Writer: Steven Bergson (Mr. Bergson is a librarian)
The following is written in response to the all-too-brief summary / critique at http://www.freedomsite.org/pics/anti-german.html of the comic book story “Death Camp”, which was written by J.M. DeMatteis (Weird War Tales #72 (NY: DC Comics, Feb. 1979, 1st story).
The anonymous webmaster [Probably Toronto’s Marc Lemire. ed.] begins by stating that “The comic starts off by showing EVIL Germans hurting defenseless Jews.” Actually, as can be seen by looking at page 1, which is reproduced on the website, the comic starts off by introducing the character Private Schmidt, who is not portrayed as evil. He is described as being “blind to the horrors and atrocities of global conflict” and is visibly shocked upon seeing the death camp for the first time. The only character shown being hurt is the lower half of a tied up victim. It is up to the reader to reach his own conclusions about him (e.g. that he is being hanged). The first vague reference to anyone being hurt doesn’t come until the 2nd half of page 2 and is from Schmidt himself : “these poor people — so abused — so mistreated.”
The site continues “As the strip goes on you meet a ruthless German Camp Commander and a poor helpless Jew by the name of Tidelbaum.” This is true. Schmidt himself, who is subordinate to Colonel Danzig, muses to himself that Danzig “is a monster.” There have been cruel military men in many nation’s armies, so I would not consider such a portrayal unrealistic. It is neither stated nor implied that Danzig’s demeanor stems from his being German. As a matter of fact, by showing that Schmidt, a German, feels sympathetic to the Jews, the reader can see that Germans had (and have) the potential for good or evil.
The webmaster writes “A nice German soldier takes a liking to the poor Jew and in turn they become friends.” This is true. The “nice German soldier” is Schmidt.
He continues “As fake as it is, the evil German officer beats Tidelbaum for no reason, and the ‘nice’ German soldier fights the evil German camp commander.” This does occur in the story. I’m not sure what is being labeled as “fake”. There is plenty of documentation of Nazi soldiers beating Jews – inside and outside the death camps. I am not aware of any documentation of a Nazi soldier coming to the aid of a Jew and/or of a Nazi physically fighting his commanding officer. I am puzzled as to why he puts the word “nice” in quotation marks. Is he implying that aiding a Jew is not a nice thing to do?
The website concludes “It ends up that the Germans end up killing Tidelbaum for no reason. THOSE EVIL GERMANS!” This is close to being true, but is not. “The Germans” didn’t kill Tidelbaum in the story. Only a single German did – Colonel Danzig. This can be seen clearly in the last panel that is shown on the homepage.
It is the webmaster who extrapolates what Danzig does in this fictional story to all Germans, cruel or imagined. Not the average reader and not DeMatteis. It is this overgeneralization from the specific to form generalities that leads to the type of prejudice and discrimination exhibited in the story by Danzig and in real life by the Nazis – the type of prejudice that the webmaster accuses DeMatteis of injecting into his story.
Though no reason is given in the story for Danzig’s actions, 3 obvious reasons are implied : (1) Tidelbaum had been out past curfew ; (2) Tidelbaum had befriended Schmidt, although Danzig had directly ordered Schmidt not to “fraternize with the Jews.” It was this friendship that led Schmidt to attack Danzig – in front of his fellow soldiers. In Danzig’s mind the easiest way to prevent further disobedience would be to murder Tidelbaum ; (3) Tidelbaum was a Jew and all Jews were scheduled for genocide (on page 2, Danzig talks about the Jews’ disease and called Tidelbaum “an old animal”). Murdering Tidelbaum personally allowed him to be taken care of quicker and more directly.
Further proof that neither Schmidt nor Danzig were meant to represent ALL Germans is shown in the following pages, which the webmaster conveniently does not show or account for. On page 4, “Schmidt is locked up”, only to be driven later towards command headquarters “where the young soldier will stand trial for treason.”
On page 5, there reader is shown a demolished car (struck by lightning) and an armed Danzig chasing after the unarmed Schmidt. At the end of the page, Danzig is aiming his gun at the fallen Schmidt, who has been shot.
On the final page, Danzig is shot by an American soldier, who accepts Schmidt’s surrender. When Schmidt is told that an old man (who has mysteriously disappeared) told the soldiers where Schmidt was, Schmidt comes to the conclusion that Tidelbaum’s ghost had appeared to them, saving his life.
If “THOSE GERMANS” were “EVIL”, why would Tidelbaum’s ghost save Schmidt’s life? The answer is clear. Tidelbaum helped his murderer get killed, while aiding the German he loved. Tidelbaum didn’t have a hatred of all Germans. Nor did the story’s author, DeMatteis. Nor do all the readers. Nor do all Jews.
To be certain, there are instances of anti-German portrayals in popular culture – in TV, film, comics, etc. However, this comic book story is not such an example.