May 5, 2014

MAUS is propagandist memoir says Canadian Polish Congress Part 1

The Problems with Spiegelman’s MAUS:
Why MAUS Should Not Be Taught in High Schools
or Elementary Schools


MAUS is a comic book, sometimes referred to as a graphic novel, authored by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman. The core of the book is an extended interview, with digressions, by the author/narrator with his father, a Polish Jew named Vladek, focusing on his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. Although MAUS has been described as both a memoir and fiction, it is widely treated as non-fiction. Time placed it on their list of non-fiction books. 

N.B.  Do not be misled by the classification of "non-fiction". It does not indicate that the publication is based on truth.  MAUS is a reflection of the subjective (or personal) opinion of what Spiegelman thinks is true. As long as the author believes in it emphatically, publishers will classify the work as "non-fiction".

MAUS is considered to be a postmodern book. It is a story about storytelling that weaves several conflicting narratives (historical, psychological and autobiographical). The book employs post-modern techniques such as depicting national groups in the form of different kinds of animals. Jews are drawn as mice, Germans as cats, and (Christian) Poles as pigs.

MAUS has been taught widely in U.S. high schools, and even elementary schools, as part of the literature curriculum for many years . It has recently been introduced in some Canadian high school literature classes as a supplementary resource, principally because the book appears on the literature in translation list prescribed by the International Baccalaureate program. Although taught under the rubric of literature, MAUS has essentially acquired the status of non-fiction. Although MAUS has met with criticism on the part of the Polish community, there is a general lack of recognition as to why the book is objectionable. MAUS raises concerns on many levels, ethical, didactic, and historical, but these concerns are
not explained by educators for the benefit of unwary students who are required to study MAUS. Moreover, students of Polish heritage have reported incidents of inappropriate remarks and taunts directed at them by other students as a direct result of the portrayal of Poles in MAUS. 

NB. Education administrators and teachers should read any of Richard C. Lukas' books, in particular, "The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation 1939-1944" 
It would clarify many misconceptions people have about the Polish people.  I strongly urge schools to include this book, and books like it, in their curriculum.  

Since MAUS is essentially a historical memoir, most readers would assume that, like
other memoirs, it is literally true. Few readers, especially elementary and high school students, have enough historical knowledge to see through its falsified depiction of Poles.

Although taught in literature courses, MAUS is primarily about the Holocaust, a historical event, which is rightly considered to be an important topic for study. However, the Holocaust is also, in many respects, a very complex and controversial topic – one that often calls for an in-depth knowledge of various factors that could impact one’s understanding of a particular issue under examination. 

NB. For students beginning a study of the Holocaust, I recommend you start with the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Please click on the following link: 

Therefore, an appreciation of the historical context is critical to a proper understanding of the events portrayed in MAUS. The focus of inquiry cannot solely be the personal story and perspective of Vladek, the mouse protagonist of the book. For the Holocaust to have educational value, the treatment of the historical context must strive for accuracy and objectivity. In particular, it is important to ensure that not only Jews but other groups who suffered under Nazi German oppression are presented in a fair manner. 

NB. Understand that Polish people were also victims of the Holocaust, please click on the link,
Also recommended is an article written by Terese Pencak Schwartz, entitled "Five Million Forgotten"

The Jews in MAUS are, with few exceptions such as the Jewish council and Jewish
police, who assisted the Germans in the operation and liquidation of the ghetto in
Sosnowiec, portrayed in a favorable and sympathetic light. As the primary victims of the Holocaust, this is appropriate. Apart from the cats (Germans), who understandably appear only in the role of Nazis in the context of wartime occupied Poland, the pigs are the most prominent characters and have the most interaction with the mice (Jews). 

NB.  Polish-Jewish relations during WW2 is a very difficult subject to discuss as it opens old wounds of survivors who continue to suffer resentments towards one another.  Their stories cannot be explained in a simple format, much less with a cartoon.  Many articles on the web seem to support one side while condemning the other.  It does not bring us closer to understanding the past nor each other.  I would like to invite you to read my article on the subject, uploaded in 2007. While it is not a comprehensive in-depth study, it does provide an overview of the subject.    Please click on this link

Unfortunately, as will be explained, the portrayal of the pig people is seriously flawed in several important respects. MAUS clearly cannot be treated as an accurate historical record, although it is passed of as such. The perspective of the protagonist is too narrow and flawed. The voice of the author and narrator, rather than exposing the protagonist’s biases and misrepresentations of the historical record, reinforces them. MAUS does not teach students about the complexities of the Holocaust but rather oversimplifies such complexities. The reality is that the students’ level of understanding of these issues is generally rather poor or almost non-existent. In addition, neither they nor the teachers possess the necessary tools to properly assess the flaws of this book.

In a nutshell, the case against MAUS is that, despite its veneer of sophistication, the book is a rather primitive expression of the author’s prejudices in choosing to portray the Poles as a nation of swine. Furthermore, its portrayal of Poles contains serious misrepresentations regarding their alleged role in the Holocaust. This is contemptible, and unacceptable by Canadian standards. The notion that teachers can and will expose the biases and misrepresentations regarding Poles found in this book is unlikely in the extreme.

School children of Polish background who are subjected to this book justifiably feel that their identity or cultural heritage has been diminished by the perspectives described in this book and are, understandably, humiliated by this experience. They are at a loss as to how to respond. Unfortunately, educators have not demonstrated sensitivity to such matters and have ignored the potential for cruel jokes and gibes

Please click on above link

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