Joel’s selection for February’s book group is Maus by Art Spiegelman.

From the book jacket:

Maus is the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father, his father’s terrifying story, and History itself. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), succeeds perfectly in shocking us out of any lingering sense of familiarity with the events described…

Spiegelman became the first — and still only — comics creator to win the Pulitzer Prize, which he was awarded for Maus, a two-volume graphic novel. (“Graphic novel” is a term substituted for “comic book” to make them more palatable to non-comic readers.)

Maus will be challenging for many members, but for different reasons. It’s challenging for Mac and Jennifer because they don’t like comic books, and they’re both skeptical that this one might have achieved some level of greatness. It’s challenging for Lisa because Holocaust literature gives her nightmares, seriously messes with her mind. It’s challenging for me because I’m tired of Holocaust tales to the point that I avoid them (for example, I didn’t see last year’s Oscar-nominated The Pianist because it’s a Holocaust film). It’s not that I’m an anti-semite or don’t care about what happened; it’s just that I get the point by now, and I’m tired of having it hearing it over and over again.

(There are various web resources available to enhance your reading of Maus.)

Aimee’s book selection for March is a nice complement to Joel’s selection. We’ll be reading Explaining Hitler by Ron Rosenbaum.

I’m excited to read both of these books individually, but more especially as a pair. I’ve read Maus before, and it’s excellent. I’ve only read a few pages of the introduction to Explaining Hitler so far, but it too looks great, too:

Is it possible to find in the thinly distributed, heatedly disputed facts of Hitler’s life before he came to power some single transformative moment, some dramatic trauma, or some life-changing encounter with a Svengali-like figure — a moment of metamorphosis that made Hitler Hitler? It’s a search impelled by the absence of a coherent and convincing evolutionary account of Hitler’s psychological development, one that would explain his transformation from a shy, artistically minded youth, the dispirited denizen of a Viennese homeless shelter, from the dutiful but determinedly obscure army corporal, to the figure who, not long after his return to Munich from the war, suddenly leapt onto the stage of history as a terrifyingly incendiary, spellbinding street orator. One who proceeded to take a party whose members numbered in the dozens and used it to seize power over a nation of millions; made that nation and instrument of his will, a will that convulsed the world and left forty million corpses in its wake. Missing, metaphorically then, is something that will help us explain Hitler’s baby pictures.

Those baby pictures: If I had to choose a single defining moment in the course of researching and thinking about the search for Hitler, it might have to be that evening in Paris when I witnessed — when I was on the receiving end of — French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann‘s angry tirade over Hitler’s baby pictures. When I witnessed the way the acclaimed director of Shoah, the nine-and-a-half hour Holocaust documentary, metaphorically brandished the baby pictures, brandished the scandalizing idea of the baby pictures in my face as weapons in his personal, obsessive war against the question Why. It was a moment that exposed both the passion behind the controversy over the problem of explaining Hitler — and the question at its core.

It might come as a surprise to many that the very notion of attempting to explain Hitler should seem not merely difficult in itself but dangerous, forbidden, a transgression of near-biblical proportions to some. And, in fact, Lanzmann does represent an extreme position, the end point of a continuum, what I would call third-level despair over explaining Hitler. The point at which the despair turns to outright hostility to the process of explanation itself. The point at which the search for Hitler doubles back on its searchers.

I don’t know where Rosenbaum plans to lead me as he explores Hitler’s origins. I’m curious. I often wonder if his motives might have no more explanation than a Citizen Kane-like “Rosebud” moment. Perhaps when he was a young man he suffered some sort of teasing or torment at the hands of a Jewish boy. Perhaps this small event, or one similar, planted a seed of bitterness that grew into full-fledged forest of destruction that embroiled the entire world and killed forty million people. Who knows? Rosenbaum’s book should be a fascinating read.

It seems to me that there are three great defining moments in the American cultural mythos: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II. As World War II is the most recent, it plays the largest role in shaping our society. Of these three defining events, World War II is the setting we most commonly use to explain ourselves and the world around us. (The destruction of the World Trade Center certainly has the possibility to become a fourth defining moment in our mythos, and it is without question the event that dominates our current cultural mindset.)


On 25 January 2004 (02:28 PM),
Dana said:

I think there are at least a couple other events with equal amounts of impact, one of which isn’t largely acknowledged.

First, you left out Vietnam, which really kicked the baby-boomer generation into a very particular set of attitudes, actions, and behaviors. In many ways, it’s still at the heart of the split between Liberal and Conservative here in the US today, a split which has only become more entrenched over time.

The unacknowledged event, I think, is the Indian Wars and the coupled idea of Manifest Destiny. They both had an enormous impact on the nature of our culture, and the shape and composition of both the nation and the population. And we largely ignore it. It’s a 500 lb gorilla in the corner that nobody talks about. My grandfather was born in southern Minnesota in 1918, and the Indian Uprising over in South Dakota was still fresh in people’s minds when he was a kid.

The fact that the decimation of the Native Americans happened, and happened in ways we would now consider as bad or worse than what the Nazis did to the Jews, AND that we don’t discuss it at all, says a lot about the kind of nation we have, too. Just because we choose not to acknowledge it’s effects doesn’t mean it’s important. It suggests it’s important in a negative way, that we’d rather not focus on.

That’s just my opinion, obviously. I think the Labor movements of the early 20th century were nearly as important as WWII, too. Again, that’s just me.

On 25 January 2004 (03:32 PM),
mart said:

the wife and i are in complete agreement with your no-holocaust-tales-thing. ’round here we avoid them like the plague. i did let one slip last year: alain resnais’ “night and fog”. and at some point in my life i’ll be tempted by “shoah”, if only because of the joke in “annie hall”(?) where woody keeps taking dates to see it.

as a younger man i visited dachau. perhaps that frees me from having to watch these films anymore?

On 25 January 2004 (06:34 PM),
Dana said:

I bring this up whenever holocaust stuff comes up.

When the Allies went in to liberate Germany, there was a BBC documentary crew that went into Dachau with the troops.

After the documentary was completed, the Beeb decided it was too graphic, and shelved it. At some point in the 70s or 80s, it was located, they rerecorded the sound, and made it available.

I watched it in Social Studies in 9th grade. Holy Cow. It was worth seeing, but once is enough.

On 25 January 2004 (07:25 PM),
Nikchick said:

Maus was my first comic book. I’d never read comics, unless you count strips in the paper or Bazooka Joe, but Maus really opened my mind to the experience.

I’m still no regular comic reader, but I’ve enjoyed my fair share since then.

5 Replies to “Hitler’s Baby Pictures”

  1. Bob Marley says:

    Hitler looks different wit out da stash

    Hail Hitla

  2. Amanda Smith says:

    I think that hitler looke’s weird in these pictures but in away this info dosent really help me because I am doing a project on hilter and the book Mein Kampf that he wrote or also known as (My Struggle but I need a lot more information on him if you could u can email me at [email protected] or [email protected] but I am always on yahoo so that you can email me this information and some pictures of him when he was in war with the soviet union and those other places plz get this information to me ASAP thanks Amanda

  3. no!!!! says:

    wat tha????

  4. Marializ says:

    Hitler had a very difficult life in his childhood but what he did was unforgiveable. Because of him lots of jewish people died. If i was jewish i would never forgive him. But i hope god does.

  5. Marializ says:

    Hitler had a very difficult life in his childhood but what he did was unforgiveable. Because of him lots of jewish people died. If i was jewish i would never forgive him. But i hope god does. Margot Frank got sick and died with faith. That’s how i would’ve died if i esisted in those times and i was jewish, but i am not. God bless those jewish people who died long ago

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