May 6, 2014

MAUS is propagandist memoir says Canadian Polish Congress Part 2


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



PART #2.  WHY IS PORTRAYING POLES AS PIGS OBJECTIONABLE FROM AN ETHICAL PERSPECTIVE? 

Portraying Poles as pigs is offensive. In fact, it has been acknowledged as such by literary critics. In the biographical introduction to the excerpt from MAUS that appears in The Norton Anthology of American Literature,7th edition   (New York: Norton, 2007), Volume E, p. 3091, editors Jerome Klinkowitz and Patricia B.Wallace describe Spiegelman’s representation of Poles as pigs as “a calculated insult” leveled against Poles. A similar point was made by Harvey Pekar, a celebrated underground comic book writer, who describes himself as a Jew with a background similar to Art Spiegelman’s: “When he [Spiegelman] shows them [Poles] doing something admirable and still portrays them as pigs, he’s sending a mixed message.” (1)  Characteristically, Spiegelman has dismissed Poles’ concern about their depiction as pigs as “a squeal,” the sound pigs make.(2)
 
The incessant depiction, in MAUS, of Poles as anti-Semitic “pigs” – with the highly
derisive connotation that term carries – forms an image that cannot easily, if ever,
be erased from the minds of young students whose knowledge of World War II
history is minimal at best. 


NB:  Nazi Germany used propaganda in an effort to destroy ethnic communities in Poland, and pit them against each other. Some of that propaganda still endures to this day. The danger of propaganda is in its persistence so eventually people tend to believe it.  But please beware that repetition of lies does not make the truth.  It is still propaganda.



The mouse and cat metaphor is fairly obvious to most readers of MAUS. It is a well-
known fact that cats chase mice, and that the Nazis targeted Jews for destruction. The cat imagery is generally explained by teachers and in accompanying reading materials provided to or accessible by students. The pig imagery or “metaphor,” on the other hand, is rarely, if ever, explained – whether in MAUS itself, or in available reading materials. One handout provided to students states that the animals have a “symbolic quality,” without any further explanation of the role of the pigs.(3) This begs the question, what is their symbolic quality?

The use of pigs to depict Poles is something that cannot be missed, especially by
impressionable young readers, as the very word “pig” is widely used as a term of derision. “You pig,” is universally considered to be an insult. In many cultures, pigs are viewed as disgusting, filthy, and greedy animals. They are often considered to be vulgar and stupid. The implication, therefore, is that there is something unsavoury about the pig people. This is one obvious negative connotation that would not be lost on the students, especially since that image is reinforced by the negative stereotypes used to portray Poles, who even manage to remain fat while imprisoned in Auschwitz. For Jews and Muslims, pigs are “unclean” animals. Jewish culture in particular views pigs, and pork, as non-kosher, or unclean. This is very important contextual information of which the students are not made aware. According to the Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center,

There is probably no animal as disgusting to Jewish sensitivities as the pig. It’s not just because it may not be eaten: there are plenty of other animals that aren’t kosher either, but none of them arouse as much disgust as the pig. Colloquially, the pig is the ultimate symbol of loathing; when you say that someone “acted like a chazir [pig],” it suggests that he or she did something unusually abominable.(4)
  
An Israeli court found a Jewish woman guilty of racism for putting up posters depicting Islam’s Prophet Mohammad as a pig. After a volatile demonstration against immigrants from Russia, heckled as “pork eaters,” David Benziri, a leading Sephardi rabbi and brother of an Israeli cabinet minister, said: “There is nothing so anti-Jewish as pig.” (5)

Unfortunately, the image of Poles as being “unclean” has a long and shameful tradition. In prewar Poland, some Jews were known to refer to Poles as “Polish pigs”. This went hand-in-hand with the popular image of Poles as “stupid goys (“Goy,” a derogatory term for Christians, was commonly used by Jews to refer to Poles.) Samuel Oliner, a respected Jewish scholar, recalled his grandmother’s lament, “Shmulek will grow up to be a stupid goy!” “The presence of a gentile defiled the home of a Jew,” he also recalled. (6)   We can see an allusion to that type of thinking in Vladek’s characterization of the Polish priest who comforted him in Auschwitz: “He wasn’t Jewish – but very intelligent. ” Moreover, the similarities between the Nazi and traditional Jewish perception of Poles as stupid, disgusting animals are disturbing.  


NB.  The world greatly discredits Poland and its people.  Polish people are noble, honorable and brilliant in virtually every discipline.  Poland has given the world many gifts, among them Nicolaus Copernicus, Madame Curie (nee Maria Sklodowska-Curie), Frederic Chopin, Joseph Conrad (nee Jozef Korzeniowski), referred to as "the greatest British novelist" and many more. There is a multitude of great Polish men and women in the sciences, arts, literature, and music (past and present) The list is endless..... ! 



Polish inmates of Nazi camps were often called “Polish swine” by German officials and kapos. (7)  Poles are also referred to as “pigs” in Jewish memorial books.(8)  MAUS employs the same imagery of the Poles as found in Nazi propaganda, where Poles were often referred to as “pigs.” Art Spiegelman was, of course, aware of these problematic associations when he chose to portray Poles as pigs. Are the teachers aware of it? Are the students being informed? How else would they learn about it?

Spiegelman, in MAUS itself, shows how carefully he selects the animals to depict the various nationalities when he ponders how to draw his French wife. (There is more on this later.) The choice of pigs was quite deliberate and sends a clear message that anyone with an understanding of the cultures involved, and the times, would appreciate. The narrative then plays into the stereotype by its relentless focus on Poles who behave brutishly, venally, and badly. 


NB. Not all Polish people during the war behaved brutishly, venally, or badly.  The fact is that the Polish Underground established the Polish Council to Aid the Jews, or Zegota as it came to be known.  Of the many excellent websites on the subject, I recommend the following. Please click on the link.  http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/Zegota.html 
 I also recommend that you read the book, "Zegota" written by Irene Tomaszewski, and Tecia Werbowski. (Publisher: Price-Patterson, ISBN10 # 1896881157, ISBN#13 978-1896881157


 
In the past, Art Spiegelman has not been forthright as to why he chose to draw Poles as pigs. In MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus (New York: Pantheon, 2011), Spiegelman divulges his actual reasons for portraying Poles as pigs: it is to bash Poles. With reference to his father’s attitude towards Poles, he quips, “So my metaphor [mice to be killed outright, and pigs to be exploited and eaten] was somehow able to hold that particular vantage point while still somehow acknowledging my father’s dubious opinion of Poles as a group.” (P. 122.) Despite the fact that Poland had for centuries given sanctuary to Jews persecuted elsewhere, Spiegelman adds that, “‘And considering the bad relations between
Poles and Jews for the last hundred years in Poland, it seemed right to use a non-
Kosher animal.’” (P. 125.) 


N.B.   Apparently Spiegelman can only count up to 100. The fact is that Poles and Jews have lived in Poland as neighbors for the past 1,000 years, through turbulent eras, yes - but there were also times of peace and goodwill. King Stephen Batory continues to be regarded with great respect and admiration among the Jews of today.  Among the Kings decrees, he offered protection to the Polish Jews, and denounced religious violence.


Unfortunately, Art Spiegelman’s anti-Polish biases run deep. At an interactive meeting at Angelo State University in February 2011, Spiegelman dismissed as “silly” the notion that Poles and Polish Americans were offended by his pig depiction. He told the audience that he had read a book that supposedly proved that the Poles in Nazi-occupied Poland were in favor of the Holocaust. He alleged that Poles objected only to having to sit back and watch while the Nazis carried out mass murder, referring to a diary written by a Polish man that, Spiegelman claimed, showed that most Poles resented not being able to carry out the Holocaust themselves. Spiegelman then said he could not remember the author or the title of the book on which he based this slanderous claim, joking awkwardly that he has always accepted the fact that memory is imperfect. (9)

All of this supports what Erin Einhorn, a Jewish-American author, concludes as being the real inspiration for the pig metaphor:              
... people like my grandparents, the survivor generation, emerged from the war with a blazing hatred for the Poles ... And they passed that hatred on to their children. It was why, I suspected, Art Spiegelman, the son of a survivor from Sosnowiec, the town next to the one where my mother was born, drew the Poles as pigs in his holocaust comic book, Maus, and the Germans as comparatively pleasant cats. The implication from our parents and grandparents was that the Germans, while evil and calculating in the war, were basically intelligent people who were swept catastrophically into nationalistic frenzy, while the Poles were anti-Semitic pigs. There was a reason – I had been told many times with a wink – that the Germans located the death camps in Poland, that the German people never would have stood for such horror on their own land. Poles, I was told, had welcomed the camps.

They’d embraced the chance to see Jews die around them. Even my mother, who was saved by a Polish family, told me the family only did it for the money. The reasonable part of me didn’t believe this. People don’t risk their lives for money alone, and such horrible, sweeping statements couldn’t possibly apply to an entire population without benefit of nuance or exception. (10)


That Spiegelman was under the influence of such biases is evident in MAUS itself. Nations or cultures he approves of are represented by noble or respectable animals, for example, Americans as dogs and Swedes as reindeer. However, cultures which he scorns are symbolized negatively. When discussing with his wife, who is French, how to draw Frenchmen, Spiegelman rejects her suggestion of bunny rabbits, as “too sweet and gentle” to apply to a nation [France] with a deep history of anti-Semitism and Nazi collaboration. Instead, he chose to draw Frenchmen as frogs, which could be seen as a slimy and lowly creature. However, since the French are peripheral to the MAUS story, their depiction as frogs plays no significant role in the book. One cannot say the same about the Poles, who appear front and centre and, for the most part, in a negative light. Their portrayal as pigs reinforces the notion that they were supposedly a nation of Nazi collaborators. Their portrayal at Auschwitz – overwhelmingly as brutal kapos – is a striking and graphic illustration of that phenomenon. 
 

NB.   Spiegelman' s depiction that all kapos being Polish is inaccurate. The majority of kapos were Germans thugs and convicted criminals, as well as Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Russians, and even Jews.  Though some claim that there were Polish kapos I am certain that most were the Volksdeutscher. (Poles of German descent)

The bigotry and historical distortions inherent in Vladek’s perspective on Poles are
validated by the author. Spiegelman’s own presence within the narrative (e.g., during the discussion between himself and his French wife about how to depict French characters) would have allowed him, through the voice of his own mouse character, to call attention to those flaws within his father’s views. Instead, he purposefully supports his father’s bias against Poles. (In contrast, his own mouse character challenges Vladek’s racism against African Americans near the end of the book.)

The claim that the use of animals to portray nations (anthropomorphism) simply reflects Nazi German ideology is not true, except in the case of Poles, who were often referred to “swine.” The Nazis did not portray the Germans as cats, the French as frogs or the Americans as dogs. In the Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew, Jews are portrayed as filthy, disease-bearing rats that had to be exterminated, not as helpless, emaciated mice. Moreover, the use of the pig metaphor is inept in showing the Poles’ actual place in the Nazi hierarchy of nations. While it is true that cats pursue mice, pigs are not their natural enemies: cats do not eat pigs. There is no indication that German cats intended to slaughter Poles, as they did by the millions. Rather, portraying Poles as well-fed pigs serves to underscore their alleged role as crude and dull stooges. The leitmotif of Poles as Nazi sympathizers and henchmen reinforces the false image of Poles as a nation of collaborators. In actual fact, Poles were one of the primary victims of National Socialist racial policies. They also produced occupied Europe’s largest underground army to fight the German invaders.


N.B.  Western media and schools give little or no information about one of the most important events in WW2 such as The Warsaw Uprising. The study of Poland is an essential part of the study of WW2 and must be included in history studies.  Please click on this link for in-depth facts and stories. http://www.warsawuprising.com/


Writing in the Comics Journal (no. 113, December 1986) from the perspective of “a first-generation American Jew,” Harvey Pekar voiced his strong objection to Spiegelman’s portrayal of Poles as pigs: 

It undermines his moral position. He negatively stereotypes Poles even though he portrays some hiding Jews from the Germans. ... I do not have general objections to anthropomorphism, but I do object to the way Spiegelman uses it. Art stereotypes nationalities, Orwell doesn’t. Orwell’s pigs do not represent a whole nation. They represent what comes to be the corrupt ruling class of a nation. Orwell didn’t portray the leaders of the animal revolution as pigs just to praise their intellects: he wanted people to view them as coarse and greedy, which is what people usually mean when they call each other ‘pig’. 
No amount of literary “deconstruction” of the text will undo that harmful and indelible impression. So when students studying MAUS direct remarks like “Oink, oink, piggies” and “you Poles killed the Jews” at fellow students of Polish origin, as was reported in a Toronto high school in the fall of 2013 , they are actually quite perceptive in picking up on the message – the biases and negative stereotypes – conveyed in MAUS. The fault lies not with the students, but with the book itself. 





FOOTNOTES

1  The Comics Journal , no. 113, December 1986.
2  Joseph Witek, ed., Art Spiegelman: Conversations
(Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2007), 193.
3  Ian Johnston, “On Spiegelman’s Maus I and II”,
Internet:  http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/introser/maus.htm.
4  Internet: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2376474/jewish/Pigs-Judaism.htm.
5  Alan Philps, “Pork-eating Gentiles stir outrage in Israel,” National Post (Toronto),
November 24, 1999.
6  Samuel P. Oliner, Restless Memories: Recollections of the Holocaust Years (Berkeley, California: Judah L. Magnes Museum, 1986), 29, 54.
7  Record of Witness Testimony No. 014, November 30, 1945, Voices from Ravensbrück,
Polish Institute of Source Research, Lund, Sweden, Internet:
http://www3.ub.lu.se/ravensbruck/interview14.
8  For example, Kosow Lacki (San Francisco: Holocaust Center of Northern Calif
ornia, 1992), 49; and The Cieszanow Memorial Book (Mahwah, New Jersey: Jacob Solomon Berger, 2006), 40.
9  Internet: http://bieganski-the-blog.blogspot.ca/2012/10/protesting-maus-by-dr-linda-
kornasky.html.
10 Erin Einhorn, The Pages In Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home New York: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2008), 48–49. 


NEXT

"The Problems with Spiegelman's MAUS:
Why MAUS should not be taught in High Schools or Elementary Schools"

 
Please click on the above link


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