’ lives,” said Simon in 2018.

Several other diplomats in Hungary were taking similar measures to safeguard Jews. These included the Spanish Charge d’Affaires, Angel Sanz Briz, who saved the lives of Sephardic Jews and became the subject of a dramatic, 2011 film by Luis Oliveros, Angel of Budapest. Lutz has been credited with saving the lives of between 40,000 and 60,000 Jews overall but he remains far less known as a saviour than Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, German businessman Oskar Schindler and Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese vice-consul in Lithuania.

Under Swiss Protection: Jewish Eyewitness Accounts from Wartime Budapest (Columbia University Press 2017), has recounted Carl Lutz’s Holocaust rescue operations, as verified by Jewish eyewitnesses in Canada, Hungary, Israel, Switzerland, the U.K. and the United States. As the head of the foreign interests division in the Swiss legation in Budapest, it is estimated that Lutz—with the help of his wife, Gertrud Lutz-Fankhauser, Moshe Krausz, the director of the Palestine Office in Budapest, fellow Swiss citizens Harald Feller, Ernst Vonrufs, Peter Zurcher, and the underground Zionist Youth Movement—issued more than 50,000 lifesaving letters of protection (Schutzbriefe) and placed persecuted Jews in 76 safe houses as annexes of the Swiss Legation during World War II, between March 1944 and February 1945.

Born in London near the outset of World War II, Charlotte Schallie’s co-author for Under Swiss Protection, Agnes Hirschi was raised in Budapest and spent two months in a bomb shelter with the Lutz family. Her mother Magda married Carl Lutz in 1949 and so he became Agnes’ father in Switzerland. Yad Vashem accorded Carl Lutz “Righteous Among The Nations” status in 1965.

Charlotte Schallie with Agnes Hirschi, stepdaughter of Carl Lutz.

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