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Hergé, Creator of Tintin: Antisemitism for all Ages

By Benjamin Ivry

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Steven Spielberg’s 3-D Motion Capture film “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” is due for release in 2011, but already publishers are hurrying to offer books about the Belgian artist Hergé (born Georges Remi in 1907) who created its characters.

The graphic tales of the blank-faced reporter Tintin, his dog Snowy, and friend Captain Haddock, are much beloved around the world. Now that “Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin” by Pierre Assouline (Oxford University Press), a journalistic bio from 1996, and “The Metamorphoses of Tintin: or Tintin for Adults” by Jean-Marie Apostolidès (Stanford University Press) — a revised version of a 1984 psychoanalytic study — are available in English, affection for Hergé as a person may diminish.

Hergé started as an artist for fascist, antisemitic Belgian publications like “Le Soir,” which is, even today, not blameless. In 1941-42, when Belgian Jews, threatened with slave labor, wore the Yellow Star, Hergé’s Tintin adventure, “The Shooting Star,” featured a Jewish villain, Blumenstein the banker, intended, as Assouline explains, to represent the “incarnation of evil.”

Hergé, much criticized by Belgians after the Nazi defeat, revised his most egregious offenses in later editions of his books, but possibly never truly understood why they offended. In 1945, a friend who had been in a German slave labor camp returned and described Jewish concentration camp prisoners, Hergé replied: “You mistook what you saw… First of all, how do you know they were Jews? They must have been common law criminals.” While the antisemitic aura of Tintin has long been known in Europe, the new availability in English of such books will surely raise further questions about what Hergé hath wrought.

Parents anxious to avoid potentially evil writers of children’s books should turn their attention instead to “Asterix and Obelix’s Birthday: The Golden Book” co-authored by that endearing French Jew of Polish origin René Goscinny.


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Comments
hammerstein Wed. Nov 18, 2009

Dear Sir,

There many inaccuracies in your review of Mr. Assouline's book. Normal : there are many inaccuracies in Assouline's book ! It's really sad that he didn't include some corrections in the English version.

For example : yes, Hergé published a strip with a serious antisemitic connotation in the first pages of "The Shooting Star" story. It was serialized in a Belgian newspaper towards the end of 1941. The first anti-Jewish laws (yellow star, etc) were promulgated in June 1942 (in Belgium). In the album form of "The Shooting Star", issued at the end of 1942, the anti-Jewish drawings had been withdrawn by Hergé himself.

It was an initiative that you didn't find very often in Belgium at that time. Since the end of the 19th century, antisemitism was a real plague in Belgium, and the establishment certainly was judeophobic.

If Hergé had been a hard core antisemite, I think he would have kept the scandalous drawings, to please the nazi invaders, among other reasons. Hergé was reflecting the antisemitistic mood of his times. But he realized his error sooner than the Belgian population who refused to see the realities of the Shoah until the end of the 20th century.

Needless to say : my family was slaughtered during the war, and for a long time, I was very anti-Hergé. When you take time to explore the realities of the past, you can detect some inaccuracies commonly approved without enough discussion.

Benjamin Ivry Wed. Nov 18, 2009

Dear Hammerstein, Thanks for your comment, clearly based on your own family's historical experience as well as on considered thought about Hergé. Without entering into a discussion as to whether Hergé was or was not a "hard-core" antisemite, or indeed the controversial aspects of Assouline's book, it seems clear that a number of Hergé's books contained elements which were plainly racist and antisemitic, and the fact that he later altered most of these hardly changes the historical record, even if it does make some readers feel better today. The reason I cited Goscinny is to point out that it is possible to create delightful comic books for children without having to add antisemitic images to please fascists, whether withdrawn later or not!

hammerstein Thu. Nov 19, 2009

Dear Mr. Ivry, I respect your point of view, but I think you miss the "Belgian touch" when you speak of Hergé. Hergé was only a part of the Belgian society, that was indeed racist and antisemitic. I never entered Hergé's head, and I don't know if he was more or less racist than the average Belgian, but I'm sure Hergé didn't want to please fascists. The fact is that Belgium is still racist and antisemitic, and still tries to put a veil on its role in Congo and its attitude towards Jews, especially during the war. One example : in a clandestine newspaper (in 1942), they passed an advertisement saying : "whether your pro- or antisemitic, show your compassion to the Jews. It will anger the Krauts!". Here we have a newspaper ("La Libre Belgique" - Free Belgium) from the Résistance having nothing to say against antisemitism : if an antisemite, but you show compassion to the Jews, everything's all right ! At the end of the war, almost nobody had problems with tribunals regarding antisemitism and Jews had to be patient, if they wanted to recover their homes and their belongings. Belgian judges, who confiscated Jews belongings during the war were never tried later. Sorry to insist on the dark side of tiny Belgium...

Moacir Fri. Nov 20, 2009

The suggestion to buy the new Astérix book because of Goscinny is peculiar, as Goscinny has been dead for decades, and, in fact, the loss of his touch on the Astérix series has been lamented ever since Uderzo made an effort to go it alone. See, for example: http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1931169,00.html

If parents want contemporary BDs written by a Jewish author, they'd do well to follow the work of Joann Sfar, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joann_Sfar, much of which is available in English. Sfar, in fact, is making his directorial début soon with a biopic of Serge Gainsbourg.

Hillel H. Fri. Nov 20, 2009

As a Jew, I have always been uncomfortable with some of the nakedly anti-Semitic characterizations in Herge's "Adventures of Tintin" books. But as any Tintin fan (like me) knows, Herge mocks *every* ethnic/social group on the planet: Americans, Scots, Japanese, Germans, Central Americans, Greeks, Slavs, Italians, Brazilians, Native Americans, Belgians, Stalinists, Nazis, imperialists, revolutionaries, rich people, frugal people, monarchs, the middle class, church ladies, insurance salesmen, drug dealers, antique hounds, alcoholics, teatotalers, scientists, arms merchants, journalists, art critics, opera singers (and if anyone thinks his Jewish characters are uncomfortable, you should see his Arab characters, who are absolutely satirized in devastating and uncomfortable ways). No one is left unscathed, and almost everyone is exposed as a hypocrite. To me, the Tintin oeuvre is like a geopolitical Mad magazine. That's why this Jewish reader loved Tintin as a child, and that's why I still love Tintin today.




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