Ellen Kellman

Brandeis University

Drawing Power: Michel Kichka’s Jews and Nazis in Deuxième Génération: ce que je n’ai pas dit à mon père

Michel Kichka’s graphic memoir Deuxième Génération: ce que je n’ai pas dit à mon père (studied here in its German translation) portrays the emotional constellation of a family headed by Holocaust survivors in Belgium during the 1950s and 1960s. Kichka’s primary focus is on his relationship with his father, Henri, and how Henri’s unspoken Holocaust narrative shaped Michel’s identity.

Father and son are both graphic artists, but it was not until midlife, after Henri retired from running a clothing business, that he turned to drawing as a means of portraying his experiences in several concentration camps. As a young child, Michel knew that Henri had suffered terribly during wartime, and understood that asking questions of his father was taboo. Henri gradually revealed his truths, leaving his son to construe a partial, deeply frightening narrative.

The proposed paper analyzes two pages from Deuxième Génération. On the first of these, a very young Michel sits in Henri’s lap as Henri creates a caricature of a Nazi sympathizer, giggling as he describes each feature of the ridiculous figure. Below this scene and separate from it, the adult artist Michel has added four figures: a large and impressively outfitted Nazi officer giving the Hitler salute, and three tiny Henris in concentration camp uniforms who taunt and ridicule the officer. Facing this page, Michel has reproduced several of Henri’s early caricatures of Nazis, his own sketch of Hitler, Göring and Goebbels, and a more complex drawing of an artist painting a portrait of a muscle-bound Hitler from a skinny, weakling model. The text relates that Michel created these drawings at age twelve.

These pages reveal much about Michel Kichka’s conception of power and powerlessness. He lovingly restores some of his father’s diminished masculinity through the tiny figures who taunt the Nazi while dancing out of his reach, and invokes the power of humor in the process of healing after profound trauma.

ELLEN KELLMAN researches and writes about modern Yiddish literature and literary history, specializing in the history of the Yiddish periodical press and publishing industry. Among her scholarly publications are “Faint Praise: the Early Critical Reception of Joseph Opatoshu’s Historical Novel In poylishe velder“ in Joseph Opatoshu, a Yiddish Writer, Thinker and Activist (2013); “The Pregnant Bride from Suffolk Street: Intraethnic Class Conflict in a Yiddish Serial Novel” (2012); and “Uneasy Patronage: Dovid Bergelson’s Years at the Forverts (1922-26) in Dovid Bergelson – from Modernism to Socialist Realism (2007). She teaches Yiddish language and literature and modern Jewish literature in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, and is currently offering a course entitled “Jewish Graphic Novels.” Her paper “Drawing Power: Jews and Nazis in Michel Kichka’s Deuxième Génération is her first scholarly presentation on a graphic narrative.