In his new graphic biography, The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth, Ken Krimstein imagines Hannah Arendt’s life, from her birth in Germany in 1912 to her death in the United States in 1975, spanning major world events in 20th-century Europe and America. In drawings and word bubbles, Krimstein makes it work on many levels, beginning with his decision to tell this complicated story in three parts, with escape becoming a mode of transition.
Her first escape was from the Gestapo: after her arrest in 1933 for researching antisemitism, she and her mother fled Berlin over the mountains at night into Czechoslovakia and on to Paris. Her second escape was from the Gurs concentration camp in southwest France, where she was interned in 1940 as an “enemy alien”, just before the German invasion of France. Arendt simply walked out of the camp, making her way to Lisbon and eventually to the USA. Her third escape was from her former teacher, the philosopher Martin Heidegger, famously a Nazi sympathizer, with whom she had been in love, and whom she could not give up. Meeting Heidegger’s wife in one hilarious section, a thought bubble floats over Elfride’s head: “Jew Cow”, matched by one hanging over Hannah’s: “Nazi Bitch”. As in Art Spiegelman’s Maus – surely the template for all graphic novel histories – even fraught situations have their moments of levity.