Obviously the shadow of Art Spiegelman's acclaimed Maus books fall long over any graphic story relating the Holocaust. Fortunately Croci's oversized book takes a very different visual approach, using grim pencil illustrations toned with gray watercolor washes to create an oppressively bleak monochrome world. The story is about a couple who manage to survive internment at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but not without losing their daughter. Their straightforward tale takes the form of a lengthy flashback bookended by their plight somewhere in former Yugoslavia, circa 1993. (This tie to present-day ethnic cleansing, while admirable in spirit, feels a forced and awkward.) Faced with imminent discovery and execution by unnamed forces, the couple recounts to each other their experience at Auschwitz. Their memories share the nightmarish brutality of all Holocaust survivor stories, and Croci's expressionist-influenced and heavily researched artwork brings it all to awful life. From the gaunt forms of the inmates to the hooded dark eyes of the camp guards and officers, there is no humor, no respite, none of the ridiculous "Life is Beautiful" hope, just the haunted, bitter resignation of captured prey. At the back of the book, Croci discusses his obvious influences (Lanzmann's Shoah documentary, Spielberg's film Schindler's List, and Bernadac's book The Naked Mannequins) as well as how his own interviews with survivors shaped the work. The ultimate tone of the book can perhaps best be captured in his statement "Nazi violence is beyond forgiveness." There are a few missteps, such as the lifting of an incident from Schindler's List, and the rather strange misspelling of Mengele, but on the whole it does what all Holocaust literature ought to: horrify.
on 3 September 2008
What a shame. I bought this book on the strength of the cover. Artistically, it is hard to be disappointed. The drawing is top quality, and in spite of the simple black and white depictions, the characters are truly expressive, particularly the nazi soldiers.
Unfortunately, the story is done and dusted too soon, which in some sort of way says a lot about the work, you just want it to carry on for longer, it's that good. Clearly, Spiegelman's Maus looms in the background, and what Aushwitz lacks in depth and first hand experience relative to Maus, it compensates on the chilling artwork and depiction of the gas chambers.
The extra interview with the author at the end is a very nice complementary addition to the book. Upon finishing Aushwitz, I went straight to the internet to learn more about it, so I guess it fulfilled its objective. I look forward to new stuff from Monsieur Croci.