(JTA) – Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” along with six books about the Holocaust geared toward young readers, are among the hundreds of books that a handful of school districts in Missouri have reportedly removed from their shelves since the start of this school year.
The list of books pulled from shelves was published Wednesday by the literary free-expression advocacy group PEN America, along with a letter of protest signed by Spiegelman and other authors.
“This is what happens when we are operating in a climate of fear,” Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s director of free expression and education programs, told reporters in a virtual press conference Wednesday sharing the findings.
The books were pulled owing to an amendment to a new Missouri state law, largely dealing with child trafficking and sexual abuse, that also establishes a criminal penalty for providing “explicit sexual material” to students. The law orders possible jail time for any educators found to be in violation.
Politically motivated school book bans are on the rise nationally, often prompted by right-wing parent groups and school board members, with the majority of such bans targeting books with racial and LGBTQ themes. They have attracted increased attention from Jewish groups as books about Judaism and the Holocaust have been caught up in the purges. A Tennessee school district’s removal of “Maus” from its Holocaust curriculum and a Texas school district’s brief removal of a graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary were both heavily opposed by Jewish groups earlier this year.
This time, Spiegelman’s “Maus” was banned from two different school districts: Wentzville School District and Ritenour School District, both in the St. Louis area. The Wentzville ban is categorized by PEN America as “banned pending investigation,” while Ritenour’s is categorized as “banned from libraries.”
The vast majority of the affected books originated from one school district: Wentzville, a St. Louis exurb that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported had ordered its librarians to pull more than 200 books off its shelves at the start of the semester and place them under review.
Included in the Wentzville purge was “Maus” and several Holocaust history books published for young readers by ReferencePoint Press: “Holocaust Camps and Killing Centers,” “Holocaust Rescue and Liberation” and “Holocaust Resistance” by Craig Blohm; “Hitler’s Final Solution” by John Allen; and “LIfe in a Nazi Concentration Camp” by Don Nardo. A Time-Life history book on the Holocaust, “Apparatus of Death — The Third Reich” by Thomas Flaherty, was also banned.
Further books banned by Wentzville included “Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations” by Mira Jacob, which relays discussions with the author’s Jewish husband and biracial son about Jews and politics, and several books about photographers and artists with Jewish heritage, including André Kertész, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Irving Penn, Marc Chagall and Amedeo Modigliani.
In addition, Lindbergh Schools in St. Louis banned “A Dangerous Woman,” a graphic biography of Jewish socialist radical Emma Goldman by Jewish writer and artist Sharon Rudahl. And Kirkwood School District in a St. Louis suburb banned “Women,” a photography book by Jewish photographer Annie Leibovitz with text by famed Jewish writer Susan Sontag, as well as another book by Leibovitz; and “Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation,” an essay collection edited by LGBTQ Jewish writers Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman.
The text of the noteworthy amendment to Missouri S.B. 775 reads: “A person commits the offense of providing explicit sexual material to a student if such person is affiliated with a public or private elementary or secondary school in an official capacity and, knowing of its content and character, such person provides, assigns, supplies, distributes, loans, or coerces acceptance of or the approval of the providing of explicit sexual material to a student or possesses with the purpose of providing, assigning, supplying, distributing, loaning, or coercing acceptance of or the approval of the providing of explicit sexual material to a student.”
Because of the law’s wording, Friedman said, Missouri school districts — particularly Wentzville — were on guard for graphic novels and illustrated books that might contain objectionable images. The Holocaust books were earmarked by either parents or educators as “sexually explicit” for containing disturbing historical images, according to PEN America’s analysis.
“It’s those pictures, essentially, that we’re being told here are the reasons for these books not being on the shelves,” Friedman said.
The Wentzville, Ritenour and Kirkwood school districts did not return requests for comment from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. A Kirkwood representative previously told the Post-Dispatch, “The unfortunate reality of Senate Bill 775 is that, now in effect, it includes criminal penalties for individual educators. We are not willing to risk those potential consequences and will err on the side of caution on behalf of the individuals who serve our students.”
A spokesperson for Lindbergh Schools told JTA in a statement, “Lindbergh has taken necessary steps to ensure compliance with state law by carefully reviewing library and classroom resources, and removing items from student access if they contain visual images that meet the requirements set forth in SB 775.”
A group of students and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Wentzville district this past spring over a different group of book bans, including Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”; some of those books were restored to shelves after the lawsuit was filed.
If the books were indeed removed for pictures that were classified as sexually explicit, the Missouri bans would follow a similar pattern to that of the Tennessee and Texas school districts that removed “Maus” and the Anne Frank adaptation earlier this year. Parties in both districts had also objected to illustrated images in the books they said were sexually explicit.
The bans of the Jewish and Holocaust-themed books occurred alongside scores of other books that were not Jewish-themed, including a graphic novel adaptation of “1984”; Alan Moore’s “Watchmen”; the Children’s Bible; graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Lois Lowry’s “The Giver”; and how-to books about oil painting and watercolors.
Missouri’s governor signed a statewide Holocaust education mandate into law earlier this year.
“We’re grateful that Missouri as a state has made clear that it prioritizes Holocaust education,” Rori Picker Neiss, executive director at the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, told JTA. But, she added, “it does feel like banning these books does go against, while not the letter of the law, the spirit of the law.”
“Such overzealous book banning is going to do more harm than good. Book bans limit opportunities for students to see themselves in literature and to build empathy for experiences different from their own,” reads an open letter opposing the bans signed by Spiegelman and other authors including Lowry and Laurie Halse Anderson.
“Students in Missouri are having these educational opportunities denied.”
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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