Maus: A Survivor’s Tale Part One

“Maus: A Survivor’s Tale Part One – My Father Bleeds History” is the first in a two-part graphic novel series that was written by Art Spiegelman. The comic was originally published in monthly comic strips in the magazine Raw from December 1980 to 1991 when the magazine was disbanded. Every chapter but the last one was published in the magazine.

After the series was finished, Spiegelman began looking for a publisher to turn it into a graphic novel. The novel was split into two parts and released in 1991 and released in bookstores as one of the first graphic novels to be released to a wider audience beyond comic shops. The graphic novels received much critical praise and went on to win the first Pulitzer Prize ever awarded to a graphic novel in 1992. It has also won many prestigious comic awards like the Eisner Award (1992) and the Harvey Award (1992). It has been translated into about thirty languages and is regularly taught in schools in Germany.

Part one of the series consists of six chapters all of which tell the story of Art Spiegelman and his idea to turn the tale of his father’s time in Poland during World War II into a graphic novel. The characters in the story are all depicted as different animals, with the Jewish people appearing as mice and the Germans and Polish people as pigs and cats. Spiegelman was intent on depicting the Jewish characters as mice because of his knowledge of Nazi propaganda that depicted Jewish people as vermin.

Art’s father, Vladek was a Jewish man living in Poland during the onset of World War II. In his story, he tells of how he watched his beloved country fall to the Nazi’s and how he struggled to find somewhere safe for him and his wife to hide. At the end of part one, Vladek and his wife, Anja are found and taken to the famous Concentration Camp, Auschwitz.

Book Summary

The first graphic novel begins with a short prolog in which Art (as his mouse counterpart) remembers a story where he was skating with his friends when his skate comes loose. Art lags behind and his friends bypass him and mock him as they leave. Art returns home to find his father fixing something in their front yard. His father asks him to come forward to help and notices that Art is crying. Art confesses that his friends left him and his father tells him that they were obviously not his friends. “If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week…then you could see what it is, friends!”

Chapter One: The Sheik

After a title page, Art begins the story arriving at his father, Vladek’s home. He intends to record his father’s memories of the Holocaust in order to include them in a book that he intends to write about the man’s life. He says that he and his father are not very close and that he has not seen him in a while. His father has aged since he saw him last and Art wonders if it was his mother’s suicide and the two heart attacks that he has suffered since that have taken their toll on his body. Art’s father has since remarried to a woman named Mala whom he knew in while living in Poland before the war.

Art and his father have dinner and afterward Vladek brings Art to his old room where he has set up a room full of exercise equipment. Vladek begins pedaling on an exercise bike and Art tells him that he wants to hear his story so that he can create a comic about it. Vladek demurs, telling him that he isn’t sure his life’s story is interesting enough for a book and that it would be too long. But Art keeps asking and Vladek finally relents, starting the story.

It begins in a small city not far from the border of Germany and Poland called Czestochowa. During his time there he was in the textiles business. He tells Art that he was a young, handsome man who was chased after by many girls, some of whom he didn’t even know. One day he received a call from a friend named Yulek who tells him that a friend of theirs named Lucia Greenberg wanted to be introduced to him. Vladek agreed to meet her and took her dancing. After this, he bumped into Lucia many times on the street.

At this point, Art interrupts the story to remind his father that his mother was not Lucia Greenberg, but was named Anna Zylerberg. Vladek tells him that he is leading up to that and that he needs to listen.

Lucia insisted that Vladek invite her into his house and he eventually let her although he did not like her much. Lucia continued to worm her way into Vladek’s life until eventually they began dating and continued to date for three or four years. Vladek says that Lucia’s family was nice but very poor and did not have money for a dowry.

One holiday, Vladek returns to his hometown to see his family and his cousin tells him that he wants to introduce him to a nice girl in his class. He tells Vladek that this girl is very clever and rich. The next morning Vladek meets Anja (Anna). Anja talks in English with Vladek’s cousin about him, assuming that he cannot understand. Later when he reveals that he heard everything she said she is impressed and embarrassed. She asks him where he learned English and he tells her that he took private lessons although he had to quit school at the age of fourteen to work. Vladek says that he always dreamed of going to America.

Before Vladek leaves for Czestochowa again the two exchange phone numbers and begin talking to each other every day. Anja began writing beautiful letters to Vladek and sent him a photo while he had framed. Unfortunately, Lucia came to his house one day and saw the framed photo on the mantle of the fireplace. Lucia was angry. Vladek told her that he intended to marry Anja. Lucia was upset and Vladek then told her that they were not good for each other.

A short while later, Vladek met Anja’s family. The Zylerberg’s owned one of the biggest hosiery factories in Poland and were very well off. But they treated Vladek like a king when he visited. When Anja left him to help with dinner, he snooped through her closet to see what type of housekeeper she was and was impressed. However, in her closet he found a bottle of pills and, curious, he wrote down what they were so he could check into it later. A druggist friend later told him that the pills were only because she was so skinny and nervous.

By the end of 1936, Vladek and Anja were engaged and he moved from Czestochowa to her hometown in Sosnowiec. They married in early 1937. They then moved into Anja’s father’s apartments. Vladek interrupts himself to say that he forgot to mention that before he and Anja became engaged, Lucia found out that they were and begged him to take her back and leave Anja. She wrote a letter to Anja informing her that Vladek was dishonest and had many girlfriends. Anja was upset when she received the letter and would not speak to Vladek until he managed to get a hold of her and explain the situation.

Vladek tells Art that he does not think that this back story should be included in the comic. Art asks why and Vladek tells him that: “It has nothing to do with Hitler. With the Holocaust”. Art tells him that it is a great material and makes the story seem more real. Vladek insists that it be left out of the comic and Art promises that it will be.

Chapter Two: The Honeymoon

For the next few months, Art returns to his father’s house regularly to hear more of the story. The next time he sees him, Art’s father is separating up his pills and mentions that he has a condition. Art asks him if his mother had any boyfriends before she married him and Vladek says that she had one who was a communist. Even after their marriage, when this man visited town Anja would rush to see him.

At one point, shortly after they were married, Vladek discovered that Anja had been translating communist messages into German for the man. The police discovered this and were set to arrest her but she was informed by a friend that they were after her. Desperate to hide the communist documents in her possession, Anja took them to the seamstress down the hall and asked her to hide them. The police found the documents in the seamstresses house and arrested her. She lied about them being something a customer left and was let out of prison three months later when no more evidence was found.

Vladek considered breaking up his marriage when he discovered that Anja was a communist spy. He told her she had to choose between him and her communist friends and she chose him. Anja’s father paid the cost of lawyers for the seamstress. He also began speaking to Vladek at that time about starting his own textile factory to provide for any children that they might have.

Vladek started a textile factory in Bielsko and visited Anja every weekend. Later that year Anja gave birth to a boy named Richieu. Vladek says that Art never got to meet Richieu because he didn’t survive the war. After the baby was born, Anja stayed with her family while Vladek worked in Bielsko. But soon Vladek had to return to Anja as she began suffering from postpartum depression. Her parents suggested putting her in a sanitarium and Vladek went with her while the child was left with a governess.

The sanitarium was in Czechoslovakia and on the way there everyone on the train suddenly started getting upset. When Vladek looked outside he saw a Nazi flag hanging in the town square. It was the first time he had seen one. One of the men on the train begins talking about his cousin who was run out of Germany by the Nazi’s for being Jewish. The people on the train hope that the Nazi’s will be thrown out of power before a war is started.

Vladek and Anja arrive at the sanitarium and are given a luxury room with a very nice view. Nurses visit Anja every morning and Vladek asked the specialist every day how she was doing. Vladek cared for Anja and tried to keep her happy and busy. After three months, Anja was recovered enough to return home. Unfortunately, after returning Anja’s father tells Vladek that his factory was robbed and they took everything. Art asks his father if his factory was robbed as a part of the anti-Semitic activity and Vladek tells him that he doesn’t think so and that it was only a robbery.

Anja’s father helps Vladek to rebuild the factory and a few months later he was doing well again. Nazi activity began stirring up in Bielsko. Anja wonders if they should move somewhere safer but Vladek tells her that if things get any worse they can always return to Sosnowiec. Art interrupts to ask why they thought Sosnowiec would be any safer than Bielsko and Vladek tell him that they thought at the time that Hitler would only want to parts of Poland that used to be parts of Germany before the first World War, like Bielsko.

Vladek and Anja stayed in Bielsko for another year before he was drafted into the war. In a rush to leave town, the family packs everything they can so that Anja can return to her parent’s house and Vladek can go serve in the war. At this point, Vladek accidentally spills his pill bottle and begins telling Art about his health troubles. Vladek suggests that they pick the story up another day.

Chapter Three: Prisoner of War

In 1939, the soldiers in Vladek’s unit were given a few days of training and then sent out to the front lines. Surprised by this, Art asks about the lack of training and Vladek clarifies that he was in the army reserves and had already undergone the training years before.

Vladek is captured by Nazi soldiers and taken as a prisoner of war to Nuremberg where he was separated out for being Jewish. The Nazi’s had the Jewish prisoners turn out their pockets and were surprised that Vladek had so much money. They made him work in a stable until they took him to a bigger camp a few weeks later where he had to sleep in a freezing tent. The Polish prisoners were treated comparatively well but the Jewish prisoners were treated very poorly. Many of them became sick and got frostbite from the cold. Vladek began exercising every day to keep strong and praying regularly. He played games with the other prisoners and made a chess set out of stones and breadcrumbs. Once a week he was allowed to write letters to Anja in German.

After six more weeks, an announcement was sent out that the prisoners were allowed to volunteer for labor assignments to replace the German workers called to the front. Vladek decided to register although his fellow prisoners thought it was a trick. The prisoners were taken to a small village where they were able to stay in warm houses and eat real food again. Soon the prisoners were sent out to work in the fields, making the ground level. The Nazi’s kept fierce reign on them and some prisoners returned to the POW camp to freeze and starve over working. One night, Vladek dreams of his dead grandfather who tells him that he will come out of this hardship on the day of “Parshas Truma”. Art asks what Parshas Truma is and Vladek tells him that a Parsha is a section of the Torah and one week each year was Parshas Truma.

The next day Vladek asked the town’s Rabbi when Parshas Truma would be read and was told it would be in three months time. Three months later to the day a group of German soldiers comes to the camp and released the prisoners. Vladek was put on a train the next day and brought to a town called Lublin. He is told that he is being held there because the Nazis killed a group of released prisoners the day before. The Jewish authorities tell Vladek that they have bribed the Germans to release prisoners who can be claimed by a family member in the town. Vladek tells them that he has a family friend in town and they agree to lie and say that the friend is Vladek’s cousin instead.

That night Vladek leaves his tent to relieve himself and is shot at by a guard. He managed to escape into the tent unharmed. Vladek has released into the care of his family friend soon after and began planning how he was going to sneak back into Sosnowiec to be with his family. Vladek managed to board a train in the direction that he wanted and lied to the Polish train man in order to convince him to let him ride without legal papers. Vladek manages to return home and celebrate with his family although the Nazi’s have enforced a curfew on the Jewish people in town.

Vladek pauses the story here as Art is ready to go home. When Art starts looking for his coat Vladek tells him that he thought it was shabby so he threw it out and the garbage men took it. Art is upset and Vladek offers him one of his own coats to wear home.

Chapter Four: The Noose Tightens

When Art returns the next day his father begins telling him about how things were for him after returning from the POW camp. He and Anja began living with much of her family in her parent’s house and adhering to the strict rules that had been set down for Jewish people by the Nazis. Vladek’s factory was taken over by the Nazis as all Jewish-owned businesses were taken at that time. Vladek began trying to get his business back up under the table and taking up favors with shopkeepers who had owed him money. He has some success until one day the Nazis close his street and begin asking for work papers from the shop owners. Many of the shop owners do not have them and about half are taken away. Vladek manages to sneak away before he is asked.

Anja’s father brings Vladek to a friend who can give him a black market priority work card. For the next year in Poland, things got steadily worse. The Nazis began taking material goods from the homes of Jewish people. In 1941, all of the Jewish people of Sosnowiec were relocated to one small area and Vladek, Anja and the rest of her family were given a small, 2 bedroom house to live in. Vladek continued to run his small textile business until three other shopkeepers that he did business were hanged by the Nazis for working without coupons. This scared Vladek and he stopped doing business and began trading gold and jewelry because it was easier to hide.

Soon the Nazis sent out another noticed saying that all Jewish people over the age of 70 were to be transferred to a town in Czechoslovakia. Anja’s grandparents were both 90 years old and were in danger of being taken away. Because the family did not want to be broken up, they built a small bunker in the yard and stashed her grandparents there behind a false wall where they could care for them. But eventually, the Jewish police (a group of Jewish men who had joined the German police in the hopes that they would avoid being sent away) came and took away Anja’s father in her grandparent’s place. They threatened to take away Anja’s mother as well so the family had to give up the grandparents hiding place. Instead of going to Czechoslovakia the grandparents were taken to Auschwitz, the famous Nazi Concentration Camp.

Anja’s father was returned but the Nazis soon announced that all of the Jewish people of Sosnowiec were to attend a registration at the stadium in town. The people were afraid that it was a Nazi trap, but many of them were more afraid of not going and not getting their papers. Vladek and his family went and soon realized that the people in the stadium were being separated into two crowds. Those who could work and those who could not. The people on the bad side of the stadium did not get their passports stamped and were sent away. This included Vladek’s father who was initially let into the good side but sneaked into the bad to be with his wife.

At this point, Vladek decides that he has tired of telling the story and Art leaves him to rest. Art goes to the kitchen to speak with Mala and she tells him that her mother was also taken in the stadium and sent to an apartment building that was so crowded with people that some were ending their lives just to get away. Mala managed to smuggle her mother out of the building before the Nazis took her away but she later died in Auschwitz.

Vladek had told Art that Anja kept diaries during this time as well and Art decides that he wants to look for them but he cannot find them. Mala becomes agitated when he starts looking and complains about how Vladek drives her crazy.

Chapter Five: Mouse Holes

Art wakes early to a call from his father begging him to come over to help fix a broken drainpipe. He tells his wife that he hates helping his father fix things and only became an artist because it was something that his father saw as being impractical. As he is explaining this his father calls back and tells him that he is going to get his neighbor to help him instead.

A week later Art returns to his father’s house to find him upset. He talks to Mala who reveals that Vladek found a comic strip that Art published years earlier about his mother, Anja. In the strip, Art explains the circumstances around his mother’s suicide and how he feels responsible for it. Vladek tells his son that the comic made him sad and reminded him of Anja. The two walk to the bank together as Vladek resumes his story.

In 1943. all of the remaining Jews in Sosnowiec were sent to a village called Srodula. They then had to pay the Polish people to move into their unused houses. All of the Jewish people in Srodula were made to work in German shops and marched to work every day by soldiers. One day a friend offered to take Richieu and some of the other children in the town back to his hometown to keep them safe as the Nazis did not have as much influence left. He tells them that his 90-year-old father is still allowed to live at home and Vladek is impressed by this as there are no Jewish people that old left in the country that haven’t been taken away. The families agree and their children are taken away. Vladek says that it was the last time he ever saw his son. Shortly after the children were sent to a friend, the Nazis cleared around 1,000 children from Srodula to Auschwitz.

Vladek talks about what he later learned happened to Richieu. A few months after he was taken to a town called Zawiercie the friend that had protected him was killed by the Germans. One of the children’s mother killed herself and the other children (including Richieu) with poison to avoid being taken to the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Back in Srodula, the Germans began arresting random people even if they were registered. Vladek created a hiding place in their home’s cellar to avoid this. The family spent days in the little bunker while the German’s searched for them. The Nazis began liquidating the Srodula and taking everyone away. The family stayed in the bunker for this time except to sneak out to find food. One day a man sneaks into the house and the family finds him. He confesses that he was only resting and that he was looking for food to feed his family. The family take his word and offer him a little food. The man leaves and the next morning the Nazis return after he informed them of the family’s hiding place.

The family was taken to a holding place to wait for a van to take them to Auschwitz. While there, they struck up a deal with a cousin of Vladek’s to help sneak them out. Everyone in the family escaped except Anja’s parents who were taken to Auschwitz. Vladek and Anja sneaked back into Srodula where Vladek’s cousin, Haskel helped get them a job at a factory making shoes for the German soldiers.

As he is explaining how he discovered that the man who had turned them in was later shot, Vladek suddenly feels faint and has to rest and take one of his pills. After he begins to recover, he tells Art that Haskel is still alive and living in Poland. Haskel was a manipulator whom the Germans liked because he often played cards with them and lost large amounts of money. Haskel’s prestige in the town often saved Vladek’s life.

The Nazis continued to liquidate the town and more and more vans left daily with people headed to the Concentration Camps. Vladek and his cousin decided to create another bunker inside the shoe factory to hide their families in. At this time, Vladek and Anja heard that their son was dead and Anja suffered a return of her depression. Vladek only managed to keep her from committing suicide by convincing her that he needed her and that they had to die together.

Including Vladek and Anja, about 12 people moved into the bunker in the shoe factory They soon ran out of food. One day some of the men in the bunker told Vladek that they struck up a deal with the soldiers to sneak them out of town. Vladek refused to go, sensing a trap. The men left and Vladek overhead them being shot.Eventually the town was completely cleared out except for the Polish citizens. The people left in the bunker came out and left town in different directions. Anja and Vladek began walking with no idea where they would go as their family was now gone.

Eventually, the town was completely cleared out except for the Polish citizens. The people left in the bunker came out and left town in different directions. Anja and Vladek began walking with no idea where they would go as their family was now gone.

Chapter Six: Mouse Trap

Art goes to visit his father again and finds Vladek and Mala arguing about money. Art tells Mala that he worries that the portrayal of his father in the graphic novel will come off as a racist caricature of a Jewish person. He wishes that he could have gotten the story of what happened during the war from his mother while she was alive to give the book some balance. Art and Vladek go out to the garden to continue the story.

In 1944, Vladek and Anja sneaked out of Srodula and headed toward Sosnowiec. Unsure of where to go, they decided to try and go to Anja’s father’s house. The janitor still lived there as he was a Polish man. He offered to let them in and hide them. The next morning Vladek decided to scout around the area and pretend to be a Polish man so that he could see if he could find any other people they knew it town. The Janitor told him that he could not hide in the house for too long as it was too obvious. Vladek managed to find some friends who told them of a woman who would hide them on the outskirts of town if they were willing to pay. The woman offered to let them stay in her barn as long as they lied and said they didn’t know her if the Nazis came by.

Vladek had to go back into town every day to find food and managed to befriend a woman who offered to let them stay in her house. The woman had a small son who enjoyed Anja’s company very much but they worried that he would accidentally inform on them at school. The woman’s house was also on the ground floor so it was harder to hide inside as they could be seen from the street. One day the Nazis raided the woman’s small food stall and, in a panic she told Vladek and Anja that they had to leave.

The couple walked for hours around Sosnowiec, unsure of where to go. After sleeping in a construction site, they returned to the farm of the woman outside of town and she agreed to let them stay. When Vladek told her that he wanted to get out of Poland, she told him that she knew of a man who was smuggled into Hungary. She agrees to put them in touch with the smugglers and although Anja does not want to go, Vladek convinces her and the two set out for Hungary a few weeks later. Anja was suspicious of the smugglers and it turned out that she was correct as they only turned the couple over to the Germans.

Vladek and Anja were captured in Bielsko where he used to own his factory and marched through town and put in separate prisons until they were taken on a truck to Auschwitz. At this point, Vladek ends pauses his story and Art asks him again if he tried looking for Anja’s diaries. Vladek reveals that he burned them after she committed suicide years before. Art becomes upset by this and yells at his father. He pretends to calm down and tells his father that he has to leave but in his head, he calls his father a “murderer”.

Characters Analysis 

Art Spiegelman – the author and artist of the graphic novel. Art is the conduit that brings the story of his father’s time in Poland during World War II to the reader through the medium of a comic. Not much time is spent on Art’s life or developing himself as a character. We know that he is a grown man by the time that he begins the novel and that he has a wife. Art has lived in America most of his life and was born after the war, thus never experienced the horrors that his father is talking about and has no concept of some of the things that his father went through. Art is an artist and reveals in the first novel that he was attracted to the idea of becoming a professional comics artist largely because he knew his father would see it as an impractical profession. Art and his father did not get along well for most of his childhood and he felt distant from him.

Vladek Spiegelman – it could be said that Vladek is the main character of the novels. The story of his time in Poland during World War II and the infamous Concentration Camp, Auschwitz is the main plot of the book and it is mostly told through his words and perspective. Vladek is a very clever, resourceful man who uses his know-how to scrape by during the war. At one point, Art tells his therapist that he realizes that his father used a combination of luck and resourcefulness to survive his time in Auschwitz and that realizing that he was a very clever man does not erase the negative feelings that Art had built up for him over a lifetime.

Vladek’s relationship with Art was very different than what his son felt their relationship was. Vladek obviously loves his son and enjoys spending time with him. He does not seem to recognize the resentment his son has for him nor does he see the ways in which Art has rebelled against him.
Vladek has experienced much hardship in his life and because of this, he is permanently scarred both physically and mentally. He shows some of this vulnerability in small ways throughout the novels but for the most part, he appears to put on a front of acceptance.

Anja Spiegelman – Art’s mother. Anja committed suicide before the story begins and only appears in flashbacks throughout Vladek’s story. Anja’s thoughts and emotions are represented only through the recollections of Vladek and suppositions of her son. Throughout the war, Anja kept her own diaries and records of what was happening but Vladek burned them after she died. Despite this, Anja is depicted as a full, vibrant character. Her mental illness is foreshadowed after the birth of her first son, Richieu when she struggles with postpartum depression. Anja is a very strong character, who manages to get through the horrors of Auschwitz and the death of her young son and continue to move forward. In the end of the second novel, she makes her way back to Sosnowiec on her own and waits for her husband to return.

Francoise Spiegelman – Art’s wife. Francoise is a french woman but although Art depicts the French people as frogs, as fits with the derogatory term for them, Francoise insists that she be depicted as a mouse because she has converted to Judaism. Francoise is a forward-thinking 21st-century woman who is compassionate toward her father-in-law but still takes a no-nonsense approach to dealing with him and his old-fashioned ideas.

Art Spiegelman Biography 

Art Spiegelman was born on February 15th, 1948 in Stockholm, Sweden. Spiegelman’s parents were from Poland but were forced out by the Nazi’s after being taken to Auschwitz, the most famous and deadly Concentration Camp in existence. Spiegelman came to America as a young boy with his parents in 1951 and his name was changed from the Hebrew Itzhak Avraham ben Zeev to the Americanized Arthur Isadore. The family first moved to Norristown, Pennsylvania but later moved to Queens, New York City in 1957.

As a young boy in 1960, Art began drawing comics by imitating the art styles of some of his favorite comics at the time. He began selling his artwork by the time he was in high school and was brought to the attention of the United Features Syndicate who offered him a syndicated comic strip which he turned down because he felt that it was too commercial.

Art attended the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan and began submitting to a local newspaper. Art’s parents urged him to attempt to find a more secure and lucrative career after his high school graduation in 1965 but he continued to work freelance jobs and began working as a staff cartoonist for his college newspaper, Harper College.

In 1968, Art suffered a mental breakdown during which he was admitted to Binghamton State Mental Hospital. Shortly after he was released, his mother, Anja committed suicide. In 1971, Art moved to San Francisco and began contributing to the then burgeoning counterculture of “underground comix”. The underground comix scene was mostly concentrated on sexually explicit material and Art created work for this scene from 1970 to 1977, publishing in men’s magazines and underground magazines. It was during this time that he began to conceptualize his most well-known work, “Maus” as he was asked to draw a comic for a magazine called “Funny Animals”.

In 1976, Art moved back to New York City where he met his wife Francoise Mouly and the couple was married the next year. The two have two children a daughter, Nadja born n 1987 and a son, Dashiell born in 1992. In 1980, the couple decided to begin publishing a new magazine together which later became “Raw” the monthly magazine in which “Maus” was first published.

Vladek Spiegelman did not live to see the end of “Maus” being published as he died only 2 years after it was started in 1982. In 1991, after “Raw” had ended, Art began trying to find a publisher for the collection of the “Maus” comic strips that would become a graphic novel. He was successful and the graphic novels were published in a collection later that year.

For the next ten years, Art worked as a contributing artist for ‘The New Yorker’ and in 1997 he published his first full-length children’s book. He currently lives in New York City with his wife.