By Gertie Angel
February 14, 2022
On January 10, two weeks before Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Tennessee school board voted unanimously to remove Maus from the eighth grade curriculum. This graphic novel explains the horrors author Art Spiegelman’s family experienced in the Holocaust with Jews represented as mice and the Nazis represented as cats.
The school board claimed they removed the book because it contains nudity and profanity. Spiegelman said, “This is disturbing imagery, but you know what? It’s disturbing history.” He also noted that it seemed like board members were asking, “Why can’t they teach a nicer Holocaust?”
Teaching the Holocaust, with all of its gruesome, horrifying details, in schools is essential. Today, it is too common occurrence that people deny the Holocaust or claim that its cost was exaggerated.
The Claims Conference, a nonprofit organization that secures material compensation for Holocaust survivors globally, in their 2021 survey reported, “63 percent of all national survey respondents do not know that six million Jews were murdered and 36 percent thought that ‘two million or fewer Jews’ were killed during the Holocaust.” The survey also found that “although there were more than 40,000 camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust, 48 percent of national survey respondents cannot name a single one…. nearly 20 percent of Millennials and Gen Z in New York feel the Jews caused the Holocaust.”
While antisemitism is normalized in today's world, if you know where to look, it is everywhere. The Tennessee board’s decision censors Jewish voices, a significant contributor to the root problem of antisemitism. Maus is written from a Jewish perspective; it is a Jewish story told by a Jewish person about Jewish history, encompassing the horrors that were experienced and then passed down through generational trauma that continues to haunt the Jewish youth today. This is the way that Jewish history should be taught.
There is a fundamental flaw in removing books such as Maus from the curriculum; this is blatant whitewashing. Maus differs from other Holocaust books written for young people because it provides the raw Jewish experience. The board claims that they are going to replace Maus with another book about the Holocaust, likely The Diary of Anne Frank, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, or Number the Stars. While these books are undoubtedly important reads, they are nevertheless books about non-Jews who assisted persecuted Jews. They do not provide the brutal truth of what occurred in the concentration camps. Through the lens of the relatable cat-and-mouse trope, Maus was written to be digestible for students while still teaching them the painful truth of what happened during the Holocaust.
The Tennessee school board is scared of having students reading books showing a great failure of humanity. They are scared of hurting students' feelings when they realize how many people were killed, and the horrific ways in which Jews died. We can’t teach a nicer Holocaust because no nice Holocaust exists. It is our responsibility as the last remaining generation with living Holocaust survivors to continue to teach the Holocaust and its tragedies.