The Photographer of Mauthausen Review.

From Salva Rubio, Pedro J. Colombo, Aintzane Landa. Published by Dead Reckoning.

This is a graphic novel retelling of part of Francisco Boix’s life. At the start of World War II Boix, “a Spanish press photographer and communist who fled to France”, is sent to Mauthausen concentration camp. By fate and chance he is chosen to assist an SS officer documenting the prisoner deaths in photos. Boix risks everything to get these photos out to the rest of the world as evidence of the atrocities the Nazis are committing.

Photographer is a horribly difficult read. As the source material demands. It is also a beautiful read and that makes this a conflicting but worthwhile read.

The story seems unbelievable. Not that Boix along with some other prisoners were able to sneak out the negatives. It almost reads like a heist movie. All of the moving pieces that have to take place just right in order to guarantee the success of the mission. It is stunning, dramatic, and scary. I could feel my chest weighing heavier and heavier with each panel and each page. Bad things are going to happen. Bad things are going to happen. I know this is historical. I know everyone who died and everyone who came out of the camp alive already happened and I can do nothing to change that. Yet I was still praying and hoping for Francisco to be safe.

Mostly it is unbelievable because every time I read another tale of what happened inside of a concentration camp I am introduced to all new horrors. It may not be possible to ever know every terrible way people were made to die at these prisons. The rock quarry within Mauthausen is such a “simple” way to drive people to death. Everyone has had painful jobs but to be literally worked to death is a nightmare we can ‘feel’. In addition to every other ghastly act committed.

Thankfully because of Boix and unsung heroes the rest of the world can know what happened. Truth and proof become harder to come by every day. This isn’t a new phenomenon, as this story reminds the reader multiple times. Evidence is needed or else the rest of the world won’t be able to believe what happened. Genocide of this scale. A fascination with death. Turning bodies into art.

And that comes through in this book too. This is beautifully done. The detail is incredible. Whether it is buildings or faces or moments taken right from Boix’s own work. Or the subtle way that Colombo shows the prisoners becoming more frail, weaker, sicker, as the story progresses. The way that the colors by Landa add an incredible amount to the story. No blues or greens except for the rare scenes outside the prison gates. No reds except for blood or the developing of negatives. No yellows or oranges except for burning bodies. These choices make these images come to life and in turn allow the darker grayer pages express the death and despair that was a constant part of what remained of their lives.

I saw a copy of this come through my local library and I hope it’s going to one of the schools. To teach kids about arguably the greatest evil that ever walked the Earth. The importance of every little person that makes a stand. The importance of press and photography. The importance of even one person taking a stand against what is wrong even when death lies ahead.

(A review copy was provided by Dead Reckoning.)

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