"Episodes from Auschwitz"—the first historical comic book about Auschwitz

We present the Reader with the first historical comic book about Auschwitz based on reliable historical sources. We return to the subject of Auschwitz using a different form and bearing in mind the contemporary Reader. The history of Auschwitz is presented by showing the fate of real people, showing them as they really were, their ups and downs, hopes and doubts in the nightmarish depravity of Auschwitz.

Visualization of history
The comic books are intended for those who want to expand their knowledge about concentration and death camps created by German Nazis in occupied Poland during the Second World War.

Yet, the most important audience are young people. Historical research works, essential in the understanding of history, are often not enough and don’t appeal to young readers. The comic book genre, in itself, allows the opportunity for visualizing events described in the testimony of witnesses and in historical research, which strengthens the transfer and absorption of historical knowledge.

The featured historical comic book can also be attractive for comic book lovers—no matter what their age or level of knowledge in the history of Auschwitz.

Comic book as a source of knowledge
The series of comics “Episodes from Auschwitz” is created in cooperation with historians specializing in concentration and extermination camps, military matters, and World War II. Work on the comic is accompanied by in-depth consultations with survivors, especially former prisoners of Auschwitz.

After numerous attempts to present the history of the Holocaust in comic book form—for example Spiegelman’s literary “Maus”—it is time for a historical comic book about Auschwitz, in which history is presented without ideological skew and harmful stereotypes. History is shown here honestly and in an interesting way. 90% of the events in the comics are historically accurate, based on testimony of former prisoners, 10% of the events are historically likely—situations and events, which had taken place in Auschwitz and were described in memoirs, as well as witnessed sometimes by the people presented in the comic books.

A straightforward historical comic in an attractive graphical form, written in a lively way, offers the opportunity to better perceive the tragic events, and therefore to gain a more direct knowledge of the history.

Countering "Polish concentration camps"
In the comic books, in a transparent manner, the line between perpetrators and victims is shown, while at the same time pointing out the institutions and individuals responsible for the creation and functioning of concentration and death camps in occupied Poland. By publishing the comic books in different languages knowledge about the Second World War, the occupation, and German concentration camps in occupied Poland is spread among readers outside of Poland, destroying the notorious lie about so-called "Polish concentration camps"".

Countering deniers
Presenting testimony of witnesses in a way that is interesting for young people, we can limit the influence of groups using historical facts in an instrumental way to distort the history of Auschwitz, using modern technology and media for this purpose.

A historical comic book that takes on this subject matter becomes an effective argument in the discussion with deniers, who undermine basic facts from the history of the Holocaust, such as functions of concentration and extermination camps or the existence of gas chambers used in the genocide.

Comic book as educational material
The historical comics “Episodes from Auschwitz” can be excellent educational materials for both teachers and students. They can also be used to prepare young people for a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Oświęcim, especially during topic-based visits—footsteps of the heroes whose destinies are presented in the subsequent episodes in the series. We hope that in this way we will encourage Readers to delve further and read future comics in the series, thereby further probe the subject of Auschwitz in the form proposed by us.

Future comics of the series will appear every 2−3 months. We plan to publish over a dozen comic books in the series “Episodes from Auschwitz” in different languages. Each comic book is 40 pages long. In addition to the dynamic color artwork, the Reader will find an introduction that puts the presented events into historical context, an article by a researcher on the subject, a glossary of historical terms, and bibliography. With the thought of using the comic books in the classroom, educational materials are being prepared with lesson plans for teachers. It will be possible to download these materials from the "Episodes from Auschwitz" website.

More information about the planned series of comic books can be found on the website:

"Love in the Shadow of Death" "Love in the Shadow of Death" is the story of two prisoners from the Auschwitz Death Camp—Mala Zimetbaum, a Jewish woman, and Edward Galiński, a Polish man. This comic tells the story of the love that these two individuals develop for one another, their unsuccessful escape, and their tragic death in the camp. This comic shows, in a non stereotypical way, the complicated relationship between prisoners, the functionary prisoners, and the members of the SS guard garrison within Auschwitz.

Writer: Michał Gałek.
Artist: Marcin Nowakowski.
Number of pages: 40
Format: 210x290 mm
Binding: Soft cover
Print: Color
ISBN: 978-83-61618-00-3 (Polish language)
978-83-61618-01-0 (English language)
Edition: I
Price: 25 PLN (Polish language), 30 PLN (other languages)



Kazimierz Smoleń, former prisoner of Auschwitz

How do you feel about the creation of a comic book about Auschwitz?

I have to say that history can be presented in different ways. Some write historical research, others fictional stories. The history of the concentration camp can also be presented in different ways. It can be in films, stories, audio recordings, and other ways used to present historical facts. These days, comics are fashionable. I believe that young people should be given accurate and detailed information, but it isn’t necessary to read some 4-5 volumes to understand some history. There is a way to create interest in this subject, to awaken curiosity, as to how it is presented in historical research. In my opinion, I think this is a good method. Through the presentation of history in this way, as is currently done, we cause interest in history as it were. This is a good thing.

How do you rate the accuracy of the situations presented in the comic book in relation to the realities of Auschwitz?

This history—shown in this new artistic form—is a history that has also been researched by historians. Nothing is falsified. The characters are naturally shown in the drawings, not with the help of photographs. The words they use are often taken from historical research, from existing documentation. This is truly interesting and can lead to a kind of interest in reaching for other publications on this topic. We have here a certain history, presented in an interesting way through dozens or hundreds of pictures, which can start the search through more extensive works.

Sir, do you think that combing the comic book with a difficult subject, such as Auschwitz, is correct?

In my opinion, this is very interesting. This doesn’t go against any human rights, morality, or respect to history. History is respected here because true facts are presented here. The words to the characters are not literal, but what could have been said in reality. It is good that this project in the hands of professionals. This is a good thing.

What do you think of the relationship between prisoners as well as, prisoners and SS men as presented in the comic?

Naturally, every prisoner had to listen to the SS men. He also knew that his fate rested on the SS men’s mood. He had to approach the SS man so that he wasn’t immediately beaten, kicked around, or even killed. The prisoner had to be artificially polite, artificially decent, artificially diligent—everything was artificial. Of course, only when the SS man turned around, the prisoner could think, “I don’t care about you, I’ll do something else”. Whenever you passed an SS man you had to say: “Permission to walk past”. If it was incorrectly said in German, the prisoner was punched in the face, that was only the half of it, sometimes he was also kicked. Everyone made sure not to do this. It was best to pass that kind of SS man at a distance, but sometimes this was not possible. The prisoner had to adjust to a given situation, had to use instinct, as to what kind of bandit was his superior—either Kapo or SS man. And the relationship was based on this. Furthermore, the SS men had no consideration for the prisoners. Prisoners understood that these were murderers, they were able to kill me—so I must do everything to avoid meeting this end.

Sir, why did you decide to cooperate in the creation of the comic book series “Episodes from Auschwitz”?

I’m happy that, while I’m alive, someone takes up the topic of the camp and wants to tell the truth about it. The publishers are right to turn to living witnesses. We are among the last who are alive and it’s good that we can speak about Auschwitz. I have to say that I support telling the truth. It doesn’t matter if it is good or bad, but true. I am not omnipotent, I don’t know everything, but I give advice whenever possible.

Michał Gałek, comic book writer

What prompted you to accept the proposal to write the script for the comic book?

Firstly, the possibility to write a comic book in general. The Holocaust, as a subject, is extremely interesting and in the field of comic books, it hasn’t been done well. I have had contact with the topic since I was a child, because my grandfather was a prisoner at Auschwitz, as well as elsewhere.

Have you taken part in creating any other historical comic books?

I have behind me several short comics set in concrete historical realities. They have appeared in the anthologies “Wrzesień—wojna narysowana” and “11/11 = Niepodległość”, among others.

How does this project differ from different historical comics?

I’d like this to be a groundbreaking project, when it comes to approaching the subject. Above all, so it would be a good story, told in an interesting, absorbing manner. Historical comic books are generally exaggerated and their drawings leave much to be desired. We propose the reader a new quality.

What problems did you encounter while working on writing the comic book?

Adapting historical events for entertainment media always risks making characters shallow, making mistakes in presenting realities, and so on. Above all, the biggest problem was the size of the comic book, which created the need to cut out some parts of the story. Shortening the presented events meant skipping some scenes, which without a wider context could be misunderstood or understood in the opposite way. I’ll admit that my first encounter with the amount of source material was a bit overwhelming.

In your opinion, how do you think this project is going to be accepted by comic book readers?

The comic book market in Poland is very specific. I think that every publisher knows very well how unpredictable it can be. I tried to write the scenario without the assumption that this was to be an educational comic book. I had a good, exciting story, set in exceptional circumstances, which only had to be put into a series of drawings. I did this as well as I could. The readers should be the ones who tell me if I have succeeded.

Marcin Nowakowski, drawings

What made you accept the proposal to create the drawings for the comic book?

The opportunity to create a comic book. That’s it. In Poland, it is more of a hobby, done in the breaks between one storyboard and another. If someone comes along with the proposition of making a comic book, in addition at a good price, then I stop everything that I’m doing and get into it. It doesn’t matter what the topic is.

How did you prepare for drawing the comic book?

By digging around wherever, mainly online, looking for pictures and descriptions of what it looked like, or could have looked like. The visit to the camp itself was very helpful and we received lots of materials from the publishers themselves, so some things were “brought to me on a platter.” Everything was constantly being consulted with the publishers, historians, generally people who know the topic better than I do and can point out that, “oh, this beret should look different”.

What tools did you use in making the comic book?

My head, right hand, pencil, brush and computer [laughs].
The pictures themselves I did by hand, and on the computer I colorize it and put it all together because often a single scenes are drawn as separate illustrations.

What was the most difficult for you while you worked on the comic book?

Probably trying o draw the characters correctly. Many authentic characters came and went in the comic book, and often all we had were one or two little and blurry pictures, from which you had to muster some characteristic features. There was a lot of improvisation, but I think the effect is satisfactory.

Adam Cyra (PhD), historian

How do you view the creation of a comic book about Auschwitz?

With approval and a conviction that this is yet another way to get young people interested in the history of the concentration camps.

How do you rate the historical accuracy of the events shown in the comic book?

The story presented in this comic book of the love shared by Edek Galiński and Mala Zimetbaum “in the Hell of Auschwitz”, is based on facts and the dialogs that make up the comic try to be as accurate as possible in showing those tragic events.

How did historical consultation work in the making of the comic book?

The consultation was based on, above all, so that the drawings and dialogs in the comic book didn’t stray from concentration camp realities and actual occurrences connected with this extraordinary love and the dramatic, yet tragically ending escape from Auschwitz.

Piotr Trojański (PhD), historian, academic lecturer, educator

How do you look at the idea of presenting the subject of Auschwitz and the Holocaust in a comic book form?

This problem is made of and depends on the form that the comic takes on: traditional or modern. In Poland, it still creates a certain amount of controversy and worry, for example the danger of trivializing the subject matter. This comes from the fact that the comic is treated here, above all, in the traditional sense, giving it the satirical or grotesque form. The situation is completely different abroad, where for nearly 20 years (next to the traditional form) the development of a new form called “graphic novel” is under way.
Its main aim is to move away from the traditional image of a comic understood as a medium involving funny subjects, light and adventurous, showing serious topics in a real or metaphorical way. It is worth noting that the origins of this comic genre are linked to the idea of presenting the subject of the Holocaust in picture form. Published at the end of the 1980’s and beginning of the 1990’s, the work of Art Spiegelman entitled “Maus”, tells the story of a Jew saved from the Holocaust, as an innovative and original work, it shows that comics can address serious issues. It has become an inspiration in creating work dealing with Auschwitz, such as: “Yossel”, “The Search” and “Escape from Auschwitz”. That is why I believe that Auschwitz and the Holocaust may be presented in a comic book form—graphic stories, in a serious manner, factual, and respectful to the victims.

Do you think that the comic book can be used as an educational tool?

Yes, definitely. The comic is an educational resource that, more than ever, has a greater meaning. We live in a global culture of the image, where text—mainly for young people—is no longer the main form of communication. Research shows that images better transmit information than texts about various historical processes taking place in the modern world. The comic, through its straightforward message and attractive form, can quickly reach a rather large group of readers. Thanks to images, the emotional impact can be much deeper than in the case of literature. Moreover, this comic book, as opposed to textbooks isn’t only presenting dry data, but is full of emotion, passion, and common everyday concerns of people. The comic book can inspire the further search to answer questions that arose while reading it, but also can encourage reading a book, watching a film, visiting a memorial site, or even doing research on source material.

How do you rate this comic book?

First of all, I would like to say that the idea to make the comic book, entitled “Episodes from Auschwitz. Love in the Shadow of Death”, is very good and up to date. I’m pleased that finally there is a Polish illustrated history about one of the biggest crimes of the twentieth century. I believe that this publication not only meets the interest of a wide range of audiences, but can also be of certain help in education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. The need for an illustrated history for educational purposes, presenting the Holocaust from the Polish perspective was confirmed last year in Poland by in the pilot program using the Dutch comic book, “The Search”. And in the case of “Episodes from Auschwitz”, the student is neither the main nor the only recipient, and I believe that this comic can be successfully used also in school. Its educational virtues are shown in its didactic form, which are comprised of texts showing a wide historical background of the events presented in the comic book, a description of the history of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, a glossary of terms and a bibliography. Other than that, it is worth highlighting that the authors of the comic book—applying the principle of staying true to facts—have put a strong emphasis on showing the historical realities that existed in the camp. Edek and Mala’s love and the relationships between prisoners are presented in a bold and daring way. Also, of note, is that the comic, without varnishing over or distortion, shows difficult matters, which often don’t square with the generally accepted view of life in the camp. That is why, using the comic book, discussions can take place in class on many questions dealing with the interpersonal relationships that existed in the camp, the help of prisoners, the ability to organize and success of escapes, and so on. All of this shows its particular educational virtues.

What advice would you give teachers who want to use the comic book as an educational aid when working with young people?

As I said earlier, the power that comic has in reaching young people is very large. Both benefits and problems stem from this fact. The comic can break through certain social attitudes and stereotypes, but it can also engrain them; to fight myths, or to create them; to deepen understanding of the subject or to simplify it. That’s why you can’t leave the student alone, one on one, with a historical comic. The role of the teacher should be to, above all, verify the comic’s information or to highlight its historical background. Indicating whether the history shown in the comic is real, typical, or if it is fictitious. If it is true (as in the case of the comic talked about here), then it has to be put into a wider context, in relation to similar events. Working with the comic, there has to be a set of activities or discussion topics created, which will be talked over after the reading. It is worthwhile that before students start work with the comic book “Episodes from Auschwitz”, they should get to know at least an outline of the history of the Holocaust and concentration camp. This can be done at school or, better yet, during a visit to the Auschwitz Memorial Site. This way, the discussion on Auschwitz will be much richer and more substantive.

Beata Kłos and Jacek Lech, publishers

Where did you get the idea to create a comic book about Auschwitz?

The idea of a historical comic book about Auschwitz appeared a few years ago. For a long time, we wondered how to present the subject in this form. How to keep balance between the difficult subject and form, or medium, that is a comic book while not trivializing the tragedy of Auschwitz. We wanted to show the concentration camp, so to say, from “the inside”, from the perspective of those who took part in the events, emphasizing certain points, not trying to avoid controversy, not falling into a black and white representation, without mythologizing, but also by not trying to draw empathy by simply showing cruelty, making sure that historical details are correct, all the while not dishonoring the dignity of the people that we are presenting. And I think that we have succeeded. To a large degree this is thanks to the consultations with former prisoners, historians, researchers, and educators. However, it is up to the reader to decide if we have succeeded…

Why did you decide to make a series of comic books about Auschwitz?

Auschwitz is such a complicated subject, that trying to present the entire history of the camp in one book is simply impossible. This is where the idea for the series came from, where history is presented by showing the fate of real people: victims, perpetrators, and witnesses, by using memoirs written by former prisoners and other historical sources. It is our opinion that personalizing the victims helps in understanding the totality of the tragedy of the individual, as opposed to generalizing, where again the individuals’ experience and tragedy of Auschwitz is lost.

Aren’t you worried that people will misunderstand your idea of presenting this subject in the comic book form?

The idea is quite innovative, even though there were earlier attempts to present this subject in this form—in a much more limited scale—unfortunately, never in Poland. We think that a comic book, created professionally in terms of graphics, with an experienced and creative writer, in an educational way, has an unusually good chance of reaching the modern reader, who represents the “image” generation, not the “word” generation. On the other hand, we understand that this form, that is the comic book, is for many people not a completely acceptable way to show this subject. We hope to win over the skeptics.

Any future plans?

The many facets in the history of Auschwitz, means that this project is a long term one, most certainly will last many years. We have chosen several topics, that we want to present in a number of spin-offs. In this way, we hope to show the different aspects of Auschwitz, from the perspective of the victims—the Polish, Jewish, Roma, and other groups effected by this tragedy—but also from the perspective of the perpetrators—SS men from the camp garrison, but also industrialists and institutions, that made it possible for the creation and proper functioning of this unimaginable killing machine.

"Love in the Shadow of Death" is the first volume in the planned series. Currently we are working on the future titles. Soon, the second comic book will be released about the extraordinary man, Witold Pilecki, and after that, the history of Father Maximilian Kolbe. In the Autumn there will be a comic book about…. but it’s too early to tell you about the details. Each of the comic books in the series, “Episodes from Auschwitz”, are to be about different periods in time, events, and people from the history of the camp, is to be a piece of the puzzle, creating—as is our intent—a more complete picture of Auschwitz.