Art Spiegelman Warns Holocaust Stories Will Follow CRT as Next Subject Pulled From Schools

Pulitzer Prize–winning author Art Spiegelman is warning that Holocaust stories will follow in the footsteps of critical race theory and become the next subject matter to be pulled from school curriculums.

Spiegelman said it seems that stories about Jewish Americans will be the next battleground in public schools, "after coming against critical race theory as the accusation against books dealing with our history [and] never facing up to studying the genocide of Indians."

"It's already started happening, like I said. The dog whistles abound," he told CNN's New Day on Thursday.

Earlier this month, Spiegelman's award-winning graphic novel Maus was removed from an eighth-grade English-language arts curriculum in Tennessee after the McMinn County Board of Education unanimously voted to pull the book over concerns about profanity and a drawing of a nude woman.

Maus follows the story of Spiegelman's Jewish parents in Poland in the years leading up to the Holocaust and their internment in Auschwitz. The book had been used by the school district as an "anchor text" for students studying the Holocaust.

"I moved past total bafflement to try to be tolerant of people who may possibly not be Nazis, maybe," Spiegelman said. He added that, based on a transcript of the meeting, he does not believe the school board removed the book because he is Jewish.

"The problem is sort of bigger and stupider than that," he said. "They're totally focused on some bad words in the book, like damn."

"I think they're so myopic in their focus—and they're so afraid of what's implied and having to defend the decision to teach Maus as part of the curriculum—that it led to this kind of daffily myopic response," Spiegelman said.

In a statement sent to Newsweek, the McMinn County Board of Education said, "Taken as a whole, the Board felt this work was simply too adult-oriented for use in our schools."

The statement continued, "We do not diminish the value of Maus as an impactful and meaningful piece of literature, nor do we dispute the importance of teaching our children the historical and moral lessons and realities of the Holocaust."

The board has asked administrators "to find other works that accomplish the same educational goals in a more age-appropriate fashion."

"The atrocities of the Holocaust were shameful beyond description, and we all have an obligation to ensure that younger generations learn of its horrors to ensure that such an event is never repeated," the statement said.

Art Spiegelman Maus Holocaust Tennessee School Board
Art Spiegelman's award-winning graphic novel "Maus" was removed from an eighth-grade English-language arts curriculum in Tennessee earlier this month. Above, Spiegelman on March 20, 2012, in Paris. Bertrand Langlois/AFP

Spiegelman found out about the school board's decision, which he said "has the breadth of autocracy and fascism," only on Wednesday after the news circulated on Twitter.

"Today's International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which adds to the poignancy, irony and madness of this to some degree because one would think that the word remembrance is important," he said on Thursday.

"I think of [the ban] as a harbinger of things to come," he cautioned.

Newsweek reached out to the McMinn County school board's chairman, Sharon Brown, for comment but did not hear back before publication.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has also stressed the importance of keeping stories like Maus in the curriculum of America's public schools. "Teaching about the Holocaust using books like Maus can inspire students to think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today," according to the museum.

Spiegelman told CNN that he's "met so many young people who...have learned things from my book."

"I also understand that Tennessee is obviously demented," he added. "There's something going on very, very haywire there."

Last summer, parents in Tennessee fought to have books that were included in Williamson County's "Wit and Wisdom" curriculum removed for being "Anti-American, Anti-White, and Anti-Mexican."

The books in question focused on civil rights icons like Martin Luther King Jr. and Ruby Bridges, the first Black student to attend an all-white school in Louisiana.

In December, the state Department of Education declined to investigate the allegations because the lessons mentioned in the complaint took place during the last school year. The department said it has the authority to investigate only the current school year.

Update 01/27/21, 4:35 p.m. ET: This story was updated with comments from the McMinn County Board of Education.