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Anne Frank, imagined as an adult, illustrated by David Polonsky (©ARI FOLMAN AND MICHAEL POLONSKY)

The most famous graphic book about the Holocaust is Maus by Art Spiegelman. Jews are drawn as mice, Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs in what is the compelling and heartbreaking story of Spiegelman’s father surviving the Holocaust. It’s drawn with virtuoso skill, and in 1992 it became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Graphic novels continue to draw on that dark time. The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt by Ken Krimstein illustrates the philosopher’s three escapes: first, her move to Berlin, followed by her escape from the Nazis to Paris, and finally, settling in New York. It looks as if it was drawn in haste, possibly relaying the experience of being on the run. Krimstein shows the circle of her contemporaries, including Marc Chagall, Marlene Dietrich, Leo Strauss, Herbert Marcuse and Sigmund Freud, and provides somewhat distracting, yet imaginative footnotes.

Krimstein, who has previously drawn cartoons for the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal, takes liberties in presenting Arendt’s feelings and thoughts. When Germany passes a law that sick Jews can only be treated by Jewish doctors, Hannah says: “Who would want to see any other kind?” At one point, the ghost of Walter Benjamin appears to her as a water stain on the ceiling of her apartment.

Arendt risked her life by doing research on Nazi propaganda for the Zionist Congress, which led to her arrest by the Gestapo. In France, she was interned at Camp Gurs, and used a politically chaotic moment to escape. In New York, she first had to work as an au pair, before an essay calling for the creation of a Jewish army caught the attention of Salo Baron. It was followed by the work that led to The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Arendt remains a misunderstood philosopher. Her coverage of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem is often trivialised. She is interpreted as having diminished the evil of Eichmann, when in reality her point was  that no single person is as evil as to have been beyond organised resistance. Her love affair with her professor, Martin Heidegger, who later became a Nazi sympathiser, also damaged her image. Here, the section dealing with Heidegger is rather too graphic. Still, the novel succeeds in depicting Arendt as the courageous and brilliant philosopher she was.

The story of Anne Frank hiding during the Holocaust is one of the most widely-read historical documents of the 21st century. This month, a graphic adaptation is published, adapted by Ari Folman and illustrated by David Polonsky. The illustrations look as if Amadeo Modigliani had drawn a Japanese manga. Some images riff on Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt. There are comic strips, full-page illustrations and diary take-outs that capture Anne’s cheeky humour as well as her episodes of depression. They retell Anne’s diary with great compassion, wit and ebullience. We see Anne’s family dramas, her growing sexuality, her and Peter’s love story, and all the key moments from the diary.
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