Thanks to a curious library volunteer, Canadians learned of the discovery of a rare comic book honoring Jewish World War II heroes in time for the country’s Remembrance Day, November 11.
The National Post reported on October 31 that the 1944 comic book, “Jewish War Heroes,” turned up in a box of books donated to the Kelly Library at the University of Toronto’s St. Michael’s College. The comic book was the first installment of a three-issue series published by the Canadian Jewish Congress to raise awareness about Jewish participation in the war effort against Nazi Germany and the Axis powers. The series was a means of combating the incorrect perception among some Canadians that Jewish citizens were shirking their national duty.
Each page of the found comic book was devoted to a different featured Jewish war hero. Yank Levy wrote a book on guerrilla warfare and appeared on the cover of Life magazine; Israel Fisanovitch was a Soviet submarine captain; and Brigadier Frederick Hermann Kisch and Alfred Brenner received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The first issue contained an informational page stating that 1.5 million Jews were known to be serving in the various Allied armies, navies and air forces — the bulk of them in the US and Soviet armed forces (500,000 each). There were at least 12,000 Jews in Canadian uniform, the same number as from Australia, New Zealand and Africa combined. Palestine and the UK each had 50,000 Jewish officers and enlisted men and women.
“One out of every seven Jewish men and women all over the world are in uniform,” the narrative stated.
It is not known how many copies of “Jewish War Heroes” were originally printed. It is believed that only a small number have survived.
Sylvia Lovegren, the library volunteer who found the comic book tucked between the pages of a book on WWII, did some research that turned up a few other existing original copies (computer scans and photocopies of the series are more common).
“There are two library-bound copies in Toronto…Other than that, there is a copy in the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC and one in the National Library of Israel,” Lovegren told The National Post.
While most Canadians may not have been aware of this rare comic book, or of the extent of Jewish participation and valor in the WWII, the discovery of the “Jewish War Heroes” among the donated library books did not completely surprise Jewish comics aficionados.
“I certainly knew about it,” Steven M. Bergson told The Times of Israel. In fact, the data processing specialist for the Toronto UJA and the editor of Jewish Comix Anthology has owned photocopies of “Jewish War Heroes” for some years.
‘One out of every seven Jewish men and women all over the world are in uniform’
For Jewish comic book fans and scholars, what makes “Jewish War Heroes” so special, however, is that it is an early example of Canadian Jewish involvement in comics. Although by 1944 comic books were becoming popular with kids and some adults, there were really no Jews involved in the comic book industry in Canada. A few Canadian Jews eventually ended up moving south of the border to the US, where the industry was more robust and noted Jewish creators, like Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, were associated with it.
Ironically, the Canadian Jewish Congress-commissioned comic book series was drawn by a non-Jew. George Menendez Rae, who is best remembered for his national superhero, Canada Jack, illustrated the work.
“No Jews worked on comics in Canada, in either writing or drawing until the 1980s,” said Bergson.
According to Bergson, an auction house in Israel sold originals of issues 1 and 2 of the series for $800. The National Post quoted Peter Birkemoe, owner of Toronto comic book shop The Beguiling, as saying that he thought that the comic books would go for between $1,000 and a price “close to five figures” at auction now.