Being Exiled in WWII France: Graphic Novels of German women inmates in Rieucors and Gurs Camps

Pnina Rosenberg

Despite of the current intensive research on graphic narratives concerned with Holocaust survival, memory and testimony, studies of the rich corpus of graphic novels done by camps inmates in situ is somewhat marginal. The aim of this paper is to analyze several graphic diaries done by exiled German women interned in the French camps Rieucros and Gurs.

The German-Jewish Communist, Dora Schaul (1913, Berlin-2000, idem.) who sought refuge in France after the mount of the Nazism, was imprisoned in the women’s camps Rieucros and Brens at the outbreak of the war. Shaul, an amateur artist, illustrated accurately the various facets of camp life, unfolding not only the inmates‘ hardship, but also their camaraderie that helped them to endure their suffering. Sylta Busse-Reismann (1906, Westerland-1989, Augsburg), a theatre set designer of German origin, was a political refugee and was also interned in Rieucros. She produced a series of color paintings and pencil drawings representing various aspects of the inmates‘ life in a somewhat embellished-theatrical style, that vividly reconstruct the women-prisoners‘ Sisyphean struggle to maintain their dignity as feminine human beings.

Following the Oktoberdeportation (1940) Liesel-Aliza Felsenthal-Basnizki (1924, Kaiserslautern – 2000, Beit Nekofa, Israel) was interned in Gurs camp, where she produced Gurs 1941. In subtle observance and young girl’s innocence, Felsenthal minutely depicted on 18 aquarelles, daily routine in the women’s barracks.

Those confessional autographies not only reflect the artists‘ rootlessness but also their struggle to create some order in their otherwise chaotic world.