The Maus That Roared

Tennessee school board bans Art Spiegelman’s book just in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day

It’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, and, as usual, there’s nothing to celebrate. On cue, the school board of McMinn County, Tennessee, voted 10-0 to ban Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking Holocaust graphic novel ‘Maus’ from its curriculum. The board’s director said it’s because of “rough, objectionable language”. Another board member says the book “shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids.” Yes. Because it’s the Holocaust! The board said they will find a less objectionable book to teach about the Holocaust, maybe one where kids don’t die and no one curses.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman, now illegal in Tennessee.

I don’t even know what to say about these provincial school boards any more. They have been going about banning books that depict teens having gay sex and Black people having feelings. But this tips the scales from bush-league censorship into Holocaust denial. Maus is not only the greatest graphic novel ever. It’s also one of the most nuanced works of American literature in any genre. And it’s not like they’re asking second graders to read it, we’re talking about high school students. Banning Maus is not only a bad idea; it’s a moral crime.

We’ve covered this wave of censorship frequently here, and we’ll continue to do so. But let’s shift gears briefly and talk about Holocaust ignorance. A 2020 survey by the Claims Conference, a Holocaust survivor’s advocacy organization, found that 63 percent of respondents didn’t know that six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Eleven percent of responders thought that Jews caused the Holocaust.

And what’s the result of our failed Holocaust education? Where I live, in the supposedly enlightened city of Austin, Texas, anti-Semitic graffiti on highway overpasses or on the walls of high school have become a common occurrence. Someone set fire to the doors of the synagogue where my son went to Hebrew School. Hating Jews is almost voguish. As Neil Gaiman said on Twitter, “There’s only one kind of people who would vote to ban Maus, whatever they are calling themselves these days.” True enough, but this doesn’t only happen on the red side of the ledger. Look at all the left-wing types who were quick to make the recent Colleyville synagogue hostage situation about Islamophobia, when, in fact, Jews were the victims. Ignorance about Jews, antisemitism, and the Holocaust crosses all boundaries, political, geographic, and ethnic.

Not only should we teach Maus in high school, all districts should be required to teach Maus. They should make students listen to Lotte Lenya read an audiobook of The Diary of Anne Frank. They should prop open students’ eyes like Malcolm McDowell’s in A Clockwork Orange and force them to watch Shoah until the message settles. The Holocaust is the greatest evil ever perpetrated by human beings. And the Tennessee Maus ban is the bottom of a deep barrel of book banning. Eternal shame on everyone involved. For anyone else who wants to try it, The Bear Jew would like to have a word with you.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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