Author and illustrator Joe Lee is an editorial cartoonist for the Indiana Herald-Times and a staff illustrator for Our Brown County Magazine. As a former circus clown and mythology fanatic, he is a lover of stories. His most recent project is called Forgiveness: The Story of Eva Kor, Survivor of The Auschwitz Twin Experiments. It details the heartbreaking, yet empowering, story of Eva Kor and her creation of CANDLES, a Holocaust museum in Indiana. Joe spent some time telling us more about Eva and his new graphic novel.
FGN: How did you meet Eva Kor? What was it like hearing her story? What was it about her story that drew you to write this graphic novel?
Joe Lee: Eva worked tirelessly to tell her story through public appearances and her CANDLES Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana and had become a well-known survivor, especially in her home state. My wife attended one of her talks at the Museum in the summer of 2018 and told me I had to hear this dynamic woman speak. By the time I was able to finally hear her speak in person I had researched her life and the historic circumstances that led her into her situation. I conceived of the idea for doing a graphic novel/bio that would encompass the entire arc of her journey from a small village in Romania to Auschwitz/Birkenau to Forgiveness. Eva’s story is one of terrible tragedy, but most importantly of survival and the way to achieve it.
FGN: Do you feel like the visual medium helps readers truly capture the horror of what the Kor girls went through?
Joe Lee: I love to draw and have been doing it since I was six or seven years old. I also love using pictures to tell a story. For me it was natural to use whatever skill I have developed to tell Eva’s story.
The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” might not always be true but using a direct pictorial communication can sometimes fill in where words fail. Eva’s story is cinematic – visual and dramatic. The plight of the twins, and all those who suffered the barbarism of the Nazis, has been approached in almost every way humanity has of storytelling, but is only now finding its way into the graphic novel format – a format that allows for a wide-range of techniques and methods. It is a form of direct “cinema,” words and pictures, that an individual can move at their own pace. That they can slow down, speed up, stop and continue with it held in their hands.
Eva is no longer with us, so many people who lived through that experience have passed away, and we need, we MUST remember. This is my way of helping our collective memory.
FGN: Did you have to take frequent breaks when writing and drawing a story with so many traumatic events?
Joe Lee: It is a tragic story, but as Eva said to those of us on her annual pilgrimage to Auschwitz/Birkenau (and many others as well) her story is also a “happy story.” She struggled with the terrible trauma of torture and loss and she found her way of salvation –forgiveness. Yes, it is a story that I found myself incredibly affected by, but it is so important to tell that that kept me going forward.
FGN: If you could say anything to the younger generations who may not understand the impact of the Nazi Death Camps, what would that be?
Joe Lee: We all need to know this history! We all need to know OUR history. The past is the author of today and we can only make our today better for everyone by honestly knowing and working for change.
If we don’t understand how the death camps came to be and what happened in them – then we not only dishonor the terrible suffering of individuals like Eva and Miriam but we will lack the tools for building a future where such horrors can never exist again.
Remember and tell the story. Do the joyous work of forgiveness and kindness that Eva did.
FGN: Where can our readers follow your work?
Joe Lee: I am currently having my website reconstructed, so keep an eye out for joelee and most probably, illustrator, on the web. For Beginners Books, The LeGrande Sideshow and Circus Tarot (U.S. Games), Amazon, and my little shop on Etsy, joeleeillustrator, are great places to start the search
A donation of $25 has been made by FangirlNation.com to the CANDLES Museum.