The Mouse Censorship and the Memory of the Holocaust

The Mouse Censorship and the Memory of the Holocaust

Nazism was defeated in May 1945, but anti-Semitism lives on, is healthy, and not confined to a millennial Reich or overtly racist one-party ideology. Recently, a county in Tennessee (USA) banned the publication of the comix (yes, with x; that’s what independent label comics are called in English) Maus because it uses “swear words” and shows the “nude of a woman”. . This new censorship adds to the list of nearly 500 works banned according to the Office of Intellectual Freedom; Some are as significant to popular culture as To Kill a Mockingbird, the Tintin comics, The Adventures of Captain Underpants, or the film Gone with the Wind. Paradoxically, and as is common in authoritarian language, this curtailment of liberties rests on the supposed defense of the common good because, we are told, they want to spare us unnecessary pain by exposing them to “inadequate ideas.”

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However, Mouse is a masterpiece in many ways, and its censorship has only enhanced its moral value. Its success is underpinned by millions of copies sold worldwide and winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, but I think its main achievement is keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive in the memories of new generations.

Art Spiegelman was born in Stockholm in 1948. His parents survived the Holocaust, but his older brother (Richieu) did not. His mother committed suicide in 1968 and Spiegelman, after a brief internment in a mental hospital, took refuge in drawing thriving underground comics late in the decade. The crisis of the 1970s also affected the style of the underground, which was concerned with developing more elaborate screenplays than its initial graphic bluntness based on sex, drugs or violence.

Among the numerous creators of this renewed underground comic, Art Spielgelman and Bill Griffith stand out, in whose Arcade magazine they managed to bring together veterans like Crumb or Gilbert Shelton, who were already masters of this crude and cathartic style of telling stories that weren’t were suitable for all target groups. . Shortly thereafter, Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly – his wife – founded RAW magazine, where “graphic art” came of age, under the guise of a large-format comic and with a huge cast of authors such as Kaz, Gary Panter, Charles Burns, Sue Coe and many more other.

Unlike traditional comics – and this will be a constant in Spiegelman’s work – its pages are designed to be read slowly and very often require a second read, after which new ideas or sensations emerge. It is not a fast consumer product and must be recycled.

Cartoonist Art Spiegelman, in his New York studio in 2008.Cartoonist Art Spiegelman, 2008 in his New York studio

The first few pages of Maus were published in the 1972 underground comic Funny Animals, edited by his friend and future RAW co-editor Justin Green. A major innovation by Maus is having resorted to small anthropomorphic animals to represent the Nazi hell of extermination and anti-Semitic persecution in Europe: the Jews are represented by small mice reminiscent of the classic comic book characters of the golden age, the Nazis are cats and the Polish employees are pigs. An Orwellian metaphor illustrated in black and white. Mouse’s other originality is introspective analysis. As Crumb and Green themselves had done before, Spiegelman brilliantly handled the first character to convey, with great psychological realism, deep and complex thoughts about something as horrific as the Holocaust.

Maus develops two parallel stories in very different times, circumstances and places, but both bound by the umbilical cord of a common heritage. On the one hand it is a historical vision based on the life of his parents in Poland (narrated by father Vladeck) and their fight against annihilation. But Maus is also a contemporary autobiographical analysis of the assimilation of Jews in the United States at the end of the 20th century and also the complexity of human relationships. At one point, Vladeck cynically draws his son’s attention to friendship: “Lock yourself in a locked room with your best friends for a week, with no food or water, and you’ll see where your friends stay!” Probably It is this parallel narrative of two such disparate historical moments that gives Maus an enormous evocative power that prevents us from understanding the Holocaust as “something from the past”.

There is a vignette in which Vladeck bitterly laments: “My life would require several books to be told, and yet no one cares to know my story.” Thanks to Maus, that didn’t happen, so I think that’s his great merit: preventing the victims from being forgotten just because they got into the history books. It is history’s great paradox: when the memory of events is rationalized and “packaged” in history manuals, it seems as if they are buried in a library.

Perhaps in response to this neglect, Spiegelman included the first versions of Maus in his 1977 summary Breakdowns, an ambiguous English term that can be translated as breakdowns, fractures, meltdowns, failures, or nervous breakdowns. And actually we find all of that in Maus. Life in the ghetto, collaboration and denunciation by neighbors, the trains to Auschwitz, tattoos on the deportees’ forearms, forced labour, the systematic extermination of children, suicide, the gas chambers and many other horrific and inhuman moments under the shadow of the swastika will be included expressed in the language of comics, and this is how Spiegelman manages to go further and, above all, deeper than many historical studies on the Shoah or a simple archive of photographs, films or documents. It’s not that they aren’t necessary, it’s that they aren’t sufficient. We needed mouse.

No one had dared to do such a thing before Spiegelman, and many of us thank him for daring, though to the surprise of so many his work has been banned by those thoughtful minds who believe the Holocaust should be in shining colors explained.

Fernando Navarro García is the author of the “Biographical Dictionary of National Socialism and the Third Reich” and President of the consulting firm Innovaetica.

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