This post evolved in the intersection between my thesis, my personal musings and preparing to present a paper at the Critical Health Studies Conference in New Zealand in June.
Storytellers link characters with albinism like Silas in the Da Vinci Code and Malekith in Thor: The Dark World to Nazism via imagery, especially in movies. However, the ‘true’ Aryan is not the tall slim blond people assume. In Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All The Light We Cannot See, character Neumann One says, “The true Aryan is as blond as Hitler, as slim as Göring, and as tall as Goebbels—”
People with albinism are not Nazis and would not have been considered Aryan. Two points Doerr omitted in his novel:
- Nazis killed Germans with disabilities as part of ridding the country of what they described as ‘useless mouths’. This means that Nazis would have sent Doerr’s character Frederik to the ovens after his classmates rendered him severely physically disabled and brain injured. Also, the people who cared for the protagonist Marie-Laure would have worried that the Nazis would send her off to the ovens after Germany invaded France.
- Protagonist Werner’s off-the-charts pale hair and blue eyes are indicators of albinism, which is why the twitter-verse brought this book to my attention. Albinism always affects eyesight, reducing visual acuity in proportion to the degree of albinism. If Werner was literally off-the-charts pale as in this novel, then Werner would have failed the eye test. However, he passed although his friend Frederik had to cheat by memorising the eye charts. As another ‘useless mouth’ and an orphan to boot, the Nazis would have sent Werner to the ovens. That would have made for a short book, but could have been overcome by giving Werner a normal degree of blond-ness instead of being über-white.
The Nazis murdered people with albinism for being visually impaired, so linking albinism to Nazism is highly offensive. As Perks says in ‘The Evil Albino’ (2008), people with albinism have been othered to reinforce the virtue and supremacy of ‘normal’ whites by positioning people with albinism as Nazis or Nazi-types, thereby scapegoating people with albinism while alleviating normative white guilt.