The Auschwitz Tattoo in Visual Memory

The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft

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Reinhard Kleist: The Boxer - The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft, SelfMadeHero 2014

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Reinhard Kleist’s graphic novel The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft tells the story of Harry (Hertzko) Haft, who survived Auschwitz after being forced to participate in deadly boxing matches in the camp, performed in front of SS men. This sequence describes the registration process in the camp. The Number Tattoo is presented as a crucial element of this transformation into a nameless prisoner. Therefore the sequence combines three iconic scenes: the selection process symbolized by a row of incoming deportees marked by Stars of David with text bubbles: “To the left! To the right!”, the forced shaving including the metonymic image of piles of hair, and the tattooing of Haft’s forearm. The six panels contain at least three icons of the Holocaust (Yellow Star, piles of hair, Number Tattoo). In this sequence, the last panel, a close up of the number on Haft’s arm, constitutes a reference to the liberated children showing the Number Tattoo through indirect use of the image. It is, however, an analogy to the original visual record that serves as a symbol of the dehumanization process in the camp. Decontextualized from its original context - the liberation - the gestural icon is evoked for representing an earlier phase of the camp’s existence. Nevertheless, it still illustrates - though in a less specific way - the particular experience of incoming prisoners in Auschwitz.

The scene also corresponds to a later depiction of the number in the graphic novel’s narrative. While the process of forcly inscribing the number during the registration process in the camp symbolizes humiliation and dehumanization, the number later becomes a mark of identifying Haft as a Jewish survivor.

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