Questions for Webinar “Bringing Maus to the Classroom”

Questions for Webinar “Bringing Maus to the Classroom”

Dear Sir/Madam,

Many Polish American organizations recognize that the current controversy over MAUS inexplicably ignores the valid reasons why it is unsuitable for the classroom. As a member of one of these organizations, I wish to convey what I believe are common concerns about the book’s obvious deficiencies and would like to ask, as outlined in the questions below, if the webinar will address them.

Question 1: Will the webinar explain why Mr. Spiegelman falsifies the facts through distortions and material omissions? The following is offered for your consideration:

  • Spiegelman portrays Poles as German sympathizers, which was never the case. Civil resistance among Poles under German occupation was universal and the underground Home Army fought the Germans at every turn. Unlike other German-occupied and allied countries, Poles never formed a collaborationist government, never formed a militia to round up or execute Jews, and never formed SS units, all of which served to prolong the war and enable Hitler’s mass murders of Jews and Poles.
  • Virtually all of the brutal kapos in German camps are shown as pigs and allof the kapos in Auschwitz are drawn as Poles. This is complete fiction. By contrast, there are numerous eyewitness testimonies by Jews who detail the cruelty and abuses they suffered at the hands of Jewish kapos while in Auschwitz.
  • Spiegelman fails to mention that Poles who helped Jews in any way faced the death penalty together with immediate family if discovered by the Germans. Instead, Poles helping Jews are portrayed as greedy and deceitful. Despite the German death penalty, the largest number by far of any country honored as Righteous Among the Nations – over 7,100 – are Poles, many of whom were killed for aiding Jews. While these are known to Yad Vashem, thousands more are known only to God.
  • The Germans relied on Jewish Gestapo agents to hunt down Jews who escaped from the ghetto. Żagiew and Group 13, led by Abraham Gancwajch and colloquially known as the “Jewish Gestapo”, inflicted considerable damage on both Jewish and Polish underground resistance movements. Spiegelman instead assigns this role exclusively to Poles, which is egregiously false.

Question 2: Will the webinar explain why Mr. Spiegelman harbors such a strong enmity toward Poles? The following is offered for your consideration:

  • Spiegelman heard the words of his father Vladek, a Polish Jew who described Poles negatively.
  • In writing his interpretation of his father’s words, Mr. Spiegelman inserts his own anti-Polish sentiments, which are easily recognized by his portrayal of Poles as pigs and distortions of historical fact.
  • As a result, MAUShas become an inaccurate element in the history of the Holocaust.
  • Children of survivors who read or hear such elements understandably want retribution and restorative justice but are unable to pursue it objectively.
  • The inability to achieve this goal is a constant burden carried by the children of the survivors and remains the situation for young Jews. Jewish American and Polish American relations thus remain disturbed.
  • Is Mr. Spiegelman able to acknowledge that MAUSis a contributing factor to this unresolvable burden?

Question 3: Will the webinar explain why Mr. Spiegelman chose to portray Poles, rather than Germans, as pigs and a nation of swine? The following is offered for your consideration:

  • Ethical writing requires the author to present an accurate and unbiased account. However, in choosing to portray Poles as pigs,MAUS is a historically inaccurate expression of Mr. Spiegelman’s anti-Polish prejudices. In The Norton Anthology of American Literature, editors Jerome Klinkowitz and Patricia B. Wallace describe his representation of Poles as pigs as “a calculated insult”.
  • In popular culture, pigs are generally viewed as disgusting, filthy animals considered to be vulgar and stupid. In Jewish culture, the pig has an intense and abominable connotation; pigs and pork are considered to be unclean in a way that other animals are not. It is revealing that Mr. Spiegelman chose this supremely unclean animal to depict Poles rather than the Germans, who were perpetrating mass murders of Jews and Poles throughout occupied Poland.
  • Because Poles were hunted down and murdered by the Germans well before Polish Jews were, Mr. Spiegelman should have also portrayed Poles as mice, which accurately matches his caricaturist convention.
  • Spiegelman’s incessant depiction of Poles as anti-Semitic “pigs”, together with the highly derisive connotation the 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. Doing so was clearly intended to deprecate the Poles as a nation.

Question 4: Will the webinar explain that the book is not suitable from an educational perspective because few teachers, as well as elementary and high school students, have sufficient contextual knowledge to see through its falsified depiction of Poles? The following is offered for your consideration:

  • MAUSis primarily about the Holocaust, which is a historical event rightly considered to be an important topic for study. However, to have educational value, the treatment of historical context must strive for accuracy and objectivity. In particular, it is important to ensure that other groups who suffered under German oppression are presented in a fair manner. While Hitler’s policy for European Jews was comprehensive genocide, most are unaware his policy for Poles was comprehensive genocide over a longer period of time. To ensure compliance with states’ educational standards for historical accuracy, students must know that the victims of his premeditated, concurrent horror encompassed Jews, Poles, Russians, Roma, and many others.
  • Most are also unaware that Hitler and Stalin initiated World War II to apportion Europe between them and their demarcation line ran through the middle of Poland. The secret protocol in their 1939 nonaggression pact prescribed the destruction of the Polish people and the annihilation of the Polish state. In the first two years of the war, while virtually all of Poland’s Jews were imprisoned in German-established ghettos, Poles were the primary target of a coordinated German and Soviet extermination process designed to annihilate them on both sides of the Ribbentrop-Molotov line.
  • Polish deaths during World War II were proportionately the greatest of any nation participating in the war. For Poland, the deaths of Poles and Polish Jews was a double holocaust.

Question 5: Will the webinar explain that school children of Polish background who are required to study this book justifiably feel that their identity and cultural heritage have been diminished by the perspectives described in it and are understandably humiliated by this experience? The following is offered for your consideration:

  • Many of these children have grandparents who may have been inmates of German concentration and extermination camps, whose family members may have been tortured and executed, or forced to work as slave laborers, or subjected to medical experiments.
  • Portraying Poles as a nation of pigs is egregiously offensive and constitutes willful harm to the memory of Poles who died at the hands of the Germans.
  • The purpose of choosing a book about the Holocaust is to advance a student’s knowledge and understanding of this topic with proper respect paid to the memory of all those who concurrently perished. The purpose is not to distort the history and cause distress and division among students.

Question 6: Will the webinar explain that the use of MAUS as the single or anchor text for Holocaust instruction constitutes educational discrimination? The following is offered for your consideration:

  • Title VI, 42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq., prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance.
  • SECTION 51. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10 says schools shall not use supplemental instructional materials that include the concept by which an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex. By logical extension, this also applies to ethnic groups.
  • Students of Polish heritage who are required to study material that is biased against and contains false information about Poles’ alleged role in the Holocaust constitutes discrimination by wrongfully causing them to feel ashamed, angered, and confused.
  • For some Polish American students who are forced to study MAUS, the resultant negative psychological impact is not only traumatizing but also adversely affects their confidence and academic performance.
  • There is no book in any school curriculum that targets another group for derision in this way and no parent would want their child to be forced to study a book that treats his or her group in the wrongful manner that Poles are portrayed in MAUS.
  • Because students are required to study a material that does not address all the victims of German oppression, exclusion of these victims in instructional material constitutes educational discrimination and further violates states’ educational standards for historical accuracy.

Question 7: Will the webinar explain that, in contrast to the unsuitability of MAUS, there are other books appropriate for the classroom which, while describing Hitler’s attempted destruction of European Jews, also describe his concurrent destruction of Poles, Russians, Roma, and others?

Question 8: Will the webinar explain why Amazon categorizes MAUS as fiction while the jurors who awarded it the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 as a Special Award in Letters designated it as nonfiction? The following is offered for your consideration:

  • As outlined in Question 1 above, Mr. Spiegelman, despite his stated research, not only falsifies historical facts but also distorts them with significant material omissions. As a result, fiction is the correct categorization for this book.
  • As outlined in Question 3 above, Mr. Spiegelman’s anti-Polish animus, rather than a sense of ethical writing, is the reason he portrays Poles as pigs and a nation of swine. This portrayal was his choice, despite the fact that it was the Germans who perpetrated mass murders against Jews and Poles. As a result, fiction is the correct categorization for this book.

Question 9: Regarding Question 7 of “Students Toughest Questions”, i.e., What was the role of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust, will the webinar explain the role of the Polish Catholic Church during German occupation? The following is offered for your consideration:

  • The Polish Catholic Church rescued Jewish children on a massive scale by hiding them in convents, orphanages, and rectories. A majority of Polish nunneries took part in the rescue of Jewish children. The efforts of the Church, together with the efforts of Żegota, rescued tens of thousands of Polish Jews. Despite the standing death penalty, no German-occupied country had such an organizational infrastructure that was established specifically to aid Jews.
  • When Hitler and Stalin jointly attacked in 1939, there were just over 10 thousand diocese priests working in Poland and around 20 percent of this number died at the hands of the Germans. Moreover, around 4 thousand priests and monks and 11 thousand nuns were imprisoned in German camps. About 90 percent of the clergy imprisoned at Dachau were Poles and of all Catholic clergy imprisoned by the Germans, only Poles were subjected to medical experiments.

Question 10: Regarding Question 9 of “Students Toughest Questions”, i.e., Why were Jews singled out for mass murder, will the webinar explain that Poles, as well as Jews, were singled out by Hitler for mass murder? The following is offered for your consideration:

  • As noted in Question 4 above, Hitler’s policy for European Jews was comprehensive genocide and his policy for Poles was comprehensive genocide over a longer period of time.
  • One week before he attacked Poland on 1 September, 1939, Hitler convened his top generals at Obersalzberg and directed them to “send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the Lebensraum which we need.”
  • Hitler’s Lebensraum policy required neighboring Eastern European countries to be conquered and colonized by German settlers. Lebensraum was the foundation for his Generalplan Ost, which called for up to 30 million Slavs and Jews to be removed from Eastern Europe to make way about 10 million German settlers. Among Slavs, Poles were the plan’s primary target as up to 85 percent, some 20 million, were to be deported to the deep Soviet interior and eventually exterminated.
  • The UN’s 1948 Genocide Convention defined and adopted the five acts that constitute genocide. The Germans perpetrated all five genocidal acts against the Poles; four acts were perpetrated against Jews.
  • According to the Convention, forcibly transferring children of the group to another group is an act of genocide. The Germans kidnapped many thousands of Polish children with Aryan features for Germanization under Himmler’s Lebensborn program and most never returned.

Question 11: Regarding Question 6 of “Students Toughest Questions”, i.e., When did the United States realize what was happening to Jews in Europe and what was the response, will the webinar explain that Poles were the first to notify the West? The following is offered for your consideration:

  • Witold Pilecki voluntarily walked into a German round-up for Auschwitz prisoners and sent reports to the Polish resistance headquarters in Warsaw. These comprised the first comprehensive record that convinced the Allies the Germans were engaged in genocide on an unprecedented scale.
  • Jan Karski was a courier who secretly travelled between the Polish government-in-exile in London and the Polish Underground Government in occupied Poland. He was twice smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto by Jewish underground leaders to observe the horrifying conditions. Disguised as a Ukrainian guard, he also entered the Izbica Lubelska transit camp, where Jews were confined in appalling conditions awaiting transport to the Bełżec and Sobibór death camps.
  • Karski carried out of Poland a microfilm with this information and it became one of the earliest and most accurate accounts of the beginning of the Holocaust. He was also the first eyewitness to personally meet with FDR and British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and gave a detailed statement on what he had seen, all of which fell on deaf ears.
  • On December 10, 1942, the Polish government-in-exile published a document titled The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland, which was addressed to the Governments of the United Nations and was the first international publication of Hitler’s mass murders.
  • General Władysław Sikorski, Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, offered to bomb rail lines to the extermination camps but his offer was declined by the British leadership.

Question 12: Regarding Question 11 of “Students Toughest Questions”, i.e., Did some Jews collaborate with the Nazis, will the webinar explain that, in addition to the Germans, Jews collaborated with the Soviets against the Poles? The following is offered for your consideration:

  • As Hitler’s Wehrmacht occupied western Poland, Stalin’s Red Army occupied eastern Poland and deported up to 1.5 million Poles to Gulag camps in the Soviet interior, resulting in an estimated death rate of over 30 percent.
  • Various accounts document Polish Jews, including rabbis, greeting the Soviets with welcoming banners, kissing their tanks, and forming militias and revolutionary committees that denounced Polish “class enemies” for deportation, identified Poles to the NKVD for execution, and arrested, robbed, and in some cases, murdered Polish officials, priests, community leaders, and landowners.
  • By directly aiding the Soviet Union in its objective to destroy the Polish state, these actions by Polish Jews constituted de facto treason.

Question 13: Regarding your answers to the “Students Toughest Questions”, will the webinar explain why the word “Nazi” is repeatedly used when the correct words are “German” and “Austrian”? The following is offered for your consideration:

  • As time goes by, the Germans and their annexed Austrian partners in crime continue to be eliminated from global awareness and replaced by abstract “Nazis”. The Nazis have no homeland or children; they evaporated in 1945.
  • Calling these Germans and Austrians “Nazis” serves to advance the German and Austrian guilt diffusion narrative.
  • Austrians comprised 8 per cent of the Third Reich’s population, 13 percent of the SS, as well as 40 per cent of the staff and 75 per cent of commanders at death camps.
  • Even at its peak, the Nazi party had only 6.5 million members in a population of 69 million, while at least 20 million Germans were involved directly in the war and its associated repressions and mass murders. Supposedly, the rest of the German people “didn’t know”. The operation of the many ghettos, concentration camps, extermination camps, as well as the large German civil service, railroad system, heavy industry, and agriculture that employed thousands of slave laborers, could not have been accomplished with “Nazis” alone or without the families and lovers of the direct perpetrators knowing about it.
  • The Germans and their annexed Austrian partners in crime could not have caused the deaths of so many European Jews without the help of the collaborationist governments of France, Norway, Slovakia, Croatia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Romania. There were also the Auxiliary Police units of Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia that were active participants in the service of the Third Reich.

Thank you for your invitation and the opportunity to participate in your webinar.


Gene Sokolowski, PhD

President, PASI EDU
Polish American Strategic Initiative Education
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