Sunday, March 2, 2008

Superman vs. Hitler

One curious piece of Superman lore exists not among the panels but in real life. Numerous books and essays written about Superman perpetuate the claim that Superman comics were banned in Nazi Germany—in some versions, by Adolf Hitler himself.

In my earliest drafts of the Author's Note for Boys of Steel, I did my part to continue the perpetuation, trusting that the story must be true if such well-regarded sources as Gerard Jones's Men of Tomorrow referenced it (page 162).

Yet when I checked the Notes on Sources section of Men of Tomorrow, I saw that Gerry did not cite where he got the story. So I asked him. (It was not the first verification question I'd lobbed to Gerry, and he was the definition of graciousness each time.) He said Hitler banning Superman was a Siegel family story for which he had no further authentication.

Another great man I've had the honor of getting to know through my research was another Gerry, this one a Jerry: comics legend Jerry Robinson. In his essay "The Ultimate Fantasy," published in the catalogue for the Golden Age of Comic Books exhibit that originated at the Breman Jewish Heritage Museum of Atlanta, he writes, "Hitler pronounced Superman to be a 'Jew' and banned him from Germany." So I asked Jerry. He, too, had no source for the story, going on memory and accepting on faith.

My fact barometer begin to sputter and smoke. It banned me from using the banning anecdote unless I found mention of it in a non-comics-related book. I checked more than a few respected WWII histories, particularly ones focusing on propaganda, but none mentioned Superman. So I e-mailed a gaggle of professors
with special knowledge of Nazi Germany from universities including Dartmouth and Princeton, plus a couple in Germany, plus a rabbi/writer/comic book historian. Not a one knew of evidence for it.

Finally I was directed to a writer/translator named Dwight Decker. Recounting the impressive show of research he did for an article for Amazing Heroes and then Alter Ego, he convinced me that the story is most likely untrue. One point especially stood out: "
A Dutch researcher in the '80s went through collections of wartime Reichstag speeches and did not find anyone referring to Superman."

Of course, that doesn't imply that the researcher went through every speech. And perhaps Hitler was not in the Reichstag when he allegedly enacted the ban. But when added to the lack of proof I already dug up, it only suggests even more strongly that the event never happened.

Yes, Superman's creators were Jewish.
Yes, a 1940 Nazi newspaper piece did ridicule Jerry for that. Yes, Superman's Kryptonian name is Kal-El, which can mean "all that God is" in Hebrew. Yes, a 1965 TIME article says that Goebbels once wrote, "This Superman is a Jew!" (I don't know the precise source, but Goebbels did keep copious journals.) Yes, the Nazi Party did ban material from outside Germany.

But amidst a worldwide war, did Hitler himself stop and specifically single out a comic book hero as off-limits?

Unless a primary source document turns up stating that, I'm sticking with nein.

9/5/14 addendum: Trivial Pursuit is not helping.

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