The people who present the continuing adventures of Superman have apologized publicly for censoring the word “Jews” from a Holocaust plot. But some Jewish defense groups said the apology isn’t enough.
Rhonda Barad, Eastern Region director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called on DC Comics to write a letter of apology and explanation on its Internet web site, and in the upcoming letters section of the comic book. “I don’t like their apology,” Barad said. “I think it is incumbent on them to get a Holocaust scholar or Art Spiegelman [the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist] to explain how they made this mistake and why there is no excuse for it.”
Myrna Shinbaum, a spokeswoman for the Anti-Defamation League, agreed. “These comics books are already in the hands of untold numbers of young people,” she said. “While we accept their apology that there was no intent to offend, we believe it would serve their readership to clarify the situation by explaining that Jews were the target of the Final Solution, which resulted in the death of 6 million, including 1 million Jewish children.”
A spokeswoman for DC Comics did not respond to the request as of Wednesday.
The apology by DC Comics editor-in-chief Jenette Kahn last Friday followed a report in The Jewish Week in which Holocaust experts criticized the Time Warner-owned publishers for fostering a “Judenrein Holocaust” by deleting the ethnic identity of the victims and perpetrators.
The story, marking the 60th anniversary of Superman’s first appearance, finds the Man of Steel traveling back in time to see Nazi atrocities firsthand and battle alongside Warsaw Ghetto resistance fighters.
“It was a lapse. It was a mistake. I’m sorry,” Kahn said of the deletions.
She said Superman editor Joey Cavalieri had good intentions when he decided to excise the word “Jews” from the July and August issues of the monthly comic “Superman: Man of Steel.” The comic did have numerous graphic references, like men wearing yarmulkes, and characters had Hebrew names.
Writer-artist Jon Bogdanove said he meticulously researched the Holocaust, even contacting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. He had included the word “Jews.”
In apologizing for an “overly sensitive” Cavalieri, Kahn stated: “He was worried about having Nazi characters use Jewish slurs. He was concerned that young kids would repeat the slurs and that young Jewish kids would read it and be given a negative stereotype.”
Instead, awkward phrases were used to replace “Jews.” For example, when reporter Lois Lane discovers Hitler’s secret plan to exterminate Jews, she refers to it as “The Nazi’s Final Solution to ridding the world of peoples they hate.”
In another case Jews are referred to as the “target population of the Nazis’ hate.” In a third reference, they are called the “murdered residents” of a bombed-out city called Shtetl.
“It was not the intention of DC Comics to imply that Jews did not suffer during the Holocaust, and we apologize to those people that came away with that impression,” said DC spokeswoman Martha Thomases.
It became clear this week that the editing of the word Jewish from the Superman story was not a DC policy.
A recent issue of “The Batman Chronicles” quarterly comic book includes an imaginary story that envisions Batman’s secret identity to be a wealthy Jewish artist living in Nazi-controlled Berlin under the name “Baruch Wane” rather than Bruce Wayne.
“Wane was yet a boy when he tragically learned how he and the other Jews were hated by their neighbors,” the story explains.
The plot even has a Nazi official referring derisively to Picasso as a Spanish Jew.
Meanwhile, sales took off this week in light of the controversy, as several comic book shops sold out of the issues of “Superman: Man of Steel,” one of four monthly titles starring the world’s first superhero.
“We’ve had to reorder, which means other shops have had to reorder,” said Gary Gladston at Midtown Comics in Manhattan. “People are coming in who don’t normally read it.”
Gareb Shamus, publisher of Wizard magazine, which reports on the comics, said “The Man of Steel” title sells 75,000 to 100,000 copies per month. He said the readership ranges from mid-teens to adults.
The Superman plot was commissioned to help celebrate the debut of the red-caped Man of Tomorrow, created by two Cleveland Jewish high-schoolers, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, during the mid-1930s, even as Hitler was preparing his assault on Europe.
The Superman flap is ironic, considering the Jewish connection to the character. Superman’s Kryptonian name is Kal-el, which in Hebrew could mean “voice of God” or “God is all.”
Siegel’s widow, June, in a 1996 interview with The Jewish Week said she never heard her husband deny the Jewish underpinning of Superman, who like the Jews after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem were forced to live in a strange world, keeping their true identities secret — like Clark Kent hiding behind glasses and a felt hat.