When I was growing up, my friends and I would stop by a store near the neighborhood for sodas and snacks. It was run by a Holocaust survivor named Walter Feiger.
Mr. Feiger was imprisoned at several labor and concentration camps in Poland during World War II before he was liberated by Soviet troops. His travels landed him in Tucson in 1970. He loved it here. He often said that Moses picked the wrong desert.
He was in my life again after I became a councilmember. Mr. Feiger was a regular at my office before he passed away in 2020, sometimes stopping in to chat with my staff. Other times, he came by for something more important: he’d make an annual visit to get the paperwork notarized so that the German government could continue to send him a reparations check. We got to prove every year that he survived. That meant a lot to us.
I grew up knowing many Holocaust survivors. The one that had the biggest impact on my life was Meyer Neuman. He owned an auto garage in Tucson in the 60s and 70s. I grew up thinking he was related to me but was just a friend of my grandmother’s. He survived the Nazis by convincing them he could fix trains. By doing this he was put in the "good line" and spared from the gas chamber. He later learned how to sabotage the trains for the resistance before being freed by the Swedish Red Cross. He made his home here in Tucson and opened the garage. Before my dad and mom met, he gave my dad his first job working at his shop. In my years of teaching middle school social studies, I have incorporated his story into my lessons.
I was privileged to learn from Mr. Feiger and Mr. Neuman and maybe a dozen or so other survivors I had met through Temple growing up. The biggest lesson was one that was unstated: my generation had a special responsibility to make sure no one forgets what happened.
That’s why I was disturbed to hear about a school board in Tennessee that took the graphic novel Maus out of their curriculum.
For those of you that don’t know about Maus, it was first published in 1989. It was based on a series of shorter stories that the author, Art Spiegelman, did for an underground comic called RAW. Those were, in turn, based on interviews with Spiegelman’s father, Vladek (Vladek, by the way, spent time at the same camp that Walter Feiger did, Sosnowiec). The book won two of the most prestigious awards in comics, an Eisner and a Harvey, and remains the only comic or graphic novel to win a Pulitzer.
I encountered Maus as a student at the University of Arizona in a class taught on the Holocaust by John Garrard. The book is uncomfortable and probably shouldn’t be read by very young children, I admit that. However, it’s hard to think of any way to truthfully tell the story of the Holocaust without causing revulsion and pain. Young people need to read it.
I had my office purchase ten copies of Maus and Maus II from local comic book dealer Charlie Harris. He’s long been a promoter of the book and has been interviewed about it. I have talked to TUSD and I will be donating them to local high schools.
I hope that this is a small way I can use my time as a councilmember to do what Mr. Feiger, Mr. Neuman and others wanted me to do: make sure that no one forgets.