The Holocaust is one of the most horrific and gruesome events of the twentieth century. Over six million Jews and other minorities were beaten, hanged, gassed, and burned in concentration camps and on the streets all throughout Europe under the direction of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Art Spiegelman’s poignant novels, Maus I – My Father Bleeds History and Maus II – And Here My Troubles Began, reflect the tale of his parents, told by his father, surviving the misery of the holocaust not only through words, but with heartrending pictures as well. Spiegelman captures the readers attention, mind, and soul with his account of the terrifying consequences of being Jewish in Poland during World War II.
Maus I begins with Artie (Spiegleman) in present time visiting his father in Rego Park, New York. Here, Art’s father, Vladek, recounts his life from the time he met his wife Anja, until 1944. The story fades back and forth from present to past, giving the story a more personal perspective, making the reader feel that they are actually there with Artie and Vladek as well, listening in on the horrors of the camps. Things begin in Sosnowiec, Poland, where Vladek and Anja live a peaceful and well-off life with Anja’s family and their son Richieu. At first, the prejudice and anti-Semitism started out small, making Jews sell their shops to Germans, and the Nazi Swastika was emblazoned everywhere they went. Signs were put up in different areas, declaring “This town is Jew-free.” Then the Nazi’s began burning synagogues, the Jewish temple of worship, and brutally beating the Jewish for no apparent reason other than their beliefs. Vladek follows Anja to a sanitarium to bring her out of her depressive state, and when they return Vladek’s textile factory has been robbed and riots are stirring up everyday. Then Vladek receives notice that he is to be drafted into the Polish army; indeed the war has begun. Soon after, he becomes a prisoner of war, and is put to work. He is eventually released and manages to sneak across the border to be with his family. Here he finds out that his factory has been overtaken by the Germans, and more rules have been placed on the Jews, such as a seven o’clock curfew imposed upon them. Vladek uses his intellect and between his connections and the black market, he is able to bring home money and food (this in particular was an essential part to Vladek and Anja’s survival.) Soon they began transporting Jews away from their families, first starting with the elderly. Then, in 1943, all Jews left in Sosnowiec were forced to leave and go to the village of Srodula. They lived in tiny cottage-like spaces and were mandated to work in German shops. And from Srodula, the Jews were slowly deported to Auschwitz, one of the largest and most horrid of campus throughout the entire Holocaust.
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Auschwitz was located in the city of Oswiecim, Poland, which later changed its name to that of the camp’s. It was originated in 1940, but over the following years, the camp was expanded and consisted of three main parts: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz. It also contained forty sub-camps. (http://www.auschwitz-muzeum.oswiecim.pl/html/eng/start/) The camp first began taking children, and sending them to the notorious gas chambers. Tosha, the care-taker of Richieu, refused to have him sent there, so instead she poisoned him, herself, and another girl she looked after. Vladek, Anja, and their family attempted to hide and find their way back to Sosnowiec, and soon heard of a plan to go to Hungary, where they could be free from Nazi persecution. But they were trapped, and sent to Auschwitz in 1944, and there was nothing they could do but pray to survive.
Now the story continues in Maus II. In Aushwitz, they were given their uniforms and the infamous identification numbers branded on their arms. Vladek winds up with an old friend from Sosnowiec here, Mandelbaum, whom he greatly helped by finding him fitting clothes and shoes so he could survive in the camp. But soon after he was sent to work and was killed. Vladek is able to find safe work with an S.S. guard who wants to learn English, and winds up helping him for over two months. He then got work as a tinsmith, and gets his first contact with Anja, who is in Birkenau, since they arrived. Vladek writes her letters and sends her any food he can through a kind Hungarian worker named Mancie, and eventually was able to visit with her. Vladek then finds work with a shoemaker, which actually saves Anja’s life when he fixes a particular Kapo’s shoes. After, Vladek does “black work,” hard physical labor, for the rest of his time at Auschwitz. During a plan to escape going to Germany where they started to send all the Jews at this time, a bomb-threat thrashed their strategy, and they were sent to another camp, Gross-Rosen. Their stay there was extremely short, and the transportation to the different camps caused many deaths. Finally Vladek arrived in Dachau. Here he developed Typhus from the raging lice that spread throughout, but salvation finally arrived in 1945 when the war ends. Eventually Vladek makes it back to Sosnowiec where Anja has managed to arrive. The move to the United States, and are together again at last.
These stories not only recount Vladek’s hardships at the camps, but they show the present day relationship between Vladek and Artie. Vladek lives with Mala, another survivor of the camps, after Anja commits suicide when Artie was younger. Vladek, who is distressed about Mala and her regards for his money, wants Artie and his wife Franзoise to live with him. Artie loves his father and wants to recount his stories from the Holocaust, but is struggling with the acceptance of his father’s ways.
Artie is angered when Vladek tells him he threw out his mother’s old journals about the war, yet keeps worthless rubbish instead. Vladek also strains not to waste any money or food, which frustrates Artie when he takes it to the extreme. Vladek goes back to the supermarket to return the leftovers of what was eaten to exchange it for new food. He also refuses to pay for a nurse or facility to help treat his diabetes and unsteady health problems. Artie loves his father, but feels almost smothered by his yearning for him to constantly be around, helping with household tasks, and calls in the early morning hours. An ironic component to Vladek, is that he has a racist attitude toward African-Americans. One who was imprisoned so harshly for views quite similar is quite ironic and shocking. Mala is extremely unhappy and when she leaves Vladek, Artie and Franзoise again try to help but maintain a certain space between them. Vladek eventually moves down to Florida and reunites with Mala. His health conditions worsens, but he refuses to go to the hospital in Florida, so he is transported back up to New York, where he stays with Mala for a year in Rego Park. He then moves back to Florida with Mala, where he spends the rest of his time.
The most important component of the father-son relationship is the time spent relating Vladek’s life. This is where they are the most intimate and bonded, and where Artie can formulate his father’s words into a phenomenal piece of work.
Art Spiegelman’s use of visuals in Maus I and II only add more emotion to the already affecting story of his father. His portrayal of the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats add an ironic twist and appropriately feed into the stereotypical roles of the said groups during this time period. The drawings are vivid and implant an unforgettable image into the reader’s mind. They add a more personal effect to the tale, where there is no doubt to the horrors endured within Europe during World War II. Spiegelman also uses the method of flashback to enrapture the story in a more personable way. Artie is not only being told of Vladek’s encounter, the reader is as well, and together they go through the winding tale of horror, hope, and history.
World War II and the Holocaust are two of the most written and talked about world events in all of history. Countless numbers of books have been published, ranging from fiction stories, to personal encounters, to historical documents from all sides of the spectrum. Maus I- My Father Bleeds History and Maus II- And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman, narrate these events in an original and an highly effective manner. From a personal perspective, I have never been as moved with a book involving World War II than I have with Spiegelman’s novels. His artwork is simply incredible, and aptly portray Vladek’s story with drama, truthfulness, and vigilant accuracy. Spiegelman’s style appeals to all age groups, from young to old, as well as from all backgrounds. After finishing Maus I and Maus II, its words and visuals stayed with me and seriously caused me to think about the world in which we live.
Cruelty, inhumanity, injustice, prejudice; these are all factors in the life around us. But along with all of the hardship comes one significant element, one thing that is held up far above the rest: Hope. Dale Carnegie once stated that “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” And that is exactly what Vladek Spiegelman did.
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