Book about Holocaust banned in US school district

Board members voted to ban Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Maus' from curriculum

Art Spiegelman, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel 'Maus', poses at an event in Paris in 2012. AFP

A Tennessee school district has voted to ban a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust because of “inappropriate language” and an illustration of a nude woman, minutes from a board meeting show.

The McMinn County School Board decided on January 10 to remove Maus from its curriculum, news outlets reported.

Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for the work that tells the story of his Jewish parents living in 1940s Poland and depicts him interviewing his father about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor.

Spiegelman told CNBC he was “baffled” by the board’s decision and called the action “Orwellian".

“It’s leaving me with my jaw open, like, ‘What?’” he said.

The minutes from the school board meeting indicate objections over some of the language used and 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 the graphic novel, Jews are drawn as mice and the Nazis are drawn 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,” board member Tony Allman said.

The book was part of the district’s Grade 8 English language arts curriculum.

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 9/11, they were not even born,” Ms Goodin said.

“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.”

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.

Ms Weingarten, who is Jewish, said that Thursday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The US Holocaust Museum tweeted that Maus has played a crucial 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,” the museum said.

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

Discussions on redacting parts of the book led to copyright concerns and board members ultimately decided to look for an alternative on the subject.

Updated: January 27, 2022, 9:22 PM