July 16, 2024
Book Reviews Jewish Experience

MAUS (Anti-Polish Messaging): Why the Hysterical Fear of Classroom Removal

Maus Now: Selected Writing, Edited by Hillary Chute. 2022. Pantheon Books, New York

MAUS Stereotypes, and Use of Sex and Violence to Promote the Holocaust in the Classroom Through MAUS. Anti-Polish Messaging Persists

This anthology is a collection of previously published papers on MAUS. I mainly focus on the big fuss that was recently made when a few school districts challenged MAUS. Note that MAUS is a sacred cow. Any questioning of MAUS will reduce its prestige, and thereby potentially lessen its utility for Holocaust indoctrination at the expense of all other genocides. We cannot have that.

MAUS USES PROFANITY AND VIOLENCE IN ORDER TO MAKE A DEEPER HOLOCAUST IMPRESSION ON CHILDREN

MAUS has been removed from the curriculum in certain school districts, and this innocent act has led to hysterical screams of “censorship”. In actuality, anyone in the USA can freely get a copy of MAUS. Some censorship! Moreover, other books on the Holocaust can be substituted for MAUS in schools, but the Holocaust establishment won’t hear of it. Let us take a closer look why this is so.

Hillary Chute describes the situation, “We can also note how MAUS, in 2022, emerged as a target in the culture wars…bad language (such as ‘bitch’ and ‘Goddamn’) and nudity…These aspects of the book, while debatably not ideal for an eighth-grade audience, feel beside the point in a testimonial narrative that bears witness to the genocide of the Holocaust… ‘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’…As Spiegelman observed in an event at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, ‘They want a kinder, gentler Holocaust they can stand.’” (p. xviii).

Let us analyze this. Surely it is possible to teach about the Holocaust without using gratuitous sex and violence! So why not do it? Simple. Sex and violence sell, especially among children, and it is essential that the Holocaust gets burned-in into the minds of impressionable children. That is what it is all about, and that is why the Holocaust establishment does not want MAUS to be questioned in any way, or even for other Holocaust books to replace MAUS. In addition, other Holocaust books may not have anti-Polish content.

As a matter of fact, the “shows people hanging” part in MAUS includes an important anti-Polish message that kids must not miss. The terrible Poles are hanging postwar Jews (while Jewish Communists, of course not shown in MAUS, are murdering Poles in much larger numbers than the few postwar Jews hanged by Poles).

The “kinder, gentler Holocaust” wisecrack deliberately avoids the fact that graphic violence is not used to teach non-Jewish genocides! As one tiny exception, certainly not found in classrooms, consider the New Jersey Katyn Monument. It shows a Polish soldier stabbed through with a Russian bayonet. Some Jews expressed discomfort with this graphic portrayal of the murder of Poles, and wanted it removed. They did not want Communist crimes to be portrayed with such clarity.

In other words, Jews can use violence (as in MAUS) to make a deeper public impression about their suffering, but Poles cannot do the same (New Jersey Katyn Monument) about their suffering. It is the same old double standard.

HOLOCAUST CONFORMITY RULES SOCIETY, INCLUDING JEWISH SOCIETY

Michael Rothberg writes, “In the United States today, for Jews to speak out against the policies of the State of Israel, or to question the uses to which the Holocaust have been put, almost guarantees them unofficial excommunication from the Jewish community.” (p. 180).

MAUS STEREOTYPES. ESSENTIALISM IMPUTED TO PEOPLES

Philip Pullman comments, “Part of this is due to the depiction of Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, and so forth. This is what jolts most people who come to it for the first time, and still jolts me after several readings. It is such a risky artistic strategy, because it implies a form of essentialism that many readers will find suspect. Cats kill mice because they are cats, and that’s what cats do. But is it in the nature of Germans, as Germans, to kill Jews? The question hangs over the whole work, and is never answered directly.” (p. 4. Emphasis added).

Adam Gopnik adds, “They [Holocaust survivors] do indeed to see them [Germans] as cats, as natural and unthinking predators who simply do what they were born to do. But the Germans weren’t cats. They did not have to do what they did. The cartoon form can supply a perfect mix of literary and visual metaphor, but metaphors aren’t explanations.” (p. 43).

So, the danger is that MAUS may stereotype the German as an innate killer of Jews. No one is concerned about how MAUS stereotypes the Poles by portraying them as Nazi-serving pigs!

The hysteria about the potential removal of MAUS from the classroom, whether itself directly motivated by an anti-Polish animus or not, has the same effect in either case. The anti-Polish messaging remains in the classroom, no matter what.

MAUS STEREOTYPES HAVE A VERY WIDE FOLLOWING

Hillary Chute comments, “It is hard to overstate MAUS’s effect on postwar American culture…MAUS is taught routinely in high school, college, and graduate school, in departments including Sociology and Political Science. It is, in addition, often taught to middle school students–a fact to which its banning in 2022 in Tennessee, for an eighth-grade curriculum, calls attention.” (p. xiii). MAUS has been translated into 40 languages (Chute, p. ix-x).

The game goes on. And so does the lurid anti-Polish messaging.

https://www.jewsandpolesdatabase.org/2023/10/26/maus-stereotypes-implications-for-poles-as-pigs-maus-sex-and-violence-burns-the-holocaust-into-childrens-minds-chute/

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