If you saw any of the X-Men movies, was there any doubt that Erik Lensherr—the young man who goes all Uri Geller when the Nazis put his parents in Auschwitz—is a Jew? Followers of the 50-year-old X-Men comic books have different opinions. Some say “Magneto” (or Magnus or Erik, whatever you like to call him) is actually of Romany blood. (Nazis, you may recall, also massacred Gypsies, homosexuals, Communists, Poles, Czechs, Russians, Ukrainians and Freemasons.) But in the form of actors Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender, Magneto has a concentration-camp tattoo identifying him as Jewish. Does this matter? Aren’t most comic-book heroes also of the Chosen People? Of course it matters! Magneto is very powerful and a good chess player. But why put such a terrible real-world thing in a comic book?
So let’s have a look at Magneto’s real progenitors, and by that I mean folks on our side of the border: Kirby, Lee and Claremont. Kirby and Lee, like the vast majority of comic book pioneers, were Jews of Central European origin. It’s unlikely they would let a word like Auschwitz get into one of their publications without a lot of thought. As for Claremont, who developed the psychology and history of Magnus so brilliantly, he’s known for the seriousness and wholehearted care he puts in his work. If he wrote Auschwitz, he meant Auschwitz.
One reader of this piece noted that his non-comic-book-reading wife watched X-Men: First Class and assumed throughout the movie that Magneto was the hero. It’s sort of true, too. And both McKellen and Fassbender will be back as Magneto (some kind of time-travel story, apparently) in the new X-Men movie, which Bryan Singer has come back to direct, hooray.