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PostPosted: Thu May 10, 2018 8:31 am 
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Superman at 80: The Jewish origins of the Man of Steel ... ... 44461.html


One of the most interesting aspects of the character's genesis is that his origins lie not in Friedrich Nietzsche's conception of the ubermensch – travestied into Adolf Hitler's belief in the innate superiority of an Aryan master race – but in Jewish mythology.

Both Siegel and Shuster were Jewish, the sons of recent European immigrants – as were Bob Kane and Bill Finger who created Batman the following year – and the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Benito Mussolini's Italy was on the minds of these young men, powerless to intervene and dreaming of a saviour.

"What led me into creating Superman in the early thirties?” Siegel later reflected. "Hearing and reading of the oppression and slaughter of helpless, oppressed Jews in Nazi Germany… seeing movies depicting the horrors of privation suffered by the downtrodden.

"I had the great urge to help the downtrodden masses, somehow. How could I help them when I could barely help myself? Superman was the answer."

All Jews know the story of the Golem, a man sculpted from riverbed mud by Rabbi Loew in 16th-century Prague. Loew gave his creature life using Hebrew incantations and dispatched it to defend the people from antisemitic pogroms under Rudolf II. The Man of Clay stood as a superhuman protector, summoned to deliver the innocent from evil. Superman's strength aligns him with the Golem and with the biblical Samson but he is also tied to the story of Moses.

The infant prophet, who would grow up to part the Red Sea and lead the Israelites to freedom in the Book of Exodus, was cast down the Nile in a basket of reeds by his parents to save him from the tyranny of Egypt's Pharaoh. Superman, first known as Kal-El (the suffix meaning "God" in Hebrew), is likewise sent away from his dying home planet Krypton because his family knows he is destined to become the saviour of millions.

After the true horrors of the Holocaust became known in 1945, Superman mourning for Krypton was likened to the survivor's guilt many felt after escaping the camps while their peers perished. The Third Reich were certainly aware of Seigel and Shuster's work and understood its importance as a symbol. Joseph Goebbels denounced Superman and SS newspaper Das Schwarze Korps ran an editorial mocking Siegel as “intellectually and physically circumcised” in 1940.

America's Jews had also been victimised at home. Siegel and Shuster's parents were among more than two million Jews to arrive in the US from Eastern Europe between the 1880s and 1920s, a spike in immigration that led to an antisemitic backlash and Ku Klux Klan rallies during the Prohibition era.

South Carolina senator Ellison DuRant Smith capitalised on this sentiment when he made his famous "Shut the Door" speech to Congress in 1924, inspiring an immigration act that would bar further emigres and effectively entrap Europe's Jews in the feverish atmosphere of emergent fascism.

In more general terms, Superman channels the experience of many Jews bidding to assimilate in gentile culture, veiling his heritage behind a new suit and Christian name, Clark Kent, but always true to his roots underneath the social camouflage. The "S" emblem burns beneath his cotton work shirt.

He is also, of course, a nebbish fantasy at heart, unmistakeably the product of the imagination of two teenage boys dreaming of impressing their own Lois Lanes with feats of valour. Siegel and Shuster are thought to have been struck by the spectacle of Zische Breitbart, a Jewish strongman act passing through Cleveland's vaudeville halls in their youth, and perhaps imagined themselves lifting weights for an adoring crowd.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at Marvel, also Jewish, would continue to develop their own range of heroic outsiders in the "silver age" of comics in the 1960s.



-- Tis an ill wind that blows no minds.
Malaclypse the Younger

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