Tennessee School Board Bans Pulitzer-Winning Holocaust Book 'Maus'

The graphic novel shows the horrors of the Holocaust in cartoon, depicting Jews as mice and Nazis as cats.

A Tennessee school board voted unanimously to remove the Pulitzer-winning graphic novel “Maus” from its eighth-grade curriculum due to concerns about “objectionable language” and nudity in its cartoon depictions of the Holocaust.

The book by Art Spiegelman tells the story of his parents’ experience during the Holocaust as Polish Jews, including their imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps.

Ten members of the McMinn County Board of Education voted unanimously on Jan. 10 to remove it from schools, according to meeting minutes posted on the school board’s website.

The decision drew attention Wednesday after The Tennessee Holler published a report about it.

Director of Schools Lee Parkison opened the meeting by saying: “The values of the county are understood. There is some rough, objectionable language in this book, and knowing that and hearing from many of you and discussing it, two or three of you came by my office to discuss that.”

He said he had consulted with an attorney and decided the best way to handle the language was to redact it.

“Considering copyright, we decided to redact it to get rid of the eight curse words and the picture of the woman that was objected to,” he said.

However, some board members raised concerns that redacting parts of the book would violate copyright laws.

One board member, Mike Cochran, argued that portions of the book were “completely unnecessary” and complained that the part in which Spiegelman’s mother dies by suicide is too graphic.

“You have all this stuff in here, again, reading this to myself it was a decent book until the end. I thought the end was stupid, to be honest with you. A lot of the cussing had to do with the son cussing out the father, so I don’t really know how that teaches our kids any kind of ethical stuff. It’s just the opposite, instead of treating his father with some kind of respect, he treated his father like he was the victim. We don’t need this stuff to teach kids history,” he said.

Other attendees, including two instructional supervisors, defended the book.

“I think any time you are teaching something from history, people did hang from trees, people did commit suicide and people were killed, over 6 million were murdered,” McMinn County Schools federal programs supervisor Melasawn Knight said, according to the minutes. “I think the author is portraying that because it is a true story about his father that lived through that. He is trying to portray that the best he can with the language that he chooses that would relate to that time, maybe to help people who haven’t been in that aspect in time to actually relate to the horrors of it. Is the language objectionable? Sure. I think that is how he uses that language to portray that.”

Spiegelman, 73, told CNBC in an interview Wednesday that he was baffled by the move.

“It’s leaving me with my jaw open, like, ‘What?’” he said. He also said he suspected that the objectors were motivated less by the mild profanity and more by the subject of the book. “Maus,” which began in 1980 as a serialized comic, won the Pulitzer Prize’s Special Award in Letters in 1992.

It’s not clear if the book will be replaced in the curriculum with another book about that period of history.

The school board did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It denied the decision had anything to do with the book being about the Holocaust, according to The Tennessee Holler.

The decision comes amid a spate of book bans in school systems across the U.S. as conservative groups campaign to remove or whitewash certain teachings that address the nation’s history of slavery and racism, LGBTQ issues, gender oppression and the treatment of marginalized groups.

Last year, a Texas school district administrator made headlines when she advised teachers that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also offer students access to a book from an “opposing” perspective.

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