Giving Compass' Take:
- Steven Gimbel and Gwydion Suilebhane explain that the ban on a graphic novel depicting the Holocaust in Tennessee is disturbingly reminiscent of the events the book depicts.
- What role can you play in pushing back against book bans?
- Learn how banning books on race and social justice harms students.
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On Jan. 10, the school board in McMinn County, Tennessee, voted 10-0 to remove Maus from the eighth-grade history curriculum. The book, a graphic novel by Jewish American cartoonist Art Spiegelman depicting the grim realities of the Holocaust, expressed the absolute inhumanity of what happened in clear terms that children could understand.
As the child of Polish-born parents who lost much of his own family to the Holocaust, Spiegelman understood the gravity of the subject matter and committed himself to one clear idea: “Never again.”
To its great shame, the school board argued the book contained objectionable language and was unsuitable for use in the classroom. Despite pleas from history teachers concerning the importance and effectiveness of the work, the conservative school board chose to diminish its own school community’s understanding of the horrors of Nazism. Ironically, it did so by taking a tactic directly employed by Nazis themselves.
In 1933, German logician Olaf Helmer was busy writing his doctoral dissertation in the mathematics building at the University of Berlin when he looked through a window and noticed a group of thugs building a bonfire, then hurling library books into the flames. He immediately knew whose books they were, but the thugs confirmed his worst fears. He heard them shouting “I condemn to the flames the work of the Jew.”
Helmer — who one of us interviewed two decades ago, when he was 94 — escaped Germany in 1934, emigrating to America to become the assistant to a logician at the University of Chicago. He worked for the Air Force and became an American citizen, and in 1968 he co-founded the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit think tank. Still, he never shook the memory of losing family in the Holocaust. He drew a straight line from books thrown into bonfires to bodies burned in ovens.
Read the full article about the danger of book bans by Steven Gimbel and Gwydion Suilebhan at The 74.