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Op-Ed: Sales soar after Tennessee school board bans a graphic Holocaust novel

Days after the banning of “Maus” by a Tennessee school district two editions of Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer novel reached the top 20 on Amazon.

Human suffering is not pretty. In the crematorium courtyard, U.S. soldiers confront the citizens of Weimar with the corpses found there. This was the first photo of Buchenwald to be published; it appeared in the London Times on April 18, 1945. Source - Walter Chichersky, U.S. Signal Corps. Public Domain
Human suffering is not pretty. In the crematorium courtyard, U.S. soldiers confront the citizens of Weimar with the corpses found there. This was the first photo of Buchenwald to be published; it appeared in the London Times on April 18, 1945. Source - Walter Chichersky, U.S. Signal Corps. Public Domain

Just days after the banning of “Maus” by a Tennessee school district made national news, two editions of Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust have reached the top 20 on Amazon.com and are in limited supply.

“Maus” was No. 12 on Amazon as of early Friday evening, and was not available for delivery until mid-February. “The Complete Maus,” which includes a second volume, was No. 9 and out of stock, according to ABC News.

Spiegelman’s novel, published in 1980, tells the story of his Jewish parents’ time in Nazi concentration camps, the mass murder of other Jews by Nazis, his mother’s suicide when he was just 20, and his relationship with his father.

Looking like a comic book, the pictures, hand-drawn, depict Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats. The triangular shape of the mice’s heads evokes stories of long-held stereotypes about the shapes of Jewish faces.

Cover of Maus Volume I (1986 Pantheon Books[[Category:comics image minor pub|Pantheon Books]]), art by Art Spiegelman. Source – Fair use

Earlier this month, reports CBC Canada, the McMinn County School Board in Tennessee voted to remove Maus due to “inappropriate language” and an illustration of a nude woman, according to minutes from a board meeting.

The illustration of a nude woman is actually a small image of the artist’s mother in the bathtub after taking pills and slashing her wrists, with her breasts visible — yet it was in violation of standards and thus unteachable, according to the members of the school board.

Shielding our children from the truth

The decision to ban Maus comes as conservative officials across the U.S. have increasingly tried to limit the type of books that children are exposed to, including those that address structural racism and LGBTQ issues.

Neil Gaiman, the author of “The Sandman” comic book series and other award-winning works, blasted the school board’s action, says CNBC News, writing on Twitter, “There’s only one kind of people who would vote to ban Maus, whatever they are calling themselves these days.”

What is particularly interesting is the McMinn County Board of Education’s response to all the media articles detailing the controversy.  

In a statement posted on its website, the school board said it voted to remove “the graphic novel Maus from McMinn County Schools because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide. Taken as a whole the board felt this work was simply too adult-oriented for use in our schools.”

Actually, there were eight swear words and one picture of the author’s mother in the bathtub.

The school board added in their statement that they “do not diminish the value of Maus as an impactful and meaningful piece of literature, nor do we dispute the importance of teaching our children the historical and moral lessons and realities of the Holocaust.”

6

Yes, history can be dehumanizing

As a student of history, most of the time, what had happened in the past is never pretty. More often than not, events that have taken place are violent, horrific, and dirty – in every sense of the word.

“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,” board member Tony Allman said about Maus.

Regardless of how dehumanizing an event may be – you can’t change historical facts, nor can you sugar-coat them to make it go down easier. And this applies to not just the Holocaust, but slavery, 9-11, treatment of our Indigenous people, and other atrocities going on today.

In my opinion, many Conservatives today are so taken up with being comfortable about what has happened – and what is now happening in the world – that they forget to turn off the television set and unplug their computers.

They forget that their children are fed images and pictures every day on the two mediums – and most of them are not pretty. Human suffering, degradation, genocide, and the murder of innocent people fill our TVs and computer screens. And it is impossible to shut these things out.

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Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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