A Graphic Novel by Philippe Collin and Sébastien Goethals
I will always appreciate The US Naval Institute and Dead Reckoning for releasing war comics that offer perspectives that are not widely shown, and especially ones that stay out of the nationalistic propaganda market. You can’t get more atypical than a book about a man that unwittingly was forced to become a soldier in the Waffen SS. The moment the book opens with an elderly man named Marcel Grob being hauled into a tribunal under accusations of being a Nazi War criminal, I knew this was going to be dark. On top of that realization, I had no idea how much of a tragedy some of these guys fell into simply due to being enrolled unwittingly into a group of zealots that would do unspeakable things to any soldier (or their family) for literally any reason just to keep order and fear at the forefront. Tattooed with an insignia that was basically a death warrant if captured by any Allied military, Grob was stuck, and unfortunately he had to do some unspeakable things to survive.
“In the dead of night, eighty-three-year-old Marcel Grob is sequestered by an investigating judge who questions him about his past. Particularly beginning on June 28, 1944, the day when “Marzell,” like ten thousand of his German-speaking peers from the French borderland province of Alsace, became a member of the Nazis’ infamous Waffen SS. But did the teenager volunteer, or was he conscripted by the Nazis? Was he a “Malgré-nous,” one of those forced to comply, or was he a war criminal? To establish the truth of his troubled past, Marcel Grob will have to revisit painful memories as an adolescent forced to fight in Italy with the sinister Reichsführer division. Determined to prove his innocence, Marcel begins the story of a long journey into night.”
Marcel Grob, for all intents and purposes, is French. That said, he happens to be in the disputed territory of Alsace–Lorraine which came under German occupation very early into the war. All able-bodied Alsatian men became part of The German Army in 1942, usually being referred to as malgré-nous (against our will). One would think that these men would end up in the Wehrmacht, as almost every other conscripted German solider, but for some reason many were forced into the SS, being tossed into Panzer and Grenadier divisions. Speaking French was prohibited under German occupation, and learning German was obligatory.
Grob is forced to help carry out the The Massacre of Marzabotto, a horrible incident that saw over 770 innocent men, women, and children perish in Northern Italy. He and others in his group feel horrible for their actions, but Grob somehow gets through the ordeal by thinking of his friendships and his will to survive. Others are not so iron-willed, as Grob bears witness to a handful of his own childhood friends executed in front of him for desertion, as well as other unspeakable atrocities. I won’t spoil too much more because the overall narrative is intense and riveting, the sort of story that would make an excellent war movie if they were so inclined.
There is a detailed index in the back of the book with information on various people, places, and events surrounding the story. I found this inclusion VERY helpful.
The Journey of Marcel Grob by Philippe Collin and Sébastien Goethals is a heartbreaking tragedy for nearly everyone involved. It’s a tale of doing anything and everything to survive, and the repercussions that arise from that. The minimalist monochromatic artwork is beautiful, and the storytelling is great. If you can get past the grizzly subject matter, this is a book that I highly recommend for history buffs as this part of the war is generally not looked at by many historians. I was worried that this book would slide heavily into the “good Nazi” trope that we often see in many books like this, but it goes to great length to avoid that, even discussing and refuting the “clean Wehrmacht” theory in the appendices. A lot of care was made to tell a story the right way, and avoid glamorizing anything – a fact I appreciate.
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NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.