Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Graphic Novel Challenge: The Boxer

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The Boxer follows the life of Hertzko 'Harry' Haft. Haft was born in 1925 and in 1941, he was deported to Auschwitz. There, more or less by chance, he became a boxer and fought against other prisoners for the entertainment of the SS guards. He survived not only Auschwitz, but several other camps and death marches until he could escape and was picked up by US troops in 1945.

After his emigration to the US, he continued to box until his final fight against Rocky Marciano, which he lost. The fight may or may not have been bought by the mafia. Haft retired, married and ran a store in Brooklyn. He told his son Alan about his life in 2003, after keeping it a secret for all those years and Alan wrote his biography that was turned into a comic by Reinhard Kleist.

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Kleist's style reminded me of the drawings and wood engravings by Ernst Barlach, especially in the concentration camp scenes, and the thick, stark lines give those scenes even more of an impact. I'm very glad that the book does not concentrate only on Haft's experiences during his time in Auschwitz because his story deserves to be told in full and all that comes before and after is just as interesting. It would be a great disservice to Haft to see him solely as a boxer who fought for his life in a concentration camp.

The book has an appendix on other, mostly Jewish, boxers who were forced to fight in concentration camps - there were many of them, some professionals, some who just could fight and very few survived. Almost every concentration camp had organised fights to entertain the guards and very often, the loser was executed. Triumph of the Spirit tells the story of another survivor, Salamo Arouch and I knew about Johann Trollmann, who was denied the light-heavyweight title he won in 1933 because he was a Sinto. He was killed in a concentration camp in 1945 after being forced to fight many times, often against SS men who wanted the satisfaction of winning against him. Other names were unknown to me, so I very much appreciated the additional information included in the appendix.

10th book for the Graphic Novel Challenge
14th book for the Library Challenge
Reviews 2013

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