That one spoon. That’s all Emmie Arbel has left of her mother. And the traumatic memories that still haunt the elderly woman 80 years later: the deportation of her family, Jews living in Holland, when she was four; the abrupt separation of father and brother; the murderous everyday life in Ravensbrück; the mother’s starvation in the camp; their own narrow survival.

The comic artist Barbara Yelin (“Irmina”), who lives in Munich, put Emmie Arbel’s descriptions of her childhood on paper in multi-layered watercolor crayon pictures. The dark colors and the details of the historical sequences, which are often only outlined in outline, contrast with the light, realistic line with which Yelin captured her encounter with Arbel in contemporary Israel.

Four Holocaust survivors, three artists from Israel, Canada and Germany, and a good dozen scientists and other experts worked on it for around three years. The book will be published in German this week, and on Friday there will be a public book presentation with Barbara Yelin in Berlin.

A teenager in Canada gave the first impetus: the son of Charlotte Schallié, a professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia and the initiator of the project. “He had trouble reading and explored many difficult topics with the help of graphic novels,” said Schallié recently during a visit to Germany. She is a Germanist and an expert on the history of the Holocaust.

Based on her son’s experiences, Schallié had the idea of ​​bringing survivors and comic artists together to create vivid pictorial narratives. It should be about the past, but also about its importance for the present.

That’s why one of the specifications was that the artists themselves became the actors in their stories. Barbara Yelin, for example, who had previously repeatedly dealt with the Holocaust, spent four days in Israel with Emmie Abel and then kept in regular contact with her.

“Our artistic approach helped the survivors recall new memories and reconnect with the testimonies they had borne many times before,” writes Schallié in the afterword of the book, which has also recently been published in North America.

The comics developed for “But I’m alive” “make the interrelationship between past and present transparent in an artful, tender way,” said historian Brigitte Korn recently at the presentation of an exhibition on the project in the Stadtmuseum Erlangen, of which Korn is the director. The exhibition opened in June on the occasion of the International Comic Salon and can be seen until August 28th.

In addition to Barbara Yelin, who also worked for the Tagesspiegel for a number of years, the Israeli illustrator Gilad Seliktar and the American-Israeli artist Miriam Libicki, who lives in Canada, met with other contemporary witnesses for “But I’m alive” and prepared the experiences in comic stories . They were supported by historians, teachers, librarians and archivists, and their comics are supplemented in the book by well-founded background texts, graphics and other factual information.

In his contribution “Thirteen Secrets”, Gilad Seliktar tells of the survival of the two brothers Nico and Rolf Kamp, who, as Dutch Jews, escaped deportation by the German occupiers by fighting for several years with the help of a resistance network and several families involved hidden in 13 locations.

Seliktar’s drawing style is realistic on the one hand, but there are many sketchy scenes on the other. “I tried to capture the vagueness of the memories,” reported the draftsman at the opening of the exhibition in Erlangen.

Using subtle gradations of drawing style and colors, he conveys, among other things, the change in time levels and shows where the memories of the two brothers differ from each other and where their perspectives on what they experienced around 80 years ago complement each other.

In the article “Beyond the Rules”, Miriam Libicki tells of her encounters with David Schaffer, who was deported with his family from Romania to an inhospitable region in Transnistria in 1940 and probably only survived because he and his parents disobeyed the rules of the fascist authorities.

In her drawings, some of which are reminiscent of infographics, Libicki was also visually inspired by David Schaffer. He became an engineer in Canada after the war and has collected in his personal archive numerous technical-looking drawings that illustrate certain aspects of his family history, from cross-sections of the sugar beets they collected from fields for emergency food to the wood-burning stove in an abandoned shack that they served as a shelter and saved them from dying of cold in winter.

“But I’m alive” continues a long tradition of using comics to tell the story of the genocide of European Jews. The encounters of younger authors with survivors processed in this volume are reminiscent of a classic of the genre, Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”, in which the New York artist processed the long conversations with his father about his experiences during the Nazi era from the 1980s onwards Has. Since then, dozens more reminiscences of eyewitnesses have been told as comics.

Through the accompaniment of scientific and didactic experts as well as through the compilation of three very different survival stories and their processing by artists with concise personal styles, “But I Live” shows in an exemplary manner that the possibilities of this type of historiography are far from exhausted.

Some of the survivors interviewed here were initially skeptical about the art form of comics, Barbara Yelin said at the opening of the exhibition in Erlangen. But then her interlocutor, Emmie Arbel, said she would try anyway because it was important to tell stories like hers so that something like the Holocaust never happens again.

David Schaffer, who took part in a conversation with Miriam Libicki via video link at the Comic Salon, made a similar statement. He hopes that future generations will continue to grapple with the Nazi era. “Freedom is not a gift from heaven,” he said in his closing remarks. “You have to fight for it every day – please keep that in mind.”