1: ID card of Sabina Szwarc from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

1: ID card of Sabina Szwarc from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In Rutu Modan’s fictional graphic novel, The Property, we get just a bit of background about our protagonist, Regina Segal’s, life in Poland before she immigrated to Israel in 1939 (presumably before the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939). We don’t know the details of what happened to her family after she left or whether she was ever reunited with any of them. 

The Holocaust Encyclopedia, created by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, includes 600 ID cards of actual Holocaust survivors, each of which includes a photograph, date and place of birth, and information about the individual’s life just before, during, and after the war. The museum, housed in Washington, D.C., hands out ID cards to site visitors, and the cards are also available as part of an online database. As the museum’s website explains, “These cards are designed to help personalize the historical events of the time.” 

Sabina Szwarc’s card shows that she lived in the same city (Warsaw, Poland) as Modan’s fictional Regina. Though we don’t know Regina’s date of birth, we can presume that they would have been born within a few years of each other. Unlike the fictional Regina, Sabina Szwarc stayed in Poland for part of the war, was forced with her family into a ghetto, later escaped and hid in Germany, and eventually immigrated to the United States in 1950.

Suggested Activities: Have students look at Sabina Szwarc’s photograph and read the card out loud. What can they deduce by looking at her photograph? When might it have been taken? In what context? Where might it have been kept, and by whom, throughout the war? How might it have been preserved? Ask students to carefully comb through Sabina’s brief biography and discuss what questions they still have about her based on the information presented. Given the brevity of her biography, why might museum curators have chosen to include Sabina’s memory about the anthropologist commenting on her ears and profile? Why include information about her becoming an ophthalmologist? 

Once the class has had a discussion about the card, ask students to think about what Sabina’s relationship to Poland might have been after the war, particularly after she immigrated to America. In The Property, a character in the book who has known Regina for a long time tells Mica that Regina “swore for years that she would never set foot in this country again” (p. 35). Do you think Sabina might have felt the same? What might be some reasons she wouldn't want to return to Warsaw? Can you imagine reasons that Sabina, like Regina in The Property, might have felt compelled to return?

Source: “Personal Histories of Survivors and Victims of the Holocaust,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 92, https://www.ushmm.org/m/pdfs/20141010-dor-personal-histories.pdf.