New ‘Chutz-Pow!’ volume puts women front and center
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New ‘Chutz-Pow!’ volume puts women front and center

Fresh ink dedicated to often overlooked group.

Building upon previous literary and artistic efforts, “Chutz-Pow! Volume Four” seeks to remind readers that Holocaust “superheroes” didn’t necessarily mask their powers with capes and costumes but exhibited unimaginable strength through grit, intelligence and resolve.

Later this month, the comic book’s newest installment will be released, and “in my unbiased opinion, they keep getting better,” said Lauren Bairnsfather, director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, which publishes the graphic series.

“CHUTZ-POW! Volume Four” Art by Marcel Walker

Whereas the first volume served as an introduction, volume two focused mostly on heroes of the resistance and volume three addressed children’s roles, “with volume four the intention was to focus on women’s stories,” said Marcel Walker, “Chutz-Pow!” project coordinator and lead project artist.

Subjects include Frieda Belifante, a Dutch musician and a member of the Dutch resistance; Margaret Bergmann, a German-Jewish athlete prevented from participating in the 1936 Olympics; Audrey Hepburn, a European-born actress and humanitarian; Noor Inayat Khan, the first female British radio operator sent to occupied France; Hedwig “Hedy” Strnad, a Prague-based independent dressmaker and shop owner; and Simone Veil, a survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp who later served as France’s minister of health and a member of the Constitutional Council of France.

Between Belifante’s sexuality, Khan’s Muslim heritage and Hepburn’s lesser known childhood, “we chose a spectrum of stories and took our time to make sure our subtext with volume four was as broad as possible,” said Walker. “There was so much subject matter to cover and we wanted it to reflect the breath of women’s stories beneath this larger umbrella of Holocaust stories.”

Couple a desire to create a “scholarly and sound” work with an increased sensitivity to the narratives shared, and this volume took considerable time to produce, noted Bairnsfather.

“It was important in this volume to address, as much as anything else, the spectrum of orientations, the spectrum of gender identities and how the shadow of the Holocaust fell over all of this,” said Walker. “These stories are part of a larger tapestry of narratives.”

Similarly, “this dedication to inclusion wasn’t just with the subjects but with the creators who were chosen to work on the volume,” continued Walker. “It’s been a long defining trait of the project: We cast our net fairly broadly, and try to stay in Pittsburgh, but we’ll go a bit beyond to make sure we have the most appropriate talent working on these volumes as possible.”

Anne Frank and Audrey Hepburn by Marcel Walker and Wayne Wise

Volume four has more creators involved than previous installments, explained Walker: “It was a juggling act, but it was worth it. There are five men, three women and two nonbinary folks working on it, and that was super important.”

It’s not as though the previous volumes avoided women, but “women’s stories tend to get erased, or not talked about, or written down, and we thought it was time to focus on that,” said Wayne Wise, “Chutz-Pow!” lead writer.

“History hasn’t been fair to women,” echoed Walker. “Unfortunately, women do not have their histories recorded the same way that men do.”

Jessie B. Ramey, director of Chatham University’s Women’s Institute and associate professor of women’s and gender studies, wrote the forward to this volume.

“We know that media shapes our culture and understanding of history as much as it reflects it,” she wrote. “This edition of ‘Chutz-Pow!’ gives us a more complete and richer account of the Holocaust, and therefore more ways to connect that history to the present and to appreciate why it matters.”

Simone Veil by Mark Zingarelli

“Representation of women matters, especially a diverse representation of women from many backgrounds,” added Ramey. “Perhaps most importantly for young audiences, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’ Girls and young women need to see themselves as active agents in their own stories, making a crucial difference in the world.”

Volume four of “Chutz-Pow!” delivers a heightened focus on women’s experiences, but those familiar with the series will find a similar message across the volumes, explained Bairnsfather: “These are stories of real people — not exaggerated, no super powers — ordinary people who did heroic things. We should all be inspired by them.”  PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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