The Auschwitz Tattoo in Visual Memory

Second Generation_ The Things I Didn’t Tell My Father

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Michel Kichka: Second Generation - The Things I Didn’t Tell My Father, Europe Comics, 2016 (2012)

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Michel Kichka’s graphic novel Second Generation: The Things I Didn’t Tell My Father portrays the author’s relationship with his father, Auschwitz survivor Henri Kichka, from childhood to adult life. On one of the first pages of the graphic novel, Kichka illustrates a nightmarish dream of his younger self, in which he imagines his father’s past. The illustration is a composite of several indirect depictions of iconic images from the Holocaust and the liberation that bear the status of reenactments. One element of this composite shows his father as a corpse. The shape of the corpse indicates a mimetic reenactment of an iconic image from Bergen-Belsen. Kichka replaces the corpse’s head with his father’s face (as an older man) and adds another significant detail: on the corpse’s left forearm, Kichka inscribed his father’s Number Tattoo. Although the image of the dead body is a memetic reenactment, the number functions as a generic allusion to the Number Tattoo image. As it refers to Henri Kichka’s actual number, the reference indicates nevertheless his specific history. Thereby it has an evidencing function.

Furthermore, the combination of the iconizing shape of the corpse—a metonymic reference to the symbol of the crucified Christ—and the tattoo also evokes the specific gesture of the children in Auschwitz, demonstrating their numbers straight to the camera.

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