New Book Unites Holocaust Survivors With Jewish Cartoonists

Their stories are given a graphic retelling in But I Live: Three Stories of Child Survivors of the Holocaust.

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But I Live: Illustrating Holocaust Survivor Stories

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When: November 30 at 7 p.m.

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Where: Central Library, 350 W. Georgia St., Vancouver


David Schaffer and his family survived in Romania during World War II due to their refusal to obey Nazi collaborators. His story is given a graphic retelling in But I Live: Three Stories of Child Survivors of the Holocaust.

Edited by Charlotte Schallié, a professor of German and Slavic studies at the University of Victoria, the new book unites the survivors with cartoonists Barbara Yelin, Gilad Seliktar and Miriam Libicki. Yelin is an artist living in Munich and Seliktar is an Israeli illustrator. Libicki lives in Vancouver, as does her model, David Schaffer. Along with Schallié, both will speak at a VPL panel on November 30.

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Schallié found Libicki the old-fashioned way. “Apparently, he googled something like ‘Jewish graphic novel’ or maybe ‘Jewish Canadian graphic novel’ and my name came up,” Libicki said.

Miriam Libicki illustrates David Schaffer's story of his family's exile in the Romanian forests in But I Live: Three Stories of Child Survivors of the Holocaust.
Miriam Libicki illustrates David Schaffer’s story of his family’s exile in the Romanian forests in But I Live: Three Stories of Child Survivors of the Holocaust. Photo by Miriam Libicki

Originally from Ohio, Libicki is known in comedy circles for Jobnik!, a self-published title chronicling her time in the Israeli military. She is also the author of Toward a Hot Jew, a book of graphic essays.

Schallié arranged a meeting for her with Schaffer, then 89 years old.

“There were a couple of possible options, but I guess other survivors he spoke to didn’t really understand what graphic novels are,” Libicki said. “I think someone had the idea that we were making a movie and then said, ‘Do I have all the rights?’ But David’s wife is a visual artist, a painter. So even though he wasn’t familiar with graphic novels, except perhaps from watching his grandkids read them, he came up with the idea.”

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Libicki met with Schaffer just before the start of the pandemic to discuss her memories of the events. She felt close to him right away, she says. In her voice and her mannerisms, she reminded him of her grandfather, also a Holocaust survivor. Her grandfather had died a couple of years before she met Schaffer.

“I don’t know if he felt the same way about me or if he was just being polite and charming,” she said. “But we hit it off and then I showed him my sketches and stuff. And then he began to tell the story of him ”.

New book But I Live pairs cartoonists with Holocaust survivors.
New book But I Live pairs cartoonists with Holocaust survivors. Photo by Gilad Seliktar /University of Toronto Press

She had already read a transcript of an interview he had conducted with student researchers, but hearing from him directly helped shape the story she wanted to tell.

“If you read a transcript, you can say, OK, that story is dramatic, happy or sad. But if you actually listen to it and see someone say it, then you understand more about what it means to them. And because she was asking him more visual questions, she was remembering different things.”

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Libicki wanted to avoid familiar images, she says.

“I thought the important part of the story was when he and his family were in the woods, so I wanted to get over everything that happened before then relatively quickly.” The Romanian Nazis exiled the family and other Jews to the Bucovina forests in Romania, where they had to forage for food to survive.

“But he said that first part of the story, when they were put into cattle cars at the train station, was one of his worst memories, and he could still hear it and see it. So, to honor that memory, I made the scene bigger and more detailed.”

The two also discussed the title. Originally, Libicki wanted to call him If we had followed the rules, he wouldn’t be here, something Schaffer said during their second meeting.

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“I really love that sentence because it sums up a lot and also points to other questions that would engage the reader. But he said that when he told people about the project, he couldn’t remember the title. When he said that, I was like, that’s fair.”

They settled on A Kind of Resistance, based on a speech Schaffer makes towards the end.

“He basically says that he has a problem with the word resistance, that ‘maybe people would think we didn’t resist.’ But if you openly resisted, they would kill you. All we did was resist.’”

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