Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón. (Hill and Wang, 160 pp. $30 cloth, $16.95 paper)
The collaboration of Sid Jacobson, one-time executive editor at Marvel Comics, and Ernie Colón, a graphic artist for Marvel and DC Comics, is the latest entry of the Anne Frank story in the world of graphic books. In 10 chapters, the book stays true to the tone of Anne’s diary.
Snapshots—boxes filled with maps, lists of facts and pictures of events—fill in vital family background and world history. For instance, a picture of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife in Sarajevo in 1914 by Serbs symbolizes the start of World War I. The ruinous Treaty of Versailles is listed as cause for Germany’s strained economy and the resentment that led to World War II.
The story is straightforward, the multicolored drawings clean-lined and expressive. The opening chapter, A Hopeful Beginning, starts with a full-page, black-and-white image of Edith Hollander and Otto Frank—she in a simple white gown and veil and he in a tuxedo and bow tie—on their wedding day, May 12, 1925, in Aachen, Germany.
The Frank family had lived in Frankfurt for centuries, and Otto Frank and his three brothers served in the German Army in World War I. Not only did Otto Frank win an Iron Cross for his service, his exemplary character is apparent in four drawings: He confiscates horses from a farmer in Pomerania and, after the war, trudges back there to return the horses as he had promised.
The happy arrival of Annelies Marie is depicted with a beaming Edith Frank holding her angelic-looking newborn. That Anne grew to be a lively and charming prankster—and a challenging handful—is apparent in a picture that shows her pouring water out the window, or being repeatedly reminded to finish her homework before playing.
By 1933, the Nazis were in power. A picture of a big-fisted Hermann Göring shows the Reichstag’s president proclaiming the Nuremberg laws, which stripped Jews of fundamental rights. In another, a policeman chases a father and his young son from a park bench covered with the words Nicht Fur Juden. The yellow star is mandated for Jews, and Edith Frank and her two daughters sit in the living room sewing them on “properly.” Kristallnacht is depicted by a murdered Jew amid shattered glass; Jews hauling rocks in a work camp; black-clad Nazis destroying a stained-glass synagogue window.
The Franks moved to Amsterdam, where Otto’s brother offered him a position marketing pectin and, later, spices. But soon the Germans conquered the Netherlands. The family was forced into hiding in 1942 in the annex at 263 Prinsengracht, where Frank’s business was located. Anne celebrated her 15th birthday in the annex and, two months later, on August 4, 1944, she and the other occupants were discovered and transported to Westerbork, a transit camp.
Colón draws Anne, sister Margot and their mother as they were at the end: shaven-headed and emaciated. Still, a survivor is depicted as saying, even in the concentration camp Anne was happy because there were people to talk to. On September 3, the group was taken in a sealed cattle car to Auschwitz-Birkenau. By March 1945, Edith, Margot and Anne were dead.
The story lives on because Miep Geis, Otto Frank’s employee and helper, salvaged Anne’s diary. The sole survivor of the annex occupants, Frank set up the Anne Frank Foundation in 1957, which has made possible faithful retellings of this heartbreaking story. —Zelda Shluker
A Family Secret by Eric Heuvel. Translated by Lorraine T. Miller. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 64 pp. $18.99 cloth, $9.99 paper)
There is no easy way to discuss the Holocaust with children, but these two historically accurate graphic novels simplify complex events with personal stories.
Both feature three generations of the Dutch non-Jewish van Dorf family and the Jewish Hechts. InA Family Secret, Jeroen is searching his Grandmother Helena’s attic for items to sell at a flea market when he finds a scrapbook she made during the Nazi invasion. He learns about anti-Semitism and discrimination, and how Helena’s best friend, Esther, had to wear a yellow star. Esther’s parents were rounded up and sent away, and Helena thought her friend was murdered until Jeroen uncovers the surprising facts.
In The Search, the story continues when Esther and her grandson Daniel visit Helena and Jeroen. Esther fills in the background of her story: how life became more difficult for Jews in Germany, forcing her parents to leave after Hitler came to power; and how, in the Netherlands, they felt welcomed until the Germans invaded. Eventually, Esther had to go into hiding—her parents were taken to a concentration camp—and now she is taking Daniel to visit one of the families that hid her. Her pilgrimage also takes her to Israel, where an old friend bears witness to the existence of the camps and to her parents’ murders.
The illustrations are soft hued yet dynamic. Details are filled in by portraits in photo albums and newspaper headlines. Both young and old should add these books to their library. —Susan Adler
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden. (Vertigo, 206 pp. $24.99)
This brilliantly written graphic novel gives readers
a taste of what it’s like to be an idealistic young person trying to reconcile liberal values with conflicting feelings about Israel while participating in the Birthright Israel trip. American Sarah Glidden brings to life through vivid watercolors her journey through Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Masada, the Golan Heights and a brief foray beyond the green line (and outside the guided Birthright program). Whimsically, her consciousness flashes between reality and an imaginary courtroom trial of “Birthright Is Brainwashing Me vs. Birthright Is Not Brainwashing Me.”
There is no clear winner. “I’m ready to go there and discover the truth behind this whole mess once and for all,” Glidden tells her Pakistani Muslim boyfriend, Jamil, before leaving. “It’ll all be crystal clear by the time I come back.”
Of course, the truth is more elusive as there are few clear good guys and bad guys. At one point, she breaks away from the group in tears and declares “I thought I knew what I felt about this place and now I’m all messed up. I know the Palestinians are wrong sometimes but…I always thought Israel was more wrong because it has all the power. And now all these people are telling me this is my home? Well, maybe I don’t want it.”
The winner of two awards for promising artists, Glidden’s expressive artwork suitably reflects the innocence and naiveté of the character. —Adam Dickter
Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures by Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol. Translated by Arnold J. Pomerans. (Flash Point, 216 pp. $19.99 cloth, $12.99 paper)
It is chilling to open this seven-inch-square album to confront the facsimile of the plaid diary that belonged to Anne Frank—and imagine the life that she wrote about that was subsequently shared with millions. She called the diary, received as a gift on her 13th birthday, “One of my nicest presents.”
The history of the Nazi takeover and German occupation of Amsterdam, where the Frank family moved, as well as the aftermath of living under the Nazi terror are all included in text and images, many times on pages that replicate the actual diary. The pictures of the dark-haired young girl stare out at us, sometimes smiling, other times serious.
On June 12, 1942, she writes: “I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.”
The book’s chronology covers historical events from 1925 to 1933, showing the Frank family’s early life in Germany; and how from 1934 to 1939 they settled into a new home in the Netherlands. The start of World War II through the occupation follows (1940 to 1942), then the years of hiding in the Secret Annex (1942 to 1944), with descriptions of the annex’s interior and the people in hiding and their helpers—as well as how Anne’s diary became the most read public testimony in the world except for the Bible.
Amazingly, each time we read the diary we appreciate anew how even as an adolescent disappointed with the adults around her, she maintained her optimism. —S.A.
97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman. (HarperCollins, 253 pp. $25.99)
An evocative look at immigrant food ways, 97 Orchard offers a potluck of historical morsels (and recipes) to share with family and friends. Jane Ziegelman follows five families who lived successively at a Lower East Side building from the 1860s, when the building was built, to the 1930s, when the Italian Baldizzi family moved to Brooklyn. She also tracks an Irish family and two Jewish families, one German and one East European, that lived at 97 Orchard.
These case studies serve as Ziegelman’s entrée into the bustling world of the immigrant. They also allow her to examine how immigrants transformed the ways Americans eat—and how America transformed the immigrant diet.
Between 1880 and 1920, the Lower East Side became a teeming mass of mostly East European Jewish immigrants—and food was a major part of the revolution. Women ensured that food appeared on the table, in many cases, paying for it with difficulty: In the Jewish Gumpertz family, the husband abandoned his family; in the Rogarshevsky family, the husband died young.
Some of the culinary history is surprising. For instance, Germans, not Jews, brought herring and the delicatessen to American shores. Also, many 19th-century Jews didn’t follow kosher dietary laws. In 1889, a Cincinnati homemaker named Bertha Kramer collected recipes into Aunt Babette’s Cook Book. Published with a Jewish star on its cover, the book “played havoc with food commandments”: Recipes for shrimp and lobster appeared side by side with recipes for Purim doughnuts and gefilte fish.
Ziegelman, who is establishing a culinary program at New York’s Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard, the site of the museum’s tours, highlights how immigrant groups enriched the American food landscape. Germans changed the way bread and beer tasted, Italians added spaghetti to the diet while Jews popularized the bagel.
To a lesser degree, Ziegelman describes how the New World changed immigrant food patterns. Public health officials tried to impart “American-style” ingredients and cooking to immigrants. Often fraught with nutritional misconceptions founded in prejudice, these efforts were more successful among the children of immigrants than the immigrants themselves.
Scholarly works have covered much of the same turf, but Ziegelman’s family focus and her enthusiastic writing style make the history accessible. So does her use of historical recipes for dishes ranging from stuffed cabbage to gefilte fish, which was originally stuffed back into the fish itself before Jewish immigrants transformed it into the dish we know today. And when she describes how knish carts used to dot the Lower East Side landscape, many readers’ mouths will water with nostalgia. —Peter Ephross
A Jew Grows in Brooklyn: The Curious Reflections of a First-Generation American by Jake Ehrenreich. (Health Communication, 252 pp. $14.95)
Jake Ehrenreich describes growing up as the child of survivors; why he felt most American when vacationing as a youth with other survivors in the Catskills; his close relationship with his father and the tragedy of his mother’s and two sisters’ early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Much of the story reads like a typical rock ’n’ roll journey—by age 19, Ehrenreich was hooked on drugs and women. Music brought him success, but the musician-singer-actor-playwright says he only found joy after he met his wife, Lisa, and became a father. Through his son, especially, he has been able to celebrate and honor his parents. Having found a level of tranquillity, Ehrenreich, in this humorous and poignant book, shares the hard-won lessons of his life. —Z.S.
Kahn & Engelmann: A Novel by Hans Eichner. Translated by Jean M. Snook. (Biblioasis, 334 pp. $19.95)
Spanning four continents and four generations, Kahn & Engelmann is a Jewish family novel. Given the period, the fulcrum of its broad historical span is inevitably the Shoah.
The narrative begins with a Jewish joke about a drowning man who calls out for help in Hebrew. In this incarnation, the place and time are California, 1938. The narrator and would-be rescuer, a refugee himself, remarks, “What a fool!” As author Hans Eichner was surely aware, most of his Jewish readers would be capable of supplying the punch line. But since the novel was composed in German and published in 2000 in Germany, where it was greeted with considerable acclaim, it is clear that, at least initially, his intended audience was not Jewish. Hence, the inclusion of a glossary to clarify, among other “arcane” terms: bar mitzva, meshuga and yarmulke.
Indeed, the drowning man joke is the first of many familiar ones, most embracing danger and self-mockery, that punctuate a narrative crowded with traditional Jewish types at odds with themselves or each other as they save themselves from the supreme danger poised to engulf them. They are Hungarians whose trajectory, from generation to generation, is typical: from villages, pushcarts and petty trading to Vienna and large-scale success in the garment trade to, for those clever or lucky enough to escape Hitler, professional lives in the New World or Israel.
Our narrative guide to the outsized family personalities is Peter Engelmann, an aging Haifa veterinarian who is the legatee of a shoebox stuffed with family photographs and yellowing letters, the basis for his discursive, multigenerational account that darts back and forth over the decades. Engelmann is a transparent persona for author Eichner, who published this, his only novel, at the age of 79 after many years of service with the Department of German at the University of Toronto. Although the book offers little if any imagery from the world of veterinary medicine, the opening chapter includes citations from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka. Eichner passed away only days before the English version of this chronicle appeared.
The nearer the book approaches the present, the less vivid are the portrayals. It is as though the very paucity of written data freed Eichner’s narrator to imaginatively re-create with vigorous strokes Sidonie, his stubborn, strong-willed great-grandmother and the late-19th-century Austro-Hungarian Jewish world from which she sprang. Later, however, Eichner, uncertain and unpracticed in the novelist’s order of priorities, seems to succumb to the scholar’s commitment to the abundance of documentation in that shoebox. The result? A lengthy, far too exhaustive detailing of years of misunderstandings and squabbles over the troubled affairs of the clothing firm of Kahn & Engelmann between the narrator’s unreliable uncle and his partner.
More poignant is the ill-considered decision of the narrator, in an Australian internment camp during World War II, to decline to contribute toward the defeat of Hitler by becoming a soldier on the side of the Allies. “What a fool to learn Hebrew. Swimming he should have learned,” is how the old joke runs. If we may view swimming as a metaphor for writing, perhaps this book itself may most usefully be viewed as a redemptive act of a wounded conscience. —Haim Chertok
Hebrew Poems and Translations by Raphael Loewe. (Haberman Institute, Jerusalem, 466 pp. $48)
Now in his nineties, Raphael Loewe, doyen of Hebrew studies in Great Britain, has turned out this handsome collection. It features highlights from more than half a century of labor-of-love renditions into English of liturgical Hebrew verse by medieval masters such as Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1164) and Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141).
Loewe’s translations are informed by grace, mastery of material and considerable ingenuity. It comes as little surprise that Loewe himself is an accomplished poet. For anyone with an interest in the Jewish poetic tradition, this volume will be a treat. —H.C.