Review: Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography

I don’t believe the war is simply the work of politicians and capitalists. Oh, no, the common man is every bit as guilty.

The Holocaust is disturbing enough for adults to conceptualize, but for younger children it’s especially difficult to explain. I certainly cannot give a valid explanation beyond the usual lines that we find in history books.

However, in Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon have gifted us with a finely-illustrated and written graphic book that explores issues of intolerance and prejudice for a younger audience in an accessible way. It’s deeply felt for the the young and not-so young.

Told through the eyes of Otto Frank (Anne’s father) but still drawing upon Anne’s diary, Otto’s sad face and words come forth in a beautiful portrait of him in darkness and shadows thinking about Anne’s diary.

Painful reminiscences overwhelmed me…Never had I imagined the depths of her thoughts and feelings.

Among the horrors of life for those hidden away from the Nazis are jewels of beauty found in Anne’s words while the otherwise hopeless surge forward by the Nazis cannot be stemmed.

Looking at the sky, the clouds, the moon and the stars really does make me feel calm and hopeful… Nature makes me feel humble and ready to face every blow with courage.

True to her words, after the family’s discovered and on their way to Westbrook, the transit camp for Jews,

Otto Frank said: Anne could not be taken away from the window…meadows and harvested corn fields flew by.

Two pages earlier, six frames show frightened hiders facing the gun barrels of Nazis bringing a chill to my heart. Two small bubbles of words make the stark images even more horrific,

Put your hands up! You’re under arrest.

 

Jacobson and Colon have also created a graphic telling of the 9-11 Commission report titled After 9/11: America’s War on Terror. Like with After 9/11, the two brought remarkable use of source material to depict the Frank family’s story. The use of language from the original diary juxtaposed with meticulous research (they worked closely with a group of experts, including the caretakers of the Anne Frank House), make their graphic biography of the Holocaust experience feel more immediate than anything I’ve read. 

The artwork was created digitally in a paperless studio, yet it doesn’t appear digital—it looks hand-crafted and true to the era. Jacobson and Colon crafted period accurate visuals of eight people hiding together in an eight hundred square foot area. The fear of even the slightest  noise resulting in capture leaps off the page in an almost visceral manner. 

Anyone who read Anne’s diary in school will remember that Anne’s a typical young girl entering puberty with all of the novelty and change that comes along with that. Early in the graphic biography there are six frames on a page illustrating the hideaways doing necessary chores: hand washing clothes, hanging them to dry, kneeling silently to clean the floors and Anne writing in her diary.

One frame illustrates this with startling emotion. It’s the only one with words on the page. Anne stands on a step, thinking,

I feel like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off…hurtling itself against the bars of its dark cage.

Next, half of one cell consists of a yellow bird with its mouth wide open bringing to mind The Scream.

Rich with historical perspective from the first page to the last, the words and the graphics give life to  an era difficult to fathom. On page one, I learned about Otto Frank, whose story I hadn’t heard before. Lieutenant Frank fought in the first World War and was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class for his service.

The graphic images with simple language tell a profoundly moving tale of how his mother and sister volunteered as nurses, of how he fought bravely and with great love for Germany. In one graphic it presents the image of a ship going down in flames with boxed information beside it stating that,

96,000 Jewish soldiers fought for Germany in World War I. Twelve thousand of them were killed, 21,00 were promoted to officers and 35,00 were decorated.

No more information was furnished. It stood alone as a strong statement.

This epitomizes the power of the graphic storytelling medium.

I encourage people who find reading about the horrors of the Holocaust to be difficult and heart wrenching to read this one. Each page is filled with beautifully-crafted imagery with dress and surroundings accurately depicting the era. The conversation among the Franks and their friends gives a sense of the everyday quality of their lives until the inevitable hand of Nazism reaches for them and they must hide or go into a camp.

The additional history blocked into pull-outs stating what was going on outside of their lives to give a sinister scope, yet an accurate one, of how world events can be hurtling toward horrific outcomes while everyday people live their lives.

All of us know how the story ends. When Otto, the lone Frank family member to survive, searches for his children after the war and receives word that his daughters died, the graphic and the words speak of the pain with their simplicity. A black background with a shadowed brown and grey face, tortured eyes and a single white tear look from the page into our eyes. A single sentence speaks volumes,

…Margot and Anne are not coming back.

 

Yet, in a sense, they have come back in graphics and words to teach us about tolerance and acceptance of differences, to show us that what separates us is from others is of minimal importance. They teach us that our basic humanity and brotherhood must be cultivated and treasured. The alternative cannot be tolerated.

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