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translated by gila brand
“the plot: the secret story of the protocols of the elders of zion” by will eisner is one of the most extraordinary comic books ever written is now in the bookshops. this comic book is not about superheroes or zany adventures. it is a documentary about the most notorious anti-semitic diatribe of all time – “the protocols of the elders of zion.” and it is the swan song of will eisner, arguably america’s most famous and influential cartoonist.
american jews were always dominant in the comic book industry, both on the business side and the artistic side - even more so than in the hollywood film industry. nevertheless, one rarely came across comic books or movies featuring jewish characters or jewish subject matter. jewish cartoonists chose all-american themes as a conduit for integrating and assimilating in the local culture. superman and spiderman, those true-blue american heroes, are the creations of jewish cartoonists.
only in recent years have jewish themes come into their own, with more and more jews coming out of the closet and using jewish elements in their creative work. the most famous example is art spiegelman, whose “maus” cartoon strip on the horrors of the holocaust offer a unique take on holocaust remembrance in popular culture. in his later years, another famous cartoonist,will eisner, began to incorporate jewish themes in his work.
unlike others in the field, eisner did not disappear after establishing a name for himself. he continued to develop artistically, and died as famous as he was at the start of his career. one of the most important prizes in the american comic book industry, the eisner awards, is named for him. his last comic book, “the plot: the secret story of the protocols of the elders of zion” was published several months before his death, this past january.
eisner, born in 1917, was one of the leading lights of american comics. he began publishing in 1936, and was active until he died at the age of 86 – something of a record for cartoonists. his most famous character is the spirit, a private eye named denny colt, whom everyone thinks is dead. he takes advantage of this to fight crime and evil from his hideout in the local cemetery. unlike his supernaturally endowed colleagues, colt makes do with a small mask and operates without special powers. eisner’s stories were highly acclaimed in their time (1940-1952) for their narrative excellence, humor and sophisticated character development. without saying so explicitly, it was clear to the readers that colt was jewish.
eisner left the world of freelance cartooning for many years, producing instructional cartoon strips for the u.s. army. he also wrote the first scholarly analysis of comics in the united states, “comics and sequential art,” in which he tried to show that cartoons were a serious art form.
to everyone’s surprise, he returned to narrative comics in 1978, with a new genre called the “graphic novel” (which had existed for many years in france, but not in the united states). among his themes were memories of growing up in new york, the life of a cartoonist and the history of a new york neighborhood from the days of the dutch settlers until modern times. these books served as an inspiration to many jewish cartoonists, among them art spiegelman himself.
at a later stage, eisner began to take an interest in broader jewish themes. in 2003, he published a graphic novel called “fagin the jew,” based on the character of fagin from charles dickens’ “oliver twist.” in it, he tells the story from the perspective of fagin, who was turned into an anti-semitic stereotype.
but before his death, eisner completed “the plot: the secret story of the protocols of the elders of zion” – his most monumental jewish work.the history of a fraudulent document purporting to describe a plan of action to achieve jewish world dominantion .a document document that served as a pretext and rationale for anti-semitism and warrant for genocide in the whole of the 20 century .
the protocols and their origin
the true origin of the protocols, according to novelist and scholar umberto eco, who has researched the subject, goes back to the adventure stories featuring long dialogues and convoluted plots that appeared in installments in popular french newspapers. in these stories, brave heroes rescued beautiful maidens from the clutches of evil rich men and scheming jesuit priests. even famous authors like alexander dumas and eugene sue wrote such stories.
in 1844-1845,sue wrote “the wandering jew,” a lengthy saga about the fight of an immortal jew against the evil forces of the jesuits and their satanic leader, rodin, who are plotting to take over the world. in another of sue’s books, “the mystery of the people” (1848-1856), we find a document sent to rodin, the jesuit villain by the general of the society father roothaan
( a historical figure ), describing a jesuit plot to take over the human race, a plot in which “the end sanctifies the means.” rudolf hero of sue famous pervious novel mysteres de paris comes into possession of the document and reveals it to the other democracy-loving characters :”you see my dear lebrenn. how cunningly this infernal plot is ordered
‘and what frightful sorrows ,what horrendous enslavement ,what terrible despotism it would spell for europe and the world ,were it to succeed…”
all the important elements in “the protocols of the elders of zion” are cribbed from these adventures stories of sue.
seven years after sue’s book came out, a revolutionary by the name of maurice joly lifted whole passages from it and used them in a mock dialogue between machiavelli and the reformist philosopher montesquieu as the two sit in hell. joly insinuated that napoleon iii was trying to overthrow the world. joly’s book was banned in france and he was thrown into jail. if not for the use to which it was put later, the book would have been forgotten altogether.
at 1868 a german writer by the name of hermann goedsche ( a criminal which had tried to bring the fall of a democrat politician in germany with false documents and went to prison as a result) lifted a segment from a story by alexander dumas “giuseppe belasmo”( 1849) in which dumas described a meeting of the illumanity a occult secret organization , were the magician calgliostro and other chiefs of the organization arrange the affair of the diamond necklace against the french queen and bring by it the right climate for the french revolution and the destruction of the monarchy .
goedsch had incorporated those elements in a tale of his own “biarritz “(1868) which he had published under the pseudonym of “sir john retcliffe.“ about jews conspiring secretly in the jewish cemetery . in prague ,where they meet near the tomb of juda lew the legenday creatore of the artifial man the golem and plan achiving dominion on the world. instead of calgliostro and co goedsce bring on the representives of the twelve tribes of israel ,who meet to prepare the conquest of the world.
passages from these books were subsequently copied by russian agents (who apparently had no idea they were lifting material originally plagiarized from a popular work of fiction). the russians did some light editing in order to portray a jewish conspiracy against humanity promoted by a jew named theodor herzl, who presented his plan to the “elders of zion” in basel. and so “the protocols” was born – a book that had a shocking impact on the history of 20th century had come to the hands of hitler and served as a warrant for the destruction of the jews . and it was all a blend of a jesuit plan invented by the writer sue as presented in a masonic meeting invented by writer dumas with several small but significant changes, .
eisner’s interest in the subject was sparked by an arab web site he came across while surfing the internet. he was stunned by the discovery that at the end of the 20th century there were still many people who thought “the protocols” were genuine, and that he had stumbled upon one of many web sites, in arabic and other languages, disseminating lies he thought had been exposed long ago. he made up his mind to illuminate the darkness by turning the story of “the protocols” into a graphic novel.
in 1999, eisner learned the identity of the real author of “the protocols” -mathieu golovinski, a russian from an aristocratic family that had lost its fortune. his father had been a friend of dostoyevsky. a russian historian by the name of mikhail lepekhine was doing research in the archives of the russian secret police when he found proof that “the protocols” were written in 1898 by golovinski, who was living in france at the time (ironically, this golovinski ended up working for trotsky, the man who so many anti-semites regarded as the ringleader of the conspiracy described in “the protocols”). eisner decided to include this material in his book.
but what eisner offers us here is neither a thriller nor a “graphic” novel. anyone merely looking for a story will be disappointed. in practice, it is a continuation of the educational work he did for the american army. the book articulates his credo that comics can convey complicated ideas in a simple manner, comprehensible to all. eisner has put together a “graphic history,” admittedly fascinating, which traces the route of “the protocols” in words and pictures, from joly, who was hoping to bring about the downfall of napoleon iii, to the petty forger, golovinski, a corrupt nobleman who cooked up a fake conspiracy on the orders of the russian secret police, and finally, a power-crazed priest by the name of nilus who sincerely believed in their authenticity. even winston churchill was taken in, although atimes reporter in the early 20th century produced what was hailed at the time as definite proof that the document was a forgery.
“the protocols” were like an octopus. every time a tentacle was lopped off, it grew back again. eisner links the spread of “the protocols” to the resurgence of violence against the jews in europe. he presents the material in the most non-graphic way possible. entire pages are devoted to a word by word comparison between “the protocols” and joly’s writings. i wonder if even one reader out of ten will actually read the whole thing. but eisner apparently felt the publication of this material was vital.
today, although it is well known that “the protocols” are a forgery, they continue to flourish on anti-semitic internet sites, attracting eager new audiences in the islamic world. “the protocols” are referred to on tv news programs around the globe - in germany, argentina, france, brazil, egypt, syria, bahrain and russia. in egypt and syria, a television series based on “the protocols” presents it as the uncontested truth. the trouble is that eisner’s “the plot” does not work as a story. at most, it is an effective history lesson - although perhaps this was eisner’s intention. he even provides an index, such as one finds in scholarly texts. it goes to show how much importance he attached to this supposedly lowly medium as a way of keeping the lie from spreading further.
eisner’s belief in the ability of comic books to influence is almost religious. he died hoping that this book would “drive yet another nail into the coffin of this terrifying fraud.” the latest word is that it has been translated into french and will be used in schools as a textbook, as part of the government’s battle against anti-semitism.
the protocols - egypt
it is interesting that eisner ended his long career with this particular book. in a certain sense, “the protocols” are a kind of mirror image of the comics produced by jews like himself. these comics are jewish power fantasies peopled by superheroes fighting crazed conspirators seeking to take over the world. in “the plot,” eisner is dealing with the ultimate anti-semitic fantasy of the jew with demonic powers scheming to take over the world.
eisner the cartoonist, in his battle against evil, tyranny and falsehood, reminds us very much of his own heroes. one might also argue that the fantasy of “the protocols,” the outgrowth of a popular form of french fiction in the mid-19th century, is not that different from the fantasies that eisner and his colleagues produced and marketed in the united states and around the world for many decades.
eli eshed the author of “the golem,” a comic book in hebrew published by modan.