Unit topic: Holocaust Text Study: Maus I by Art Spiegelman Days in Unit: 5 weeks Essential Questions

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Unit topic: Holocaust

Text Study: Maus I by Art Spiegelman

Days in Unit: 5 weeks

Essential Questions:

What is the relationship between the past and the present?

How do the effects of past events impact the lives of those who did not experience them?

How does one read and interpret a graphic novel?

How do authors use metaphors to reveal themes?

How do authors use images to reveal themes?

What’s worse – creating the cruelty or experiencing it?
CCSS Standards:



Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.


Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.


Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author acknowledges and responds to conflicting evidence or viewpoints.


Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.


Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.


Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.


Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.


Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.


Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)

With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grade 8 here.)


Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.


Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.


Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.


Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


Apply grade 8 Reading standards to literary nonfiction (e.g., "Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced").


Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.



Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.


Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.


Follow rules for collegial discussions and decision-making, track progress toward specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.


Pose questions that connect the ideas of several speakers and respond to others' questions and comments with relevant evidence, observations, and ideas.


Acknowledge new information expressed by others, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views in light of the evidence presented.


Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.


Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:


Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.


Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.


Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grade 8 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)



Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood.*


Spell correctly.


Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word's position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.


Use common, grade-appropriate Greek or Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., precede, recede, secede).


Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.


Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).


  1. Wordle: Holocaust, Swstika, Nazi, Yittish, Rabbi, Genocide, Sheik, Hitler, Communists, Auschiwtz, Jewish, Germans, Nazis, Polish – Have students look at all words and tap into prior knowledge. (All words will appear in Maus I). Ask them what they already know about the words. Help clarify misconceptions. Give a little bit of information on all the words. They will do in-depth research on a chosen few.

  2. Show students a short video clip on the Holocaust to emotionally prepare them (your choice of video) for reading.

  3. Open unit with research:

    1. Group students into six topic groups: Hitler, Communists, Auschwitz, Jewish, Germans (Nazis), Polish.

    2. Each group will research to answer overarching focus question: What role does your topic play in the Holocaust? Before students use information, students must evaluate their websites using the CARDS method previously learned.

      1. Students are required to come up with an additional 4-5 focused questions that stem from overarching question. An easy way students can do this is to ask them to put the word “WHY” in front of their answer to the overarching focus question. Once answers are found, continue to put “WHY” in front until students have answered at least another 4-5 additional focused questions.

    3. Students must organize this information into one of the following products of their choice: Prezi or Imovie. Product isn’t limited to but must include:

      1. 1 media clip (can be from youtube) (3-4 minutes long at most)

      2. 2-4 illustrations (graphics, charts, etc.)

      3. news article

      4. 2 other credible online sources

****REMIND STUDENTS THEY MUST CITE ALL SOURCES USED IN PRESENTATION!**** Also, remind students to save work frequently and email to themselves before closing down.

    1. Presentations - Give students a rubric before having them present: After presentations, in an exit slip, have students “Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.” (RI 8.8).

  1. Have students flip through Maus I and make predictions as to why the author chose to use cats, mice, and pigs to represent the different groups (Have them use evidence from research presentations as support). How else could the author have represented these three types of groups and been just as effective? *You may want to save this question until after reading OR you can ask them the same question after reading to see if answers change.


        1. Read aloud Chapter 1 and do a think aloud for them to show students:

          1. that a comic should be read from left to right, up and down

          2. what types of questions and comments a strong reader should be making as she reads

          3. that a strong reader must analyze the art in a comic to fully understand (noticing the numbers on the arm of page 12, determining why the path resembles a swastika on page 125)

        2. Students will read silently. Along the way, you will ask text-based questions and have students discuss text-based questions with each other to ensure understanding.

          1. Example: Examine page 108’s last few frames. Why do you think Vladek’s tone of voice is so nonchalant about the horror of the times? *See bottom of word document for other examples.

**I would break up the chapters into weeks: (Writing assignments should have a developed introduction with supporting evidence and analysis, and a developed conclusion!!)

Week: Chapters 1 and 2 – focus skill: point of view and summary; Writing activity: Summary writing.

Week: Chapters 3 and 4 – focus skill: claim and evidence and point of view; Writing activity: Compare and Contrast Artie and Vladek using a double bubble map or t-chart; next, use thinking map to compose a response. (I would usually do this together as a class, then prompt would change to two different characters and they would do this in pairs, then prompt would change to two different characters and they would attempt the writing on their own).

Week: Chapters 5 and 6 – focus skill: point of view and main idea; Writing activity: Narrative writing in comic strip format: Students should be allowed to choose from two prompts:

  1. Write a narrative from the perspective of Vladek while in the bunker (pages 110-113). Specifically, how would Vladek pass the time? What conversations would he have? What sounds would he hear?

  2. Write a narrative from the perspective of one of the grandparents on page 87. Describe their journey to Auschwitz. What do they see? Hear? What are their reactions to what they see and hear?

Helpful Hints:
Point of view can be taught through a double bubble map or t-chart. Example:

Artie’s Point of view

Vladek’s point of view

Main idea and Claim and Evidence can be taught through a tree map. Example:

Main (central) idea here

Quoted word, phrase, or sentence to support main idea.

Quoted word, phrase, or sentence to support main idea.

Quoted word, phrase, or sentence to support main idea.


  1. Students will research the Holocaust and find a text that finds conflicting information from perspective told in Maus I and have students identify where texts disagree on fact or interpretation. Have students record responses in t-chart form; report out in groups, then large class.

  2. Assessment using a cold read on all skills taught.


  1. What is Vladek implying in the last two frames of this Prologue?

  1. What is the purpose of the Prologue?

Chapter 1 “The Sheik”

  1. Explain the relationship between Artie and Vladek.

  1. What is your response to Artie’s casual approach to a book about Vladek’s life? - Note - Artie never mention the Holocaust.

  1. How do you interpret Vladek’s story – open, truthful, etc….Explain.

  1. Respond to Young Vladek’s “dating” situation.

  1. What seems to be the attraction between Vladek and Anja?

  1. What stories do you see developing at this point? Are the two different developing stories both important?

  1. What expectations and standards does Vladek, old and young, seem to possess? Artie?

  1. How can having expectations and standards impact the experiences of a Holocaust victim/ survivor?

Chapter 2 “The Honeymoon”

  1. Why would Artie want to know about Anja’s past romances?

  1. How would you characterize the marriage between Vladek and Anja?

  1. What is your reaction to Anja’s communist activities? To her involvement of the innocent tenant?

  1. Why is the relationship between Vladek and the father-in-law relevant to the telling?

  1. What is your reaction to Vladek’s military (WWI) experience?

  1. Do you feel Vladek really cares for Anja? His family?

  1. Consider Artie’s response to his father’s story.

CHARACTERS – Your reactions to the following…..

Artie, Old Vladek, Young Vladek, Anja

Chapter 3 “Prisoner of War”

  1. How does Artie depict himself? (43, 45, 51, 52, 54)

  1. Why is Vladek so adamant about not wasting food?

  1. What are Mala and Artie’s reaction to Vladek’s conservative ways?

  1. What seems to be Vladek’s issue with Mala? (67)

  1. Why does Vladek include the story of his father’s decision to keep his sons out tof the army? Is his father cruel or caring in his methods?

  1. Would you call Vladek’s behavior in combat brave or cowardly? Explain. (47-49)

  1. Is Vladek justified in killing the “tree”?

  1. Does knowing the name of the Nazi he has killed affect Vladek in any way? Should it?

  1. Why do the Nazis impose impossible work expectations? How does this speak to the fact that the Nazi empire was so effective?

  1. Why segregate the Polish prisoners from the Jewish prisoner? Is there in true validation in this type of prejudice?

  1. How or what are the attempts of the Jewish prisoners to adapt and survive? Could there have been other options?

  1. What is your reaction the Jewish Reich? Do you see why this would be created?

  1. How is Vladek good at deception? Is this a positive or negative attribute?

  1. At Vladek’s return from the war, what implementations had the Nazis already imposed on the Jews? Why would any large number of people allow this to happen?

Chapter 4 “The Noose Tightens”

  1. Are there any indications that Artie and Vladek are growing closer? Explain.

  1. What is the purpose of Artie’s tape recorder? What could this possibly imply about Artie and his continuation with the research?

  1. How have things within Vladek’s home changed yet remained the same since his POW experience? (Young Vladek)

  1. What does Young Vladek seem to understand about their circumstances that the “family” doesn’t? Why is it Vladek that makes this realization?

  1. Is Vladek’s “lie of omission” justified? How does this speak to his character?

  1. What is the purpose for food coupons? Working papers? Again, what does this say about the effectiveness of the Nazi empire?

  1. What other methods were used as a way to control the Jews?

  1. In what ways is Vladek suited to work the Black Market trade? Should he?

  1. What is your reaction to the Jewish police?

  1. What purpose does Mala’s story serve if this is a book about Vladek’s experience?

  1. Should Mala be as discontented with Vladek as she is? Should she say or do something about it?

  1. Why is it the Vladek still doesn’t use the word “Holocaust”?

  1. At this point in the telling, should Artie reconsider what he is asking his father to remember?

  1. What images are now being used in the frames that are familiar to you in regards to the historical aspects of the Holocaust?

Answer the following by providing detailed responses and chapter and page references.

  1. What stereotypes of men and women are seen in Maus I: My Father Bleeds History?

  1. How would you categorize the Jews within this book? The Poles? The Nazis?

  1. What type of power do the Jews wield over the Nazis?

  1. Compare and contrast Vladek’s responses to Mala and Anja. What does this tell us about Vladek?

  1. Which of the characters are truly believable?

  1. Explain how the following settings affect the characters and your responses toward them:

    • Old Vladek’s home vs. Young Vladek’s apartment

    • The hidden bunkers, barns and cellars where the Jews hide

  1. What symbolic representation can be found in the following:

    • Old Vladek

    • Young Vladek

    • Anja’s suicide

    • Richieu’s Death

    • Artie’s Earlier Comic

    • Mala

  1. Provide and explain at least two examples of irony from this novel.

Maus 1: My Father Bleeds History: As you read, you should be able to notice the obvious as well as subtle changes of each of the major characters. For each chapter and character, provide an emotional or intense response to a focal plot event.


Ch.1”The Sheik”

Ch.2”The Honeymoon”

Ch.3”Prisoner of War”

Ch.4”The Noose Tightens”

Ch.5”Mouse Holes”

Ch.6”Mouse Trap”


Young Vladek

Old Vladek


Exploring the Novel

Questions for Discussion and Writing

  1. How would the story change if Spiegelman used human characters instead of animal characters?

  2. To what extent does Anja survive the holocaust?

  3. Discuss the theme of dehumanization in relation to the text.

  4. In what ways has the past affected the present for Vladek and Art?

  5. What does Spiegelman gain from learning the horrifying details of his father’s story?

  6. Maus is written in the rather unconventional form of a graphic novel. Is this format an effective means of telling a Holocaust narrative? How might it differ from a more conventional Holocaust narrative? 

  7. To what degree was Vladek’s survival based on luck, and to what degree was his survival based on his considerable resourcefulness?

  8. To what extent are Vladek’s aggravating personality traits a product of his experiences during the Holocaust?

  9. Discuss Art’s portrayal of his father. Is it a fair portrayal? What feelings does Art have about this portrayal? 

  10. Throughout Maus, Art is consumed with guilt. Discuss these different forms of guilt. How do they relate to one another? How do they differ? 

  11. Compare Vladek’s marriage to Mala with his previous marriage to Anja. Why is Vladek’s relationship with Mala so contentious, while his relationship with Anja was so filled with love?

  12. Though Maus focuses largely on the Jewish people, the narrative generally avoids issues of religion. To what extent are the major characters religious? What role does religion play in their lives?

  13. Where is Hitler in Maus?

More Questions for Essay and Discussion

  1. Discuss the effectiveness of the frequent movement from the story of the young Vladek and the Holocaust to the story of the elderly Vladek and his relationship with Artie (and back). Would the story of the young Vladek have more emotional weight if Spiegelman had decided to tell it in one uninterrupted piece? Defend your answer.

  2. As a librarian faced with the challenge of finding an appropriate location for Maus, would you shelve it with histories, comic books, biographies, fiction, or in some other pre-existing section? Defend your choice with specific examples from the book.

  3. Using specific examples from the text, compare the artistic and narrative styles of the bulk of Maus with those of Prisoner on the Hell Planet, in Maus I. How does the form of each reflect its content?

  4. An old saying has it that, while some wait for good luck, others make their own good luck. Using specific examples from the text, explain how this saying applies to Vladek.

  5. Vladek tells his story in broken English peppered with Yiddish, Hebrew, and German words. What impact does the language in which his story is delivered have on the story itself? What, if anything, would be lost if Vladek’s language were rendered into standard—or proper—English?

Analysis 1: Maus I, page 47. “Bridging Decades”

  1. The title of Maus I’s Chapter Three, “Prisoner of War”, echoes which other, later, section of the graphic novel? What parallels can you detect between the two sections?

  2. How does Art visually use himself to “bridge decades” between his father’s story and the present moment?

  3. How does breaking through the separate panels on the page work to both emphasize the interruption of the story and propel the narrative forward?

  4. Why does Art depict this aspect of his father’s story in a static series of Vladek sitting in a chair instead of “dramatizing” the action?

Analysis 2: Maus I, page 53. “Hands”

  1. Spiegelman has described comics as “a vital and expressive language that talks with its hands”. How does this page call attention to "handwriting" as a theme in Maus?

  2. In the conspicuous corner panel on the bottom left of the page — an iris diaphragm — focusing in on two hands, how can you tell which hand belongs to whom? Describe the differences between the two hands.

  3. What is the pointed comparison that Vladek makes between Art and himself and what is the point of the comparison?

  4. Vladek tells Art, later on in the book but fairly early on in his narrative, that he “didn’t want to put my hands where Jews were being taken”— an odd sentence accompanied by an image of the latter-day Vladek, hands up in the air demonstratively (86). How does Vladek later use his handwriting in particular and his hands in general to aid his survival?

  5. Comment on the shifting perspective used by Spiegelman on this page. What different "camera shots" do we see and what purpose do they serve?

Creative Activities

In your answer refer closely to the novel as a whole.

  1. You are non Jewish Polish citizen. A Jewish refugee has asked you if he can hide out in your basement. Would you help him? Justify your decision.

  2. You are Tosha, the family friend who has taken in Richieu to protect him from the Nazis. Explain your decision in a journal entry to poison yourself and Richieu.

  3. Interview Vladek about a part of his story not covered in Maus.

  4. Write a monologue in the persona of Mancie, the woman who helps Vladek get in contact with Anja. Why do you risk your life to help strangers?

  5. Find out what it’s like to be married to a Spiegelman. With a partner, role-play François interviewing Mala about her husband, Vladek. Then role play Mala interviewing François about Art. How do the men differ? How are they alike?

  6. Write a missing part of the text from young Richieu’s perspective. What was his experience like?

  7. Write a monologue in the persona of the Jew who betrays Vladek and his family to the Gestapo, explaining his actions.

  8. Write a letter from Vladek to Anja to give her hope to survive the camps.

  9. Write a journal from Spiegelman’s perspective explaining what he has personally learnt from interviewing Vladek.

  10. Write a journal entry from Spiegelman’s perspective describing how he feels about the deaths of his brother Richieu and his mother, Anja.

Analytical Essay Topics

In your answer make detailed reference to the novel as a whole and support your point of view with well-chosen illustrative evidence.

  1. ‘The story of Maus could only have been told as a graphic novel.’ Do you agree?

  2. ‘Spiegelman’s masterful execution of multiple, intricately linked levels or frames allows for meaning to flow back and forth freely between different times and places.’ Discuss.

  3. ‘About Auschwitz, nobody can understand.’ Maus is more a story of a son trying to understand his father, than it is a Holocaust story. Discuss.

  4. ‘In Spiegelman’s Maus, even the dedications are an essential part of the text.’ Discuss. 

  5. ‘Maybe they need a newer, bigger Holocaust.’ To what extent can Maus be seen as responding to this suggestion?

  6. ‘Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.’ Examine the difficulties of memory and the portrayal-of-self for both Artie’s and the reader’s ability to know the truth.

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