What You Should Know: A powerful villain who appears at the very dawn of the X-Men comic mythology, Magneto is really Holocaust survivor Max Eisenhardt. He is an extremely powerful mutant who has the ability to generate and manipulate myriad forms of magnetism.
In the Marvel universe Max sees his entire family murdered before his eyes and then is sent to Auschwitz where he witnesses the full expression of the Holocaust horror. He survives the ordeal and meets a gypsy named Magda. They move to the Ukraine and later produce a daughter, Anya. Further persecution from a mob causes Max’s powers to first burst forth. He slaughters the mob (and, incidentally, half the village) that has set fire to his home but he can’t save his daughter, who perishes. Magda flees him, terrified of his power, although she carries his unborn twins (later to become the Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver). Eisenhardt changes his identity to Eric Lehnsherr and leaves the U.S.S.R.
It is in Haifa, Israel where meets his friend and lifelong nemesis, Charles Xavier, aka Professor X. They both work as orderlies at a clinic for Holocaust survivors and tentatively discuss hypothetical scenarios about mutant humans. They eventually reveal their secret gifts when opposing a Nazi hunting for Third Reich gold. But their opposite views of humanity drive them apart, Xavier believing that humans and mutants can peacefully co-exist while Eric is convinced that they are Homo-superior and the eventual, logical, evolutionary expression of mankind. Xavier leaves to continue his travels and Eric with the Nazi gold, which he uses to bankroll his future. Lensherr then creates The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (aka The Brotherhood), a collective of like-minded mutants who believed themselves besieged. They included his—unbeknownst to him—children, The Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver, along with a shifting roster of characters including Mystique and Toad.
Much like Xavier’s school, Lensherr tries to establish a home for mutants, using an asteroid, a conquered South American country, an orbital satellite and eventually, the island of Genosha. The island rises as a beacon to mutants who wish to live separately from humans and, under Magneto, becomes a powerful nation. But, the island is mercilessly attacked by Cassandra Nova, Xavier’s evil twin sister (one unbeknownst to him), and the Sentinels, giant mutant-hunting robots (that appear during the simulation scene at the beginning of X-Men: The Last Stand). An estimated 16 million mutants are killed in the genocide. Later battles leave Magneto the island’s only inhabitant.