Award-winning Holocaust memoir 'Maus' pulled from Tennessee school

Published on Jan 28, 2022 08:15 AM IST

Published in installments in the 1970s and 80s, "Maus" is considered the first great American graphic novel. It tells the story of Spiegelman's parents, Polish Jews who survived Nazi concentration camps, as well as the artist's own reflections on being the son of Holocaust survivors.

Author Art Spiegelman reads from his book in Berlin(BRIGANI-ART/imago images )
Author Art Spiegelman reads from his book in Berlin(BRIGANI-ART/imago images )

Creator Art Spiegelman said he was "baffled" by the "demented" decision to remove his book from the curriculum over eight swear words and depictions of "nakedness."

A seminal memoir of the Holocaust and its aftermath has been banned by a Tennessee school district over accusations it contains "swear words" and depictions of nudity.

"Maus" author and artist Art Spiegelman told US broadcaster CNBC on Wednesday that he was "baffled" by the decision, and called the Republican-controlled state of Tennessee "demented."

"There’s something going on very, very haywire there" said Spiegelman, 73, who learned of the January 10 decision the day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

'Orwellian'

Published in installments in the 1970s and 80s, "Maus" is considered the first great American graphic novel. It tells the story of Spiegelman's parents, Polish Jews who survived Nazi concentration camps, as well as the artist's own reflections on being the son of Holocaust survivors.

The title is derived from Spiegelman's depictions of the Jews as anthropomorphic mice and the Nazis as cats. It is the recipient of many prestigious trophies, including being the only graphic novel to ever win the Pultizer Prize, as well as earning Eisner and Harvey awards.

"Maus" was being used as part of a language arts curriculum for the eighth grade when it caught the attention of McMinn County School Board. The board voted unanimously to remove it due to "rough, objectionable language" and "nakedness."

There are a total of eight swear words in the book and depictions of naked mice. The board also objected to representations of Spiegelman's mother shortly before she killed herself when he was 20 years old.

"It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff, it is not wise or healthy," said school board member Tony Allmann.

The board considered blacking out the words and images in question, but worried that could violate the book's copyright.

Defending the use of the book, local assistant principal Jane Goodin reminded the board that "there is nothing pretty about the Holocaust and for me this was a great way to depict a horrific time in history."

Spiegelman said the decision was "Orwellian," while fellow graphic novelist Neil Gaiman wrote on Twitter that "there's only one kind of people who would vote to ban Maus."

The move came as schools in Republican-controlled areas across the US are grabbing headlines for censorship of books that local officials and parents find objectionable. For example, in Texas a graphic novel was banned after parents complained it was teaching children critical race theory.

"New Kid" by Jerry Craft tells the story of a young Black boy who moves to a new town and struggles to fit in at school. Craft has expressed his confusion at his story for children being conflated with an advanced academic topic typically studied at the PhD level.

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