Have We Forgotten What We Learned From "Schindler's List?"
Updated: Feb 11, 2022
It's remarkable how much a piece of media can change the world, and no film is a better example than Schindler's List. Arguably Steven Spielberg's crowning achievement, the impact of Schindler's List is one that simply cannot be overstated. Back in 1993, the film grossed over $322 million dollars and won 7 of the 12 Academy Awards it was nominated for. Not only was Schindler's List a monumental achievement in the world of film, it also introduced the world to the story of Oskar Schindler, and his enamelware factory that saved over 1,200 Jewish lives during the Holocaust. The film brilliantly illustrated the severity of World War II and just how much it affected the Jewish population all around the world, these days it's pretty much impossible to have a conversation about Holocaust movies without bringing up Schindler's List. The film not only brought a nuanced awareness to a worldwide tragedy but also taught the importance of compassion, and how we must never let the horrors of the Holocaust happen again. However, it seems like in recent years, the world has forgotten this film and the lessons that Schindler's List taught audiences over two decades ago. In a time where Holocaust media erasure is more common than ever, it's important that we remember what these films stood for.
Holocaust deniers are not something new, in fact it's been a popular conspiracy theory among the far right for decades. Luckily these antisemitic ramblings have been dismissed by the general population, pushed to the fringes of society and the internet. However in a particularly concerning event that took place mere weeks ago. Holocaust erasure was brought to the forefront in a place where it has absolutely no place, a school district.
On January 10th, 2022, the board of McMinn County Schools in eastern Tennessee unanimously voted to remove Art Spiegelman's graphic novel, Maus from the school curriculum. Maus is a Pulitzer Prize winning book that tells the story of the author's parents, Vladek and Anja and their harrowing tale of survival in Auschwitz. What makes the book unique is the art style, with the Jews being drawn as mice and the Nazis being drawn as cats in order to portray the war as a "game of cat and mouse" between the Jewish people and the third reich. Much like Schindler's List, Maus illustrates a tragic moment in history while simultaneously showing the triumphs of the human spirit. So why would a Pulitzer Prize winning book be voted 10-0 to be banned from an entire school district? The excuse used by the McMinn board of trustees was "unnecessary profanity" aka the word "damn" being used eight times, and as well as a nude cartoon mouse making an appearance on one of the pages. I think it's important to note that the "nude body" is of the author's mother after she committed suicide in the bathtub. According to famed author, Neil Gaiman, "There's only one kind of people who would vote to ban Maus, whatever they are calling themselves these days." It seems like the social awareness preached by Schindler's List is fading into the background in favor of making history less complicated and more digestible. Tennessee Wesleyan librarian, Alex Sharp has stated that "When we start banning books, we get into really dangerous territory where we are stunting our children, and not allowing them to have exposure to important ideas." In an interview with Christine Amanpour, Spiegelman claims that the school district wanted to portray "a kinder, gentler Holocaust" to their students, which defeats the entire point he was trying to make with his novel.
There is good that can come of banning a historic, brilliant book like Maus, but thankfully it seems like the world has taken notice. In the weeks since McMinn County banned the graphic novel from their curriculum, it seems like the book has become more popular than ever. On January 30th, Maus reached #1 on Amazon, climbing over 1,000 spots. A nearby bookstore in the area, Nirvana Comics, began offering the book to anyone who asks for it, free of charge. Even a local Episcopalian church has begun holding public readings and discussions of the novel, prompting discussions of antisemitism throughout the community.
In a country, thats first amendment grants freedom of speech and press, no form of media should be banned, especially one that holds historical significance like Maus. Outlawing books does nothing but allow ignorance to remain prominant in our culture. It's important not to forget what landmark films such as Schindler's List taught us all those years ago. Silencing victims of the Holocaust only make a tragedy like that more likely to happen again. If an entire school district is able to unanimously ban Maus, who knows what they could prohibit next? We can't allow a "a kinder, gentler Holocaust" to be the standard of education in the United States.