Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapter 1

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Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapter 1

Note: Maus jumps back and forth often between the past and the present. To facilitate these transitions in this summary, the Holocaust narrative is written in normal font, while all other narratives are written in italics.

The Sheik

The story begins with a brief prologue, set in Rego Park (Queens), NY, in 1958. The narrator, Art Spiegelman, at this point a small boy, is on roller skates, racing with his friends to the schoolyard. Art's skates break, and he runs crying to his father, Vladek. He tells his father that he fell and that his friends skated on without him. His father responds that until he has spent five days locked in a room with a group of people and no food, he cannot know the meaning of the word "friends."

It is 1978. Art greets his father at the old man's house in Rego Park. They are clearly not close, and they have not seen each other in some time. Vladek's first wife, Anja - Art's mother - committed suicide in 1968, and Vladek has since had two heart attacks. Vladek is a Holocaust survivor and has remarried a woman named Mala, who is also a survivor. The two fight constantly. Over dinner, Art tells his father that he wants to write a comic book about the old man's experiences during the Holocaust. Vladek mounts a stationary bicycle and begins to tell his story.

It is the early 1930s in Czestochowa, Poland. Vladek is young and handsome, and working in the textiles business. One day his friend introduces him to a girl named Lucia, and the two date for three or four years, but Vladek never feels particularly committed to the relationship. He travels to Sosnowiec, Poland, to visit his family in December of 1935, and is introduced to a girl named Anja, who is "clever, and from a good family." They hit it off, and though they live 40 miles apart, they begin to speak on the phone at least once a day. Anja send Vladek a photo of herself, which he places on his dresser. When Lucia sees the photo, the two end their relationship. Vladek and Anja are engaged at the end of 1936, and Vladek moves to Sosnowiec to live with his fiancé.

After the engagement, but before Vladek has moved to Sosnowiec, Lucia comes to his apartment and begs Vladek to take her back. Vladek refuses, and he does not hear from Lucia again. However, he also ceases to hear from Anja. When he calls, Anja's mother tells him that Anja received a letter from someone in Czestochowa that said horrible things about Vladek, including that he is only planning to marry Anja for her money. Vladek travels to Sosnowiec to address the situation. The letter is from Lucia, and after much convincing, Anja agrees to proceed with the marriage. They are wed in 1937, and they move into one of Anja's father's apartments. Vladek takes a share in his father-in-law's hosiery business.

Vladek tells his son that he does not want this part of the story in the book; it is too personal. Art promises not to include it.


In Chapter 1, we learn that Art - both the author and the narrator of Maus - wishes to draw a book about his father's experiences during the Holocaust. Vladek begins his story shortly after, telling his son about his courtship and eventual marriage to his first wife, Anja. This chapter follows a structure that will soon become familiar, in which the story opens during a period between 1978 and 1982 (from here on referred to as the "present narrative") and then jumps to the past as Vladek continues his tale of Holocaust survival (the "past narrative"), before retuning again to the present. The past narrative is often briefly interrupted by small sections of present narrative. These past and present narratives represent the majority of the pages within Maus, and the pattern of "Present-Past-Present" is repeated in every chapter except for Chapter 2 of Book 2, which opens with a distinct third narrative (the "meta-narrative") before returning to the past.

Maus is really two stories, not one. The first story follows Vladek's experiences in World War II Poland, while the second story deals with Vladek's relationship with his son. Chapter 1 is an excellent introduction to this relationship: the two men are not particularly close, and they do not have an easy or relaxed manner around each other. One of the primary themes in Maus is that of guilt, which manifests itself a number of ways, such as in Art's feelings that he does not treat his father as well as he should. Evidence of this guilt appears on the very first panel of the first page. Art tells us that he hasn't seen his father in a long time, and that they are not particularly close. Upon his arrival, however, he gives his father an excited greeting - a disproportionate response resulting from the guilt he feels over his neglect of the old man.

Guilt is also present in another form within the pages of Maus. Throughout the book, we are subjected to the author's continuing obsession with the Holocaust: he feels that it has affected - and continues to affect - almost every aspect of his life. At various times in the story (notably in Book II, Chapters 1 and 2), Art tells us that this obsession existed even as a child. As described later in the story, much of this obsession stems from Art's feelings of guilt over having avoided the horrible events that both of his parents lived through. The opening prologue is the only part of Maus that shows Art during his childhood, and from this short scene, we can begin to see exactly why it is that the Holocaust plays such a dominant role in his psyche.

In the scene, ten-year-old Art breaks his roller skate and falls, and his friends skate on without him. This experience is fairly ordinary, and has played out in one form or another for thousands of ten-year-old boys and girls across the country. Most parents, when confronted with this situation, would offer words of comfort to their injured child. Vladek, however, immediately compares the situation to the Holocaust. Indeed, it seems likely that he compares almost every situation to the Holocaust, cementing the events in the mind of his son. The scenes illustrates not only the reasons for Art's continuing obsession with the Holocaust, but also the fact that the events of the Holocaust are never far from Vladek's own thoughts.

Further evidence of the Holocaust's continuing impact on Vladek can be found if one compares Vladek personality in the late 1970s to his pre-Holocaust self. His relationship with Mala, his second wife, is clearly strained and loveless, and Vladek himself is somber and irritable. In the early 1930s, however, he is handsome and calm, and clearly filled with love for his first wife, Anja.

Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapter 2

Note: Maus jumps back and forth often between the past and the present. To facilitate these transitions in this summary, the Holocaust narrative is written in normal font, while all other narratives are written in italics.

The Honeymoon

Art visits his aging father again in Rego Park. When he arrives, Vladek is dividing his pills into daily doses. In all, he takes over thirty pills a day, including six for his heart, one for diabetes, and more than twenty-five vitamins. He tells his son that prescription medications are only "junk food," and that to stay healthy, he must fight on his own. They sit at the table, and Vladek continues his story.

Before Vladek and Anja met, she had one other boyfriend, a Communist from Warsaw. A short while after their wedding, he returns to his apartment to find that the police have just arrested the seamstress next door. Anja had been decoding and relaying Communist messages from her old friend, and when she got word that the police would be coming, she took the messages over to her neighbor to hide. When the police arrived, they found the package and arrested the neighbor. The neighbor spends three months in jail, but is eventually released due to lack of evidence. After that incident, Vladek is ready to end his marriage, and he makes Anja promise that she will no longer consort with Communists.

Anja's father gives Vladek a factory to provide for his daughter and what he hopes will soon be their family. Their first child, Richieu, is born in 1937. He will not live through the war. Soon after giving birth Anja becomes terribly depressed, and Vladek takes her to an upscale sanitarium in Czechoslovakia. On the train, they look out the windows and see swastikas on flags in town centers and hear stories of rampant anti-Semitism. They are the first signs of the brewing Nazi storm. The sanitarium is beautiful, and Vladek takes good care of his ailing wife. They stay there for three months, and when they return she is much better.

When they return home, Vladek's father-in-law tells them that their factory was robbed while they were away. Everything was taken, though Vladek does not think that there were any anti-Semitic motives. Within a few months, though, they set up another factory, and soon things are again going well. They have a two-bedroom apartment and a Polish nurse. But anti-Semitic riots are brewing, and the situation is beginning to look ominous. The Nazis are stirring anti-Semitic sentiments amongst the Poles. Anja comments that, "when it comes to the Jews, the Poles don't need much stirring up." Their Polish nurse is offended and tells the Spiegelmans that she considers them family, but when things really begin to get bad, even the nurse will turn against them (see Book I, Chapter 6).

In 1939, Vladek receives a letter from the government drafting him into the army. He is sent west, to the German front.

Vladek drops his pills, blaming his eyes: one is made of glass, and the other has a cataract. He tells his son the story of when he was in the hospital for eye surgery. His surgeon left him to give lectures on television, and when his eye started bleeding, he was forced to run through the hospital looking for another doctor. Art seems uninterested.


Art now visits his father "quite regularly," but it is clear that he is doing so mostly to hear his father's story. The first words out of Art's mouth when he sits down with his father are about Vladek's past, and for the most part it is all they talk about. At the end of the chapter, Vladek begins to talk about something else (his experiences with various eye diseases and doctors), and Art appears completely uninterested. Indeed, there are many times throughout Maus when Vladek begins to speak about a topic other than the Holocaust, but Art always quickly shifts the focus back to the past. This fact likely contributes to the guilt that Art continues to feel with regards to his neglect of his father.

This chapter provides further insight into Vladek's personality and the ways in which the Holocaust has shaped his life and his son's. Vladek takes a variety of pills and is clearly not healthy, suffering from both heart disease and diabetes. Doctor-prescribed medication for these two ailments together totals seven pills, yet Vladek takes about thirty pills every day, the remaining pills comprised of various vitamins that he has read about in his "prevention magazines." As an explanation, he tells Art that "I must fight to save myself." This determination recalls his fight for survival during the Holocaust, another example of how the Holocaust, though forty years in the past, continues to have an effect on Vladek's personality and actions.

As the Holocaust is never completely out of Vladek's mind, it is not surprising that the Holocaust has also had a strong impact on his only son. In the prologue, we saw that Vladek mentioned the Holocaust to his son even when it was not particularly relevant (see Book I, Chapter I). In Chapter 2, we get the sense that even when the Holocaust is not mentioned explicitly, its influence is never far from Vladek's actions as a parent. While speaking with his son Vladek accidentally knocks over his bottle of pills, and his instinctual reaction is to blame Art. Later on, in Chapter 2 of Book II, Art's therapist suggests that Vladek feels guilty about surviving the Holocaust and takes this guilt out on his son. This incident with the pills is just one example; Art's childhood was likely filled with similar situations.

Chapter 2 also introduces the reader to the strict racial self-segregation that existed in pre-war Poland. In the sanitarium, we are confronted with images of striking racial diversity: Jews, Poles, French, Germans, and others share the same restaurant and dance floor. This diversity is the exception, rather than the norm. In this chapter - and throughout the pages of Maus - all of Vladek's friends and acquaintances from pre-war Poland are Jewish. Non-Jewish Poles only appear within these pages as policemen or governesses, or in other lower-class, "blue collar" positions. It is clear that the Jews in Poland were on the whole wealthier than their non-Jewish countrymen. There are also many signs of a growing conflict between these classes. Communism, a theory that supports the idea of a classless state in which the common people control the means of production (factories, tools, materials, etc), has gained a foothold in the country, and Vladek returns from the sanitarium with Anja to find that his factory has been robbed. Anti-Semitism is also on the rise, indicating that the social, class-based unrest that is brewing is beginning to find a target in the Jews.

Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapter 3

Note: Maus jumps back and forth often between the past and the present. To facilitate these transitions in this summary, the Holocaust narrative is written in normal font, while all other narratives are written in italics.

Prisoner of War

Art returns again to Rego Park to visit his father. Vladek is obsessed with Art finishing everything on his plate, just as he was when Art was a boy. Anja, though, would always eventually give him something he liked. Vladek tells his son that when he was twenty-one, his own father purposefully starved him and kept him deprived of sleep so that he would fail his army physical and not have to join along with the rest of the boys his age. The plan worked, but the army told him to work out for a year and then return. Vladek begged his father not to starve him again, and the next year he joined the army. Basic training was eighteen months, and he returned every four years for another month of training.

It is 1939, and Vladek has been sent to the German front. He sees a tree that seems to be moving and fires towards its center. It is a German soldier using branches for cover. The German falls and holds up a hand in surrender, but Vladek continues to shoot until he is dead. Vladek is soon captured and made to carry the German dead and wounded. He walks over to the river, finds the man he killed, and carries him back to be buried.

The Jewish prisoners are forced to live outside in tents in the bitter autumn cold and are fed only crusts of bread, while the Polish prisoners stay inside in heated cabins and receive two meals a day. Though it is cold, Vladek goes to the river every morning to bathe so as to keep away the lice that attacked so many of his comrades. To pass the time, he does gymnastics, plays chess, and prays. Vladek wakes up one morning to find a sign requesting workers and advertising good food and accommodation. He volunteers, and when he arrives at the camp, he is given his own bed and a full day to rest. The labor is hard work, literally moving mountains to flatten the terrain, and some men are too weak or old to do it.

One night, Vladek dreams of his grandfather, who tells him that he will be released from the camp on the day of Parshas Truma, a special event in the Jewish calendar. It is also a week of particular significance to Vladek: it was during this week that he was married to Anja, and it was also the week in which Art was born. Three months later it is Parshas Truma, and the prisoners are lined up in the main courtyard. He is made to sign a release form, and he is free to go. Vladek's dream about Parshas Truma has come true. He boards a train, which takes him through occupied Poland towards Sosnowiec, but the train travels past Sosnowiec (now officially part of Germany) and into the German-controlled government of the Reich Protectorate to the east (formerly central Poland). He is finally let off in Lublin, in the heart of the Reich Protectorate.

In Lublin, Vladek is led to a camp of large tents and hears stories about the last train of prisoners that arrived at the camp, from which six hundred Jews were marched into the forest and killed. Jewish authorities in the camp have bribed the guards to release prisoners into the homes of nearby Jews, and Vladek tells them that he has a cousin in Lublin. That night, Vladek leaves his tent to go to the bathroom and a guard begins to shoot at him. Vladek runs immediately back into his tent. The next morning the cousin arrives, and Vladek is set free. A few days later, he boards a train for Sosnowiec. He does not have the proper traveling papers, but by pretending to be Polish, he enlists the help of a Polish train conductor, who hides him from the German soldiers. He arrives first at his parents' house. His mother looks ill; she will die from cancer within a few months, thereby missing the worst of the Holocaust. His father, a very religious man, has been forced by the Nazis to shave off his beard. Vladek walks him over to Anja's apartment for a tearful reunion with his wife and son.

Art's father begins complaining about his relationship with Mala, claiming that everything would be better if Anja were still alive. Mala, he says, is always trying to take his money. Art looks for his coat, and Vladek tells him that he threw it in the garbage outside and that by now the garbage men have probably taken it. "Such an old, shabby coat," he tells his son. "It's a shame my son would wear such a coat."


The scene at the dinner table provides yet another example of how the Holocaust has affected both Vladek and Art. Vladek's insistence that his son eat everything on his plate has its origins in his Holocaust experiences: he needed to eat whatever food he acquired in order to survive. This is particularly true in Auschwitz and the other concentration camps to which he is sent (Book II). These situations left him with an extraordinary aversion to wasted resources of any kind, and the preoccupation with food is only the first example of this (see, for example, the matches in Book II, Chapter I). As we have seen before, Art was directly affected by his father's thrifty impulses and his mother's more compassionate demeanor.

Interestingly, Vladek throws away his son's coat at the end of the chapter, behavior that stands in sharp contrast to his overwhelming compulsion to save. The best explanation for this seemingly uncharacteristic behavior lies in Vladek's reasons for saving. In discussions regarding his money and last testament (see, for example, Book I, Chapter 5), it becomes clear that Vladek wishes all of his money - hundreds of thousands of dollars saved over the forty years since the Holocaust - to be left to his son. His compulsive saving, then, reflects his desire for his son to live a good and prosperous life. Vladek is therefore offended by the sight of his son wearing an old and shabby coat, and he conspires to replace it with one that he thinks is better.

Chapter 3 also elaborates on the book's discussions of race and class. When Vladek boards a train from Lublin back to Sosnowiec, he is drawn wearing the mask of a pig, signifying that he is hiding his Jewish identity by pretending to be Polish. This concept of masks will appear again throughout the novel in similar fashion, as the Nazis begin to systematically exterminate the Jews, and Vladek and Anja are forced to go into hiding. The ease with which Vladek is able to assume the identity of a non-Jewish Pole is striking, considering the extremes of the Nazi racial stereotypes, and the incident highlights the irrationality of classifying people based on race. The role of masks is expanded later on in Maus, during the meta-narrative that begins Chapter 2 of Book II, in which all characters are portrayed as humans with animal masks. In this meta-narrative, the author suggests that race and nationality are only man-made classifications and that underneath these masks, we are all more alike than we are different.

Chapter 3 also includes Vladek's first - and only - mention of the Jewish religion within the pages of the story (with the exception of the "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" comic in Chapter 5 of Book I). Up until this point, the classification of Vladek, Art, and their friends and family as "Jews" is taken for granted and made concrete through their representation as mice, but the classification of "Jewish" seems to define a set of racial and cultural factors more than anything else. The Jewish religion is rarely mentioned. Freezing and starving within the confines of the prisoner of war camp, however, Vladek prayed every day.

Also in the camp, Vladek dreams of his grandfather, who tells him that he will be released on Parshas Truma, a week of the year corresponding to a specific section of the Torah. The day of Parshas Truma assumes a special significance to Vladek for the remainder of his life. However, he does not mention his religious faith again within the pages of Maus. The only other overt reference to religion occurs in Chapter 5 within the pages of the short "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" comic. Here, Vladek is shown praying in Hebrew over the casket of his dead wife. Vladek's religion manifests itself only in times of extreme stress and peril, and does not seem to play much of a role in his daily life. It is possible that Vladek's feelings towards the Jewish religion have been deeply affected by both the Holocaust and the death of his wife.

Significantly, while Vladek's father says he is religious, Art is not. He does not know the meaning of "Parshas Truma", for example. And later on, during the "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" comic, he recites from the Tibetan Book of the Dead during his mother's funeral, rather than from the Torah. This indicates a break in the transmission of religious faith from generation to generation.

Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapter 4

Note: Maus jumps back and forth often between the past and the present. To facilitate these transitions in this summary, the Holocaust narrative is written in normal font, while all other narratives are written in italics.

The Noose Tightens

Art arrives again at his father's house in Queens, wearing a new coat. Vladek is upset: he had wanted his son to arrive earlier so that he could climb onto the roof and fix the drain pipe. Art has bought a new tape recorder for $75, and Vladek tells him that he could have found it elsewhere for much less. He continues his story.

It is 1940, and twelve people are living in Anja's father's house: Anja, Vladek, and Richieu; Anja's parents and one set of grandparents; Anja's sister, Tosha, her husband, Wolfe, and their daughter, Bibbi; and Lolek and Lonia, two children of Uncle Herman, who is in the United States. Food is strictly rationed by the Germans. Anja's parents had been donors to a Jewish charity organization, through which they are able to secure additional food. They buy the rest on the black market. All Jewish-owned businesses, including Vladek's factory, have been taken over by German overseers, and the family is living off of their savings. The Germans are looking for any excuse to arrest a Jew. Vladek meets an old customer of his, Mr. Ilzecki. He is still in business, making uniforms for soldiers. He tells Vladek to see him if he gets any cloth and hands him a note that will get him past the guards at his shop. Vladek visits shops that owed him money before the war and arranges to acquire some cloth, which he hides under his clothes and takes to Mr. Ilzecki in exchange for money.

Soon after, Vladek nearly escapes a German raid, in which they close off a street and take anyone without work papers. Anja's father bribes a friend of his who owns a tin shop to arrange for a priority work card for Vladek, so that he will be relatively safe during Nazi roundups. But things continue to get worse for the family. One day, Vladek is walking to see Mr. Ilzecki when he passes by a violent mob of German soldiers beating Jews to the ground with clubs and boarding them onto trains. He sees Mr. Ilzecki, who rushes him into his house, where they wait for hours for the trains to depart. The situation is so bad that Mr. Ilzecki is sending his son to hide with a Polish family until things get better. He suggests that Vladek do the same, but Anja refuses. Mr. Ilzecki's son will survive the war; Richieu will not.

In 1942, all Jews are forced to move into one quarter of town, and all twelve members of Vladek's family are assigned only two and a half small rooms. Vladek continues to conduct black market business until a friend of Anja's father is executed for selling goods without coupons and is left to hang for days as a warning to others. Vladek had often done business with the man, and he is terrified to go outside for a few days.

Art asks his father what Anja was doing during these times, and he responds that she was mostly doing housework, but that she recorded her whole story of the Holocaust in diaries after the war. Art tells his father that he wants to have those for his book.

Vladek begins dealing in gold and jewelry, which is easier to hide than clothing but still dangerous, and also does some business selling food. Business is still dangerous, though. On one occasion, Vladek is delivering a sack full of illegal sugar when he is stopped by a German patrol. Rather than run, he lies and tells them that he owns a grocery store and that he is carrying the sugar there, legally. He makes his delivery as planned, with the guards watching.

Soon, the family receives notice that all Jews over seventy years of age will be transferred to a new community specifically designed for the care of the elderly. Anja's grandparents are ninety. At the time, they have not yet heard of the concentration camps, but they do not want to be separated, so the family hides them behind a false wall in a storage shed. When police come looking for them, they are told that they left about a month ago without a word. But the police arrest Anja's father, and a few days later the family receives a note from him saying that if they don't give up the grandparents, the Germans will return to take more members of the family. The grandparents are taken away to Auschwitz.

A few months later, all Jews are ordered to report to the stadium for "registration," but people are suspicious of a Nazi plot. Vladek's father visits from a neighboring town. Vladek's mother has died of cancer, and he lives with his daughter, Fela, and her four small children. He asks his son for advice on what to do, but Vladek does not know. His cousin, Mordecai, will be at one of the registration tables, so perhaps he can help. Ultimately, almost everyone does show up at the stadium for fear of what would happen if they don't. There are perhaps 30,000 people at the stadium. Jews are told to line up and approach the tables to be registered. The elderly, families with many children, and people without work cards are sent to the left, while men of working age are being sent to the right. Vladek, Anja, and Richieu are spared. Vladek's father approaches Mordecai's table and is also sent to the right, but Fela and her four children are sent to the left. Realizing this, Vladek's father sneaks over to the left to be with his daughter, and none of them are heard from again. In all, maybe 10,000 people are sent to their deaths from the stadium.

Vladek has been on his stationary bike for some time, and he is feeling dizzy. He lies down to take a nap. Art walks into the kitchen, where Mala is smoking and playing solitaire. She tells him that her mother was also taken at the same stadium. Her mother was then taken to a complex of apartment houses that had been converted into makeshift prisons, to wait to be deported. The apartments had no food or toilets, and the cells were so crowded that people actually suffocated. Her mother survived this, and Mala's uncle, who was on the Jewish Committee, was able to hide her until all the trains had left. Both eventually died in Auschwitz.

Art walks into the living room with Mala to look for his mother's diary. His father never throws anything away, and the book shelves are crowded with old menus and useless junk. He cannot find the diaries. Art goes to leave, but Mala screams at him to put everything back the way he found it.


The Nazi noose is beginning to tighten around the Jews of Poland. Anti-Semitic violence is increasing, and the Nazis are beginning to send the Jews to the concentration camps. In this chapter, Vladek's father and Anja's grandparents are all sent to Auschwitz. At the same time, Vladek is beginning to show the resourcefulness and thrift that will help to see him safely through the war. While the rest of Anja's family is living off of their savings, Vladek immediately begins to generate income by selling cloth on the black market. He gives half of his money to Anja's family, but always keeps half for himself. He is also extremely adept at thinking on his feet, a trait that saves him on more than one occasion.

Countless times throughout the story, Vladek's resourcefulness and quick mind help him to survive and to provide for is wife. However, these traits are ultimately not enough to save his life. However intelligent and resourceful Vladek is, his survival ultimately depends a great deal on luck. This is especially true as the situation deteriorates even further, but instances of luck can also be found in these early chapters. An excellent example of this is when he is caught carrying the black market sugar. Though he thinks quickly and devises a lie that fools the German soldiers, his survival in that situation was by no means assured; it was dependent upon the mood and intelligence of the soldiers and the reaction of the person to whom he delivered the sugar. Vladek's intelligence improved the odds in his favor, but his survival was nevertheless dependent on a roll of the dice.

In the present narrative, we continue to see that the Holocaust has changed Vladek, as the traits that helped him to survive still figure prominently in his personality, to the exasperation of his family. In Chapter 3, for example, he is preoccupied with Art finishing everything on his plate. Another example occurs in Chapter 4, when Art leaves his father to look for Anja's diaries in the library. The bookshelves are packed with useless items that Vladek cannot seem to throw away. This compulsion to save developed during the Holocaust: food and other necessities were scarce, and survival often depended upon one's ability to hoard. Forty years later, Vladek continues to save every item that might be of some use, however remote the possibility.

Yet there are also differences between Vladek's past and present selves. Chief among these differences is his overall demeanor. In the past narrative, Vladek is loving and kind in his relationship with Anja, and calm and composed in his dealings with other people. But there is no love in his second marriage to Mala, and the older Vladek is quick to anger and feels constantly imposed upon by those around him. At the end of this chapter, we hear some of Mala's survival story. Given that they both survived Auschwitz, it is interesting to compare their personalities. Mala endured similar hardships to those that Vladek faced, yet she does not share the personality traits that Vladek seems to have acquired during the Holocaust. The same can be said for Anja, whose experience was nearly identical to her husband's, yet, like Mala, Anja did not leave the Holocaust filled with bitterness and afflicted with a compulsion to save even the most frivolous items. How can two people who both experienced the same horrors have been affected so differently?

This question is raised by Art a few times over the course of the story, but a satisfactory answer is never provided. One possible explanation is the fact that while Vladek, Anja and Mala's Holocaust experiences may have been similar, the three found different ways to cope. For example, Vladek's survival was contingent on very different factors than Anja's. Though there was - as with all Holocaust survivors - a certain amount of luck involved in Vladek's survival, he relied to a large extent on his intelligence, resourcefulness, and ability to think on his feet. By comparison, Anja's survival depended predominantly on the kindness and resourcefulness of others. Before Auschwitz, she was almost completely dependent upon Vladek's ability to find food and shelter, and when she was separated from her husband in the concentration camps, she survived largely due to the kindness of her supervisor, Mancie.

Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapter 5

Note: Maus jumps back and forth often between the past and the present. To facilitate these transitions in this summary, the Holocaust narrative is written in normal font, while all other narratives are written in italics.

Mouse Holes

It is 7:00 in the morning. Art is asleep in bed with his wife, Francoise, when the telephone rings. It is Mala, in hysterics. She tells Art that Vladek climbed onto the roof to try to fix the drain and then got dizzy and had to come down. Now, he wants to climb back up, and Mala is trying to talk him out of it. Vladek takes the phone and asks Art if he will come over to help. Art replies that he will call him back and hangs up. He tells Francoise that he has always hated helping his father out around the house. When he was a kid, nothing he did in that department was good enough for Vladek. One of the reasons he decided to become an artist was the fact that he wouldn't have to compete with his father. He would rather feel guilty than travel to Queens to help the old man fix the roof. When he calls his father back, Vladek tells him that his neighbor, Frank, has agreed to help him.

About a week later, Art visits his father again in Queens. Vladek is in the garage sorting nails, clearly upset. Art, feeling guilty, asks whether he can help, and his father curtly declines any assistance. In the kitchen, Mala tells Art that his father recently found a short comic that Art wrote years ago called "Prisoner on the Hell Planet," which told the story of his mother's suicide. In the comic, which is reprinted in full, Vladek arrives home to find Anja in the bathtub, her wrists cut and an empty bottle of pills nearby.

In the comic, the year is 1968. Art is 20, recently released from the state mental hospital and living with his parents. He arrives to find his father lying on the floor, a complete wreck. In accordance with Jewish custom, they sleep together on the floor, Vladek moaning through the night. Art is consumed by guilt. He thinks back to the last time he saw his mother, when she entered his room and asked him whether he still loved her. "Sure," he replied, and turned away. The comic ends with a message to his dead mother: "Congratulations, you've committed the perfect crime...You murdered me, Mommy, and left me here to take the rap."

Vladek walks into the room, and tells Art that the comic brought back painful memories of Anja, even though he is always thinking about her anyway. He isn't angry, only sad. Art and Vladek walk together to the bank, and Vladek continues the story of his Holocaust experience.

The year is 1943. All Jews are forced to leave Sosnowiec for a ghetto in the nearby town of Srodula. One night Persis, an uncle of Anja's brother-in-law, arrives. He is on the Jewish Council in a nearby town and wants to take Anja's sister Tosha, her husband Wolfe, and their daughter Bibbi to live with him in nearby Zawiercie, where he has some influence and thinks he can keep them safe. He wants to take Richieu with him as well, and Vladek and Anja agree. The parents watch as he takes Richieu away. It is the last time they will ever see him. A short time later, all the children in Srodula are rounded up to be killed, and the parents are glad that they have sent their son away, but the Zawiercie ghetto is liquidated shortly thereafter. Rather than be sent to the gas chambers, Tosha poisons herself, her children, and Richieu. Vladek and Anja are not made aware of this until much later.

In Srodula, the Germans begin to round up Jews at random. To protect himself and his family, Vladek builds a shelter under a coal bin, in which they hide during Nazi searches. Soon, though, they are moved to a different house. Again, Vladek builds a shelter, this time in the attic and accessible only through a chandelier in the ceiling. One evening, as they are leaving the shelter, they see a stranger below. It is a Jew, who tells them that he was only looking for food for his starving child. They think about killing him to be sure that he will not report them, but they take pity on him and give him some food. That afternoon, the Gestapo arrives and takes Vladek and his family into a secure compound in the middle of the ghetto.

The compound is a waiting area for transport to Auschwitz. Vladek enlists his cousin, Haskel, who is Chief of the Jewish Police, to help. In exchange for a diamond ring, Haskel arranges for the release of Vladek and Anja. Anja's parents also send valuables to Haskel, but in the end he chooses not to help them. At this point in the Holocaust, family loyalties have largely eroded, and it is every man for himself. They are transported to Auschwitz, where they eventually die. Haskel is a schemer and a crook, but he is well-connected and a good man to know in the ghetto. Every week, he plays poker with the German soldiers and intentionally loses so that they will like him. On one occasion, Vladek is out walking when he encounters a German guard who points a gun at his head and says that he is going to kill him, but when Vladek produces his papers and the guard sees that he is a friend of Haskel's, he is set free. Haskel arranges for Vladek to work in a shoe repair factory fixing the German soldiers' boots.

Vladek and Art are still walking to the bank when Vladek has an attack of angina, a pain in his chest caused by lack of blood flow to the heart muscle. He takes a Nitrostat pill and feels better almost immediately.

The Nazis continue to transport the Jews of Srodula to Auschwitz. Haskel arranges to smuggle himself out of the ghetto, but his brothers Miloch and Pesach have created a bunker behind a pile of shoes in the factory. Also around this time, Vladek and Anja finally hear the news of Richieu's death. Anja is hysterical with grief and tells Vladek that she wants to die. Vladek responds by telling her that "to die, it's easy...but you have to struggle for life." They retreat to the bunker along with about fifteen other people. There is no food. After many days, Pesach tells the group that he has bribed some guards to allow them to escape. Many in the bunker leave with him, but Vladek stays and watches as they leave the bunker and are shot by the guards. After a few more days, the ghetto is completely evacuated, and Vladek heads in the direction of Sosnowiec with his wife.

Vladek and Art arrive at the bank. Vladek wants to make a copy of the key to his safety deposit box for his son, so that if he dies Art can remove its contents before Mala can take it. In the box, Vladek has kept valuables from before the war, which he had hidden in a fireplace before being sent to the concentration camps. He retrieved them after the war, sneaking into the house in the middle of the night while the occupants slept. There is also a diamond ring in the box, which Vladek gave to Anja when they arrived in the U.S. Mala is obsessed with changing his will, he tells his son. Vladek wonders why he ever remarried and cries for the memory of his dead wife.


The short interruption of "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" comprises an additional narrative voice in Maus, making a total of four voices (past, present, meta, and "prisoner"). The comic represents an entirely new and radically different artistic style than the simple and subdued style present throughout the rest of the book. The characters have distinctly human faces, and the drawings are marked by sharp angles, altered perspectives, and often surreal and grotesque human forms. But while the artistic style differs, it shares with Maus the theme of guilt. In "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" Art feels an unbearable sense of guilt over his mother's suicide, facilitated by the fact that his relatives seem to blame him as well. His cardinal sin, he feels, is one of neglect. This is poignantly driven home through Art's memories of the last time he saw his mother alive, when she came into his room and asked him if he still loved her. His answer, a dismissive "sure," is a constant reminder of his perceived neglect. Art's guilt over his mother's death is noteworthy for its similarity to the guilt that he feels regarding his father. This guilt is also based on neglect, and is highlighted at the beginning of this chapter, when Art refuses to help his father fix a leak on his roof.

In the analysis of the previous chapter, the question was posed as to why the Holocaust affected Vladek differently than Anja or Mala. One possible reason, explained in more detail in the previous chapter, is the fact that different people had different ways of coping with the horrors of the Holocaust. Vladek's means of survival - his resourcefulness and ability to use even the smallest of items for his benefit - clearly had an effect on his personality in later years. But while Vladek relied on his own resourcefulness, Anja relied primarily on others for her survival. Before she was taken to the concentration camps, she was almost completely reliant upon her husband for food and shelter. After the death of their son, it was Vladek who convinced her to live.

Anja's only post-Holocaust appearance within Maus occurs during the "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" comic, but though her appearance is brief, we can discern a great deal about her personality. In the comic, she is clearly depressed and on the verge of suicide. Her only line of dialogue is a question posed to her son, asking him if he still loves her. Art's response, a terse "sure," is far from reassuring. From this scene, we can surmise that Anja feels both alone and unloved. Cut off from the support of her family, she eventually kills herself. Just as she was dependent upon the kindness of others for survival during the Holocaust, her post-Holocaust personality is similarly defined by dependence. And just as Vladek's means of survival later manifested themselves in extreme forms, Anja's means of survival - her dependence on others - has manifested itself in a form so extreme that it eventually leads to suicide.

This chapter also deals with survival, another important theme of the book. As the Nazi brutality continues to worsen, the instinct for survival begins to overpower the powerful bonds of Jewish identity. This is first seen in the form of the Jewish Police. They are just as brutal as the Nazis, and almost indistinguishable from them save for the Stars of David on their shoulders. Vladek tells his son that some of these Jewish police felt that they could actually help the Jewish cause, but many joined in an attempt to save their own lives. The bonds of family break soon after, as Vladek's cousin, Haskel, will not help him without first receiving some form of payment. Says Vladek: "At that time it wasn't any more families. It was everybody to take care for himself!"

Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapter 6

Note: Maus jumps back and forth often between the past and the present. To facilitate these transitions in this summary, the Holocaust narrative is written in normal font, while all other narratives are written in italics.

Mouse Trap

Art walks into his father's kitchen to see Mala crying at the table. She tells Art that his father treats her like a maid. Vladek gives her only $50 a month, and she is forced to use her savings for anything else she needs. He has hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank but won't spend any money, even on himself. Art muses that he used to think that the Holocaust was what made Vladek so stingy with his money, but wonders why none of the other survivors have adopted similar personality traits. He confides to Mala that he is worried about how he is portraying his father in Maus, that in some ways, he has drawn him as a stereotypical, miserly, racist Jew.

Vladek walks into the kitchen, and Art shows him preliminary drawings from the comic he is writing about his father's Holocaust experiences. Both Mala and Vladek tell Art that the book will be special, but conversation eventually turns to bickering between Mala and Vladek over Mala's frequent trips to the hairdresser. Vladek tells Art that she is constantly threatening to leave, and his son suggests that they see a marriage counselor. Father and son go outside to sit in the garden and continue the story.

It is 1944, and Anja and Vladek are sneaking back towards Sosnowiec. Vladek can easily pass for a Polish man, but Anja has more traditionally Jewish features. They knock on the door of Richieu's former governess, who opens the door, recognizes the Spiegelmans, and then quickly slams it closed. Next they try Anja's father's old house. The janitor lets them in, and they are allowed to hide in a shed. Vladek goes out to find food and encounters another Jew in hiding, who leads him to a black market where they can buy supplies. Vladek returns with eggs, sausage, cheese, and other rare items.

Vladek returns to the black market again and encounters an old friend who tells him of a possible hiding place in the home of a Mrs. Kawka, at a farm just outside of town. They visit the farm, and Mrs. Kawka tells them they can stay in the barn, but they need to find another place in time for the coming winter. Vladek befriends a black market grocer, Mrs. Motonowa, who invites him to stay in her house with her and her son. Her husband is away for all but ten days out of every three months, and Vladek accepts.

Mrs. Motonowa charges for her hospitality, but she is a good woman, and her house is far better than the barn. One day, though, she is searched by the Gestapo and thinks that they may soon arrive at her house soon to search that as well. In a panic, she forces Vladek and Anja to leave. They wander the streets of Sosnowiec and eventually find a construction site where they spend the night. In the morning, they make their way back to Mrs. Kawka's and return to living in her barn. Mrs. Kawka tells Vladek of smugglers who will transport them to Hungary for the right price.

A few days later, back at the black market, Vladek runs into Mrs. Motonowa. She feels terrible about kicking them out and invites them back. Soon, though, her husband returns home for his vacation, and Anja and Vladek are forced to hide in the basement for ten days, with the rats and very little food. The husband eventually leaves and it is again safe to live upstairs, but Vladek does not feel entirely safe, and he resolves to search out the smugglers that Mrs. Kawka mentioned. On his way to the meeting, a group of small German children see him and run away screaming, calling out that he is a Jew. Rather than run, he has the presence of mind to approach the parents and patiently explain that he is a German and a loyal citizen of the Reich, likely saving his life.

When he arrives safely at Mrs. Kawka's farm, the smugglers are in the kitchen. Also in attendance are Mandelbaum, an old acquaintance of Vladek's, and Mandelbaum's nephew, Abraham. The smugglers explain their plan, and the Jews discuss it amongst themselves in Yiddish so that they will not be understood. They are not convinced of the smuggler's honesty, and in the end, Abraham decides to go and promises to write back if he makes it safely to Hungary. The rest will only travel if they receive the letter. Both Anja and Mrs. Motonawa are vehemently against the plan, but Vladek eventually overrules them both.

This issue thus settled, Vladek goes to visit Miloch, who is hiding in a garbage hole behind his old house with his wife and child. Vladek tells Miloch that he may soon be leaving for Hungary, and that there will be a vacancy at Mrs. Motonowa's. Soon after, Vladek, Anja, and Mandelbaum receive a letter from Abraham that says that he has arrived safely in Hungary.

Vladek, Anja, and Mandelbaum meet the smugglers at the train station, and they all board the train. After about an hour, however, they are arrested and stripped of their possessions. They have been betrayed by the smugglers. Vladek is made to board a truck with a hundred other prisoners and is transported to Auschwitz. Vladek and Anja are separated, not knowing if they will ever see each other again.

Art asks his father again about Anja's diaries, and Vladek says that they can't be found, because he burned them after Anja died. Vladek was depressed, and there were too many memories in those pages. All Vladek can remember about the content of the diaries is a sentence wishing that her son would one day be interested in them. Art is furious and screams at his father, calling him a murderer.


As Art visits his father more and more, their relationship begins to change. In previous chapters, most of their communications focused around Vladek's retelling of his Holocaust experiences. Lately, though, their conversations have been getting more personal. At the beginning of Chapter 6, Vladek begins to complain again about his relationship with Mala, and Art suggests that they see a marriage counselor. This kind of honest assessment and advice has been uncharacteristic to date, and seems to be a sign that Art's frequent visits are leading to a more positive and open relationship.

However, as this chapter comes to a close, the relationship is strained almost to the point of breaking when Vladek tells his son that he burned Anja's diaries shortly after her death. And to add further insult to the tragedy, Vladek recalls that Anja once told him that she hoped Art would read them one day. At this, Art explodes at his father, calling him a "murderer." Though he apologizes, he leaves soon thereafter and again calls Vladek a "murderer" under his breath.

As seen in the "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" comic in the previous chapter, Art feels a terrible sense of guilt over his mother's suicide, and blames himself for not being a loving and attentive son. At the end of this chapter, however, Art seems to blame his father for his mother's death. There is a subtle difference between these two forms of blame. Art blames himself for his mother's physical death, but he blames his father for the murder of Anja's memory.

The history of the Holocaust is both the history of a genocide and the history of the individual deaths (and survivals) of millions of European Jews. The sheer magnitude of the horror - five million Jews were killed - is almost unimaginable, and yet each of those five million deaths represents an individual story. The Holocaust is therefore both a deeply personal and numbingly impersonal event. By destroying Anja's diaries, Vladek has made it impossible for his son to ever know the personal aspects of his mother's Holocaust experiences.

An additional point of note in this chapter is Art's decision to draw the different races as different animals. While Vladek and Anja are hiding in Mrs. Motonowa's basement a rat scurries across the floor, and Vladek tells his wife that it was only a mouse. The artist's depiction of the rat is anatomically correct, whereas his depiction of the Jews as mice is not: the Jews are drawn with the bodies of humans and the heads of mice. Similarly, Americans are portrayed as humans with the faces of dogs, while the Nazis use real dogs (with four legs, paws, etc.) to search for Jews in hiding. From this, it is clear that the author intends for the "races-as-animals" motif to be purely symbolic.

While the animal symbolism has been criticized as overly simplistic and for perpetuating racial stereotypes, the cat-and-mouse metaphor is an effective means of representing the Nazi-Jew relationship: the Nazis first "teased" the Jews, slowly taking away their freedom, before eventually killing them. Indeed, the idea of representing Jewish people as mice originated in Nazi propaganda, which portrayed Jews as a kind of vermin to be exterminated.

In addition to being an apt metaphor, the animal representations are a convenient means of visually representing the social and racial stratifications that existed during the war. And as an added benefit, the concept provides the opportunity to portray these relationships visually, without constantly resorting to words like "Jew," "German," and "Pole." However, as will be discussed below, the author himself expresses reservations about these animal metaphors in Chapter 2 of Book II.

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