“The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft” Graphic Novel Review

The worst times in human history often lead to some of the most amazing stories told, mainly because they are real. Published by Self Made Hero, “The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft” is one of these tales.

Written and illustrated by Reinhard Kleist, the story is about Harry Haft, a man that was thrown into boxing in a literal life-or-death situation, and used it not necessarily as a means to survive, but as a way to find the love that he left behind in the old country after being torn away from her and sent to a concentration camp during the Holocaust.

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Told in a long-form flashback, Harry was born Hertzko Haft in Poland, where he lived with his family before the war. When Germany invaded, Hertzko attempted to rescue his brother from being thrown into a work camp, and was accidentally taken in his place. All he could think about was returning to the love of his life, Leah, but the chances of that happening became slimmer as each day passed. Tossed into this concentration camp, Hertzko was abused and victimized by Nazis, forced to work endless hours on train tracks or to shovel the dead into ovens. Eventually, he found an ally who knew that Germany was losing the war, and wanted to be on the “good side” of at least a few Jews, so he worked with him to make his life easier. This led to the origin of his boxing career.

Harry was forced into a boxing match with no prior knowledge of how to fight, other than having a strong punch. He would face off against other prisoners in a brutal fight to the death, and poor Harry had no choice when it came to what to do about his own survival. This would only be one of many horrible decisions that no human being should have to make during and after his harrowing escape from the Nazis, and it would not be the last, and that is where I leave the story off for when you read this book.

Short bio about Harry Haft

The story itself is an amazing tale of survival and life after war, as Harry tries to figure out what to do with himself. Committed to finding his missing love, Harry ultimately uses his fight career as a way to put his name out there in hopes of helping Leah find him. The tale is told by Harry’s son, Alan Haft, and put together by Reinhard Kleist in such a way that it is hard to decipher that the artist is not the son himself. It’s such a deeply personal tale and Reinhard blurs the line between character and spectator so effectively that this confusion is certainly a compliment to the work.

Kleist’s research into the times shows in his writing and his illustrations. His inkwork is stellar, using a wet brush to capture heavy darks and evoke a grim feeling throughout many tough scenes. The free-flowing nature of his style adds a high energy to the fight scenes, and the sense of immediacy that his line has reinforces the urgency that every life-or-death decision Harry is forced to make. When using inks, there is no second chances, much like what happens to Harry throughout this book. Whether he is drawing a fight in the ring, the horrors of a concentration camp, or life after the war in New York City, every panel has a feeling that tells the story just as much as the words.

You can buy “The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft” on Amazon.com for around $18, and I highly recommend that you do read it. This is an immersive story that will capture you from start to finish, with lush inkwork and brilliant storytelling ability by Kleist. It’s a great book that needs to be getting much more attention, and is certainly up there with “Boxers & Saints” by Gene Luen Yang (which has nothing to do with Western boxing, but that is for a different review). It’s a tough read, but I mean that in the best way, since the emotions run so high here, moreso when you remember that this truly happened. If you are a history buff, fight fan, or serious comic/ graphic novel reader, this is one book you will not regret picking up.

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