Judaism is one of the world’s oldest religions, with many people practicing it in the modern day. Recently, I visited the Jewish Uprising and POLIN museums in Warsaw, which exposed me to the complex history of Jewish people. It made me think of how Jews are represented in comics, and it turns out there are many examples of the religion being treated with respect. There are characters that represent the traditions and resiliency of the Jewish faith. The Comic Vault is featuring four important Jewish characters to see how they are portrayed.
“My name is Max Eisenhardt. I’ve been a Sonderkommando at Auschwitz for almost two years. I watched thousands of men, women, and children walk to their deaths. I pulled their bodies from the gas chambers. I dug out their teeth so the Germans could take their gold. And I carried them to the ovens, where I learned how to combine a child’s body with an old man’s to make them burn better. I saw my fellow workers buried alive under an avalanche of rotting corpses. I saw thousands of murdered people burning in giant outdoor pits. I have seen at least a quarter million dead human beings with my own eyes…and I couldn’t save a single one.”
There’s a case to be made that Magneto is the most prominent Jewish character in the history of comics. As a Holocaust survivor, Magneto is a representation of everything the Jews suffered with during WW2. While imprisoned in Auschwitz, a young Max Eisenhardt was forced to work as a Sonderkommando. Members of this unit were forced to dispose of the bodies of gas chamber victims.
The trauma Magneto suffered made him vow that he would never let mutants be subjected to the same atrocities. He became violent and vengeful, using the same tactics the Nazis had used in the camps. There’s a bittersweetness to Magneto that highlights the strength Jewish people are capable of. Based on what he’d seen, Magneto renounced his religion, choosing to dedicate himself wholly to protecting mutants by any means necessary. For anyone interested in finding out about the character’s past then you should read X-Men: Magneto Testament and Magneto: Reversals.
“I’m Jewish. I don’t have a quote, un-quote Jewish sounding name. I don’t look or sound Jewish, whatever that looks or sounds like…So if you didn’t know I was Jewish, you might not know unless I told you. Same goes for my mutation. I don’t have to wear a visor, or have blue fur all over me. I can walk around. Just a young woman of the world. But I’m not.”
Since her creation, Kitty Pryde’s Jewish heritage has been an integral part of the character. She’s been displayed carrying out several traditions, including lighting a yahrzeit candle in memory of the dead. Shadowcat’s religious identity has become entwined with her status as a mutant. Both identities are meant to exist on the fringes of society, which is a resonant theme for the modern day.
Kitty’s status as a young Jew is important because her journey is relatable for a younger generation. In the past, she’s interacted with Magneto, and the two of them are linked by their heritage. In Uncanny X-Men #199, Shadowcat and Magneto visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to remember what their people went through. Magneto represented the wounds of the past, while Kitty highlighted the progressiveness and hope of the future.
“It’s clobberin’ time! TM, copyrighted, patent pending, supplies limited, order now, offer not valid in some states.”
As part of The Fantastic Four, The Thing is one of the most recognisable superheroes. The character’s creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, were both Jewish, so it’s likely they intended for The Thing to be Jewish from the start. However, Ben Grimm’s faith wasn’t confirmed until 2002 in the story arc Remembrance of Things Past.
The Thing’s appearance could also be a reference to the mystical Golem. The creature was made out of clay and meant to be a protector of the Jewish faith.
“There are monsters in this world. I have seen them. They don’t all have sharp fangs and long limbs. I have spent every moment since I was eight years old training myself to fight them. I might not be perfect, I may never be. But I’m better than you.”
Another important Jewish character, Batwoman’s faith is a huge part of who she is. Her religion has been depicted on several occasions. For example, Batwoman has celebrated Hanukkah with her then-girlfriend Renee Montoya.
Kate Kane’s sexuality has also been featured heavily, making her an important LGBT superhero. Her backstory as a former soldier points towards her fortitude. She became Batwoman on her own, preferring to work outside of Batman’s circle. Batwoman’s identity as a lesbian and a Jew provides diversity within the DC universe.
Visiting the Jewish museums in Warsaw gave me a new respect for what Jewish people are capable of achieving. Within comics, their journey has been reflected in a reverent manner. Can you think of any other important Jewish superheroes?