A Graphic Novel by Salva Rubio
It’s easy to forget just how massive the entire mechanism of German prisoner and extermination camps was during World War II. An entire industry of railyards, specialized camps and sub-camps, and logistics operations were needed to coordinate the wholesale slaughter of countless people. While European Jews easily suffered the most in The Holocaust under the treacherous fist of the Nazi Regime, many others were caught up in the bloodshed, with some very underrepresented in the history books. Take, for example, Spanish Republicans that fled Fascist Spain during The Spanish Civil War only to be captured by Nazis in Occupied France and transported to Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The Photographer of Mauthausen by Salva Rubio tells the story of, perhaps, that very camp’s most “famous” survivor, Francisco Boix, and his crusade to get the word out about just how meticulous and murderous the German camp system was.
“This is a dramatic retelling of true events in the life of Francisco Boix, a Spanish press photographer and communist who fled to France at the beginning of World War II. But there, he found himself handed over by the French to the Nazis, who sent him to the notorious Mauthausen concentration camp, where he spent the war among thousands of other Spaniards and other prisoners. More than half of them would lose their lives there. Through an odd turn of events, Boix finds himself the confidant of an SS officer who is documenting prisoner deaths at the camp. Boix realizes that he has a chance to prove Nazi war crimes by stealing the negatives of these perverse photos—but only at the risk of his own life, that of a young Spanish boy he has sworn to protect, and, indeed, that of every prisoner in the camp.”
As hard as reading just about any Holocaust story can be, simply due to the nature of the subject matter, this book was hard to put down due to the comparatively out of the ordinary point of view and the dramatic presentation of the story. While I was reading, I couldn’t help thinking that this story would make an amazing film, only to find out that there are a couple already – Francisco Boix, A Photographer in Hell and El fotógrafo de Mauthausen. In the future, I may have to seek these out assuming they are in English. So, what makes it so good? The fact that Francisco is unwittingly thrown into a situation where he becomes an agent of an unseated Communist regime only to become an ardent partisan himself is pretty interesting. He is taken aback when it is pointed out that he has basically lost himself and become a person that exists solely to achieve a political goal – much like how Nazis run themselves. He pushes this aside anyway and pushes forward, risking his life and many others so that perhaps there is a future for somebody, if not himself.
Boix is definitely an interesting person, and it’s extremely sad that he succumbed to an early death most likely caused by some disease he was exposed to at the camp. Thankfully, he was able to finish his life doing what he loved – photo-journalism and trying to get justice for his people. He gained notoriety for testifying at the Nuremberg Trials and the Dachau Trials that the Reich leadership DID know about the extermination camps and poor conditions, a fact that many attempted to hand-waive as something they were entirely unaware of. There is a pretty powerful scene in this book where Boix is testifying, in reality being almost interrogated, about pictures that he has taken or been witness to and one pops up of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who appeared visiting both the Mauthausen Camp, and the Wienergraben Quarry adjacent to the camp. Kaltenbrunner was notoriously blood-thirsty and personally killed one of Boix’s friends, an act that made him cry for hours, so “fingering” the monster in the courtroom was an act of catharsis bordering on petty vengeance. Very powerful stuff.
The author confirms that due to the narrative being largely pulled solely from records of witness testimony and some interviews, he had to fill some gaps in with fiction just like any historical writer is forced to do. None of the events depicted in the book are out of the ordinary and seem like something that could have possibly gone down in the situations presented. It’s a solid narrative and the message is the important thing when it’s all said and done anyway.
This was a great graphic novel that has really piqued my interest in this chapter of World War II history as well as the life of Francisco Boix, if I get a chance I need to find a full-on book about his life to see if there are any other things this leaves out as well as some of the actual historical photos referenced. As always Dead Reckoning does a splendid job of bringing over amazing comics, this time a book that was originally published in Belgium. I will always appreciate their track record of publishing military history books that avoid the same narrative over and over again, instead opting for interesting POVs like this book.
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