As you surely have heard, the school board of McMinn County, Tennessee, last week voted to remove the graphic novel “Maus” from the curriculum. “Maus” is a Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel by Art Spiegelman which recounts the experiences of his parents as they survived Auschwitz.
In the meeting which decided by a 10-0 vote to remove the book, school board members objected to “its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.” As Spiegelman said in an interview the next day, “this is disturbing imagery. But you know what? It’s disturbing history.” Spiegelman said he got the impression that board members were asking “Why can’t they teach a nicer Holocaust”?
One Jewish studies scholar responded to this decision by pointing out that Holocaust-themed books which meet the approval of school boards in evangelical-dominated areas usually feature what he called “Good Gentiles Doing Good Gentile Things” (GGDGGT) to rescue Jews. Even the “Diary of Anne Frank” focuses a lot of attention on non-Jews who hid the Frank family and it ends before her deportation and death in a concentration camp.
Like many such attempts to remove books from the curriculum, this move by the McMinn County School Board basically backfired. In this day and age when any sort of information is available online and anything can be bought with two clicks of a “maus”, Spiegelman’s graphic novel is now the #1 best seller on Amazon. A comic book store in nearby Knoxville is giving out free copies to teenagers, as are some more progressive churches. And as one high school student in the area noted, people who ban books never go down in history as the good guys.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian