'Orwellian' ban on Holocaust book enforced close to Holocaust Memorial Day

'Maus' features interviews with Holocaust survivors and depicts the horrors of genocide
'Maus' features interviews with Holocaust survivors and depicts the horrors of genocide Copyright AP
Copyright AP
By Tim Gallagher with AP
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A district ruling in Tennessee, US, will ban the Pulitzer-winning 1991 graphic novel 'Maus' from its Holocaust education programme on the grounds of "nudity" and "language".


A school district in Tennessee, US, has voted to ban a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust due to "inappropriate language" and an illustration of a nude woman.

A decision was taken by the McMinn County School Board to remove 'Maus' – Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning work depicting his father's experiences as a Holocaust survivor – from the curriculum.

First published in 1991, the work is considered to a hugely important contribution to making Holocaust studies accessible to different age groups.

Spiegelman told US broadcaster CNBC he was "baffled" by the school board's decision and called the action "Orwellian".

"It's leaving me with my jaw open, like, 'What?'" said the author.

The decision comes as conservative officials across the country have increasingly tried to limit the books that children are exposed to, including books that address structural racism and LGBTQ issues.

Across the country, Republican governors in South Carolina and Texas have called on superintendents to perform a systematic review of "inappropriate" materials in their states' schools.

What happened at the McMinn County School Board meeting?

Wreaths laid for Holocaust Memorial Day in Berlin, GermanyAP

Until now, the novel had been used as part of the district's eighth-grade English language arts curriculum.

The minutes from the school board meeting indicate objections over some of the language used in 'Maus'.

At first, Director of Schools Lee Parkison suggested redacting it "to get rid of the eight curse words and the picture of the woman that was objected to."

The nude woman is drawn as a mouse, in keeping with the book’s aesthetic where Jews are drawn as mice and the Nazis are appear as cats.

"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 Allman.

Instructional supervisor Julie Goodin, a former history teacher, said she thought the graphic novel was a good way to depict a horrific event.

"It's hard for this generation, these kids don't even know [about] 9/11, they were not even born," she explained.

"Are the words objectionable? Yes, there is no one that thinks they aren't. But by taking away the first part, it's not changing the meaning of what he is trying to portray."

Reactions ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which does not play a role in McMinn County, noted the timing of the news on Twitter.

Weingarten, who is Jewish, pointed out that Thursday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

"Yes it is uncomfortable to talk about genocide, but it is our history and educating about it helps us not repeat this horror," Weingarten said.


The Tennessee school board emphasized in the minutes that they did not object to teaching about the Holocaust but some were concerned the work was not age-appropriate.

Initial suggestions from the meeting discussed redacting parts of the book. These conversations ultimately fell flat due to copyright concerns, with board members electing look for an alternative book about the subject for the district's curriculum.

The US Holocaust Museum tweeted that: "Maus has played a vital role in educating about the Holocaust through sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors.

"Teaching about the Holocaust using books like Maus can inspire students to think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today."

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