Magneto in the Holocaust

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This was announced a few months ago, and now a 6-page preview is up. But I haven’t seen it making headlines, aside from a single article: Magneto, whose pre-spandex name was Erik Lensherr, is a Holocaust survivor, which is going to be explicitly documented for the first time in a new miniseries, coming from Marvel Comics in September. The first pages have just been posted — without dialogue — so go ahead, check it out, and see if you can guess which one is Magneto. (Hint: it’s probably not the physically fit kid with blond hair and blue eyes.) As Marvel so eloquently puts the premise:

Before he was the Master of Magnetism and the most radical mutant rights activist mankind has ever seen – Magneto was just a boy growing up in Nazi Germany.

Unlike other distinctly-Jewish superheroes like Sabra, and The Thing, I always thought Magneto was Roma, or Gypsy. But this excellent FAQ more or less proves that our favorite archetypal antivillain is a Member of the Tribe. As you can see, it’s always been alluded to, and never made public. That is, until writer Greg Pak says of the new miniseries, which is entitled “Magneto: Testament,” that it “follows a Jewish boy and his family through Germany and Poland from 1935 to 1945.”

More explicit, it does not get. I’ve always sort of enjoyed that “silent allusion,” not to the Holocaust, but to Magneto’s genealogy. As everyone knows, Magneto is a pretty evil guy (or can be, at times), but his kids, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, are two of Earth’s mightiest heroes. (Or they were, until the Scarlet Witch destroyed Avengers Mansion and created an alternate reality…but I digress.)

Back to the evidence at hand, pre-Testament. My favorite catch is where Magneto says “I remember my own childhood … the gas chambers at Auschwitz, the guards joking as they herded my family to their death. As our lives were nothing to them, so human lives became nothing to me.” The FAQ author, Rivka, follows it up: “Fact: no one remembers the gas chambers of Auschwitz except in two ways (or three if you believe the dead can speak to the living), either you were a Nazi SS guard or doctor or official, or you were a member of the Sonderkommando.” All told, it’s an exemplary recontextualizing of whether or not the Master of Magnetism is Jewish, Gypsy, or something else.

All told, we’ll have to see how Testament fares before we officially accept Magneto’s Jewishness as X-Men canon. Pak is an able writer who’s been able to balance emotion and plot extremely effectively in “Phoenix: Endsong” and less so in “World War Hulk.” I don’t trust him absolutely, but I trust him.

(Also, notably, “Testament” was also the title of Douglas Rushkoff‘s series of loose comic adaptations of the Torah.)

Posted on August 21, 2008

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3 thoughts on “Magneto in the Holocaust

  1. Pingback: Shabbat Surfing: Veep-A-Licious Suspense « The Blog at 16th and Q

  2. Reuel

    Wow!!! I need to get my hands on this!
    I wasn’t as avid an X-Men fan as others, but my cousin loved/loves it, so I ended up being exposed to it. I was pleasantly surprised when Magneto was shown Jewish in the X-Men live-action movies, even showing him as a child in Germany his family being taken away from him (his powers became manifested then). They showed his tattoo at times, too.
    I certainly figured that that aspect of young Erik’s life was a deciding factor in the birth of Magneto. It’s been a long time coming that this should be explored. This should certainly be a rewarding read!

  3. The Doctor

    Magneto was explicitly Jewish and a survivor when last I actively read X-men some 20 years ago, after Kitty Pryde was introduced as an explicitly Jewish character [who pointed out that her relationship with a Russian superhero would never fly with her parents because he wasn’t Jewish] but before Ben Grimm [Fantastic Four] was depicted sneaking out of a shul in disguise after coming to say Kaddish. The writers are on record as seeing the mutants as a metaphor for Jews from the beginning, and in that context the parallels in the various plot lines especially early on are fascinating…

    I have recollections of an interview with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 90’s talking about how they had envisioned many of these characters as Jewish when first introduced in the 1960’s but feeling that they couldn’t depict them that way openly until the 1980’s [commercially speaking]. Reportedly Kirby has a sketch of Ben Grimm as The Thing wearing tallit and tefillin that he did in 1964…

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