Modern-day comparisons of people to Nazis are incredibly common, and many consider this problematic due to the apparent dismissal or understatement of the actual crimes of the Nazis. This is especially true in regard to crimes against Jews and other minorities.
But what if you were someone the Nazis themselves wanted to execute for killing Jews?
This was the case for the Butcher of Paris, a real-life serial killer in occupied Paris that is the subject of an eponymous comic series that is the newest title published by Dark Horse. The Butcher of Paris is written by Stephanie Phillips, drawn by Dean Kotz, colored by Jason Wordie and lettered by Troy Peteri.
The Butcher of Paris, the new series by @Steph_Smash @deankotz @WordieJason, is based on the true story of a serial killer in occupied France during WWII. This story focuses on the detective who investigated, and the people affected. More: https://t.co/ebnsCyavVS pic.twitter.com/PRuS6j6xYc— Dark Horse Comics (@DarkHorseComics) December 6, 2019
And this isn’t a loose adaptation. The entire creative team has worked hard to keep the events as close to history as possible.
The first issue of the comic introduces readers to real-life figures involved in the case, Gestapo agent Robert Jodkun, Jewish prisoner Yvan Dreyfus and French detective Georges-Victor Massu. After arresting him, Jodkun makes Dreyfus attempt to infiltrate an alleged secret escape route run by the French resistance for Jews, which leads him to the address of 21 Rue le Sueur, the home of a doctor, Marcel Petiot. The doctor tells Dreyfus that the escape route is both very risky and very expensive, but he nonetheless agrees to do it. Despite being forced at gunpoint by the Gestapo to come back with a name or else, Dreyfus is never seen again.
Some time later, neighbors of Petiot notice smoke and an awful smell coming from 21 Rue le Sueur, and the police are called. Massu arrives as police lead them to the basement of the home, showing a room littered with blood, skulls, tools and butchered body parts of at least 18 people – the police were still counting – as a police officer says, “we have found ourselves in a monster’s lair.”
The scene is a shocking depiction of horror, and the fact that such a vile serial killer was living under the nose of the Nazis, preying on vulnerable Jews looking to flee, adds a wave of nausea. Even the Gestapo were horrified at Petiot’s crimes, which gives a historically justified way of both having the Gestapo as the comparatively “good guys” – though that is considerably stretching it, as they did threaten Dreyfus with being “sent to Poland” should he refuse – and of asking how horrific one must be if even the Nazis are horrified.
And, of course, this was all true. Petiot was a real and notorious serial killer who took advantage of Jews attempting to flee by disguising himself as a member of the resistance. While he admitted to brutally butchering 19 people and was proven to have killed at least 26, it is believed his victims numbered between 60 and 200. In doing this due to charging for his “services,” he is said to have made more than 200 million Francs.
Petiot wasn’t caught quickly, either. In fact, as he went into hiding, claiming he had only killed German informants, he ended up actually joining the resistance. After the liberation of Paris, he was one ironically one of the many resistance offers charged with tracking down “The Butcher of Paris,” before he was finally caught.
The story is also especially personal for Phillips, who herself comes from a Jewish family that fought in both world wars.
However, the rising tide of antisemitism and the constant usage of Nazi and fascist as buzzwords and comparisons are what make the story so relevant and important today, as Phillips explained in the epilogue of the issue.
“The monsters that appear in The Butcher of Paris were not exorcized in the 1940s,” she said, referencing the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the wave of antisemitic graffiti and vandalism all over the US.
However, The Butcher of Paris isn’t meant to focus entirely on Petiot’s heinous crimes or be a simple period thriller. Rather, as Phillips explained, the story focuses on Paris, the City of Lights, going dark.
“This is a story about victims, about a struggling city, and about complicity,” she said, adding: “Our larger goal was to tell a story that holds a mirror to those who are complicit and provides a reminder about the dangers of silence.”
Her afterword ends with a quote from Elie Wiesel: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”