I guess the Germans moved on and I didn't.
--MIRIAM KATIN, Letting It Go
Comics memoirs have the "potential... to open up new and troubled spaces," as Gillian Whitlock has observed (976). Miriam Katin's Letting It Go, an autobiographical comic published in 2013, opens up these spaces in spectacular fashion by telling a new story of Holocaust traumatic memory. It is at once a manic romp by her irrepressiblywitty slightly foul-mouthed--in four languages--Hungarian-American protagonist Miriam, its narrated I, and a deadly serious engagement by Katin's narrating I with the persistent injury of the Holocaust for surviving European Jews, particularly women. (1) And maintaining the distinction of autobiographical theory between these two "I"s is crucial in reading the trouble it makes for both survivors' stories and their diagnosticians, readerly and medical.
Letting It Go crafts a new story that is both comic and vengeful in its refusal of unending victimhood while insisting that the somatic dis-ease generated by traumatic Holocaust experience, personal and intergenerational, endures for the duration of life, even if its symptoms may seem trivial or transient in ways that medical treatment does not address. By emphasizing dis-ease, I intend to call attention to the affects and bodily manifestations of traumatic experience, some medicalized as "illness," others as disruptions of well-being, that may persist long after the event. In Bessel van der Kolk's phrase, "the body keeps the score." (2) Furthermore, Letting It Go to an extent redirects our focus from the suffering of individuals to the pathology of a national ideology of systemic racism and anti-Semitism that wreaked widespread devastation on a scale medical intervention cannot redress; indeed, grotesque medical experiments were a feature of Nazi death camps. In that sense, Letting It Go serves as a limit case for graphic medicine, one that, I argue, writes back to normative concepts of what medical treatment entails and what constitutes treatable suffering. In her account of lifelong suppressed trauma that she both can and can't let go of, Katin deploys her comic as a mode of wry self-investigation into persistent somatic dis-ease as a means of graphic revenge against Holocaust ideology and violence, as well as questioning the health of the "new" Germany that memorializes horrors it did not experience.
Katin, who characterizes herself in the acknowledgments to Letting It Go as "this manic old lady" (born 1942), has had a career as a graphic artist working on backgrounds for animated films. (3) Her earlier comics memoir, We Are on Our Own (2006), luminously registered an autobiographical mix of puzzlement, pathos, and atheistic defiance about being a toddler survivor in flight with her Jewish mother to escape both the Nazi occupation and the Soviet invasion of Hungary during WWII, events that continued to exert pressure in various ways on her adult life. (4) Clearly, for a child survivor, such recall is a form of postmemory in Marianne Hirschs term. (5) But Katin complicates that formulation by linking enduring posttraumatic memory to a kind of amnesia in the "New Germany,"...