Stories of Genocide Survivors in Graphic Novels

Witnesses of Violence

Our perspectives on the past are largely shaped by the stories of those who experienced it. Especially when it comes to sweeping, violent events of 20th-century history, personal stories help us understand the past. During this event, witnesses, researchers and artists explore in what ways graphic novels can capture stories of violence and genocide. As a creative interpretation, graphic novels do not claim to provide a direct or all-encompassing record of events, yet they visualize their later impact.

The project Survivor-centred Visual Narratives, initiated in Canada, investigates how visual narratives can help victims of genocidal and other mass violence find a voice. How can they work in dialogue with graphic novel artists to interpret and record their experiences? Amongst others, the project includes Yezidis and Syrian war refugees who escaped physical violence.

This international project builds on a prior collaboration between witnesses, researchers and graphic novelists that focused on narrative art, visual storytelling and education around Holocaust and human rights. From this, two graphic novels recently emerged: But I Live: Three Stories of Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Emmie Arbel. Die Farbe der Erinnerung.

About the speakers

Tobi Dahmen grew up in Wesel on the Rhine and studied visual communication in Düsseldorf. From 1999 he has been working as a comic artist and illustrator. Since 2008 he lives in Utrecht. His 2015 graphic novel Fahrradmod (published in German and Dutch editions) won the Rudolph Dirks Award in the category ‘Best Scenario’. This May his new graphic novel Columbusstrasse, eine Familiengeschichte (a WWII family history) will be published by Carlsen.

Charlotte Schallié is a Professor of Germanic Studies and Chair of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies at the University of Victoria, Canada. Her teaching and research interests include memory studies, visual culture studies & graphic narratives, teaching and learning about the Holocaust, and genocide and human rights education. She edited the graphic novel But I live portraying four Holocaust survivors, and she is project lead and co-director of the Survivor-centred Visual Narratives Project.

Akram al-Saud is from Deir Ez-Zor and now lives in the Netherlands. He has been arrested four times before fleeing from Syria. His longest detention began at March 28th, 2010—before the revolution—and lasted for nine months. At the time, he was a student at the Faculty of Architecture in Aleppo, and was arrested by the intelligence services of the air force. After the 2011 revolution he was arrested three more times.

Leyla Ferman is a political scientist based in Germany, focusing on human rights, genocides and the Middle East. She is currently leading FERMAN, a documentation and education project on the Yazidi genocide of the Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation.

Kees Ribbens is a historian working at the NIOD Institute in Amsterdam and Erasmus University Rotterdam with a keen interest in the ways in which wars and genocides are remembered and represented. Ribbens is an avid reader of graphic novels.

Uğur Ümit Üngör is Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Amsterdam and the NIOD Institute. His main areas of interest are genocide and mass violence, with a particular focus on the modern and contemporary Middle East. He is co-leading the Research cluster Iraq & Syria in the Survivor-centred Visual Narratives Project.

Barbara Yelin is a German comics creator who has won several awards in Germany including the Max & Moritz Prize, and the Ernst-Hoferichter-Preis. She studied illustration at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences and graduated in 2004. She published various graphic novels, and contributed to But I live published by the University of Toronto Press. Her presentation of the memories of Holocaust survivor Emmie Arbel was recently continued in her latest book Die Farbe der Erinnerung.

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