Maus: An Extraordinarily Ordinary Man’s Tale Of Survival
Art Spiegelman wrote and illustrated the graphic novel, Maus, in 1980 about his father, Vladek Spiegelman’s, experiences as a Holocaust survivor. The novel depicts the gruesome reality of the terrifying genocide of millions of Jews carried out by the Nazi government during World War II. Since Maus is written from the perspective of a second-generation Holocaust survivor, Art Spiegelman struggles to forge his own understanding of the radically immoral extermination of his people. In a 1997 journal article a critic stated: “In the Jewish tradition, the transmission of familial and communal history from parent to child is a sacred obligation” (Wilner 12). Thus, Art Siegelman dedicates a considerable amount of effort into preserving his father’s story and stating it as authentically as he can. He gathers his information through doing a series of interviews with his father about his experiences in Nazi-occupied Poland and then at Auschwitz. Through taping his father, he gets a better understanding of why his father is the way he is. He realizes that Vladek is a by-product of the Holocaust and that his harsh past has severely dominated his personality. In his later years, Vladek comes across as a selfish, stubborn, stingy old man. Despite these being undesirable negative traits, they are what have helped him through his previous circumstances. In flashback sequences, Vladek is portrayed as a quick-witted man with a strong drive and incredible work ethic. He is highly persuasive and has extraordinary interpersonal skills. He performs countless risky, impressive tasks which allow him to not only surpass those around him but also live through the dreadful Holocaust. In Art Spiegelman’s novel, Maus Vladek Spiegelman’s survival is predominantly due to his intelligence, resourcefulness, perseverance, and luck.
One way, Vladek Spiegelman managed to stay alive during the Holocaust was by using his intellectuality. His great presence of mind and intuition enabled him to make the best decision at the moment. He was put through frequent stressful situations in which he reacted very well despite the immense pressure. An example of his brilliance is when he takes the German streetcar instead of the Polish one because he knows that “In the Polish car, they could smell if a Polish Jew came in” (142). If he had ridden in the Polish streetcar, they would have immediately noticed that he was a Jew, so he instead rode with the Germans and went unnoticed. Another example of his intelligence is when after been captured by the Nazis and seeing a sign wanting volunteers for labor work, he takes it as an opportunity while most other men deny it. His reasoning is “I’m not going to die, and I won’t die here! I want to be treated like a human being!” (56). This decision ends up saving his life as he is given a heated cabin to live in while the other Jewish men are put in cold tents. Nevertheless, another example of Vladek using his intelligence is when he gets noticed in a park by a group of Polish children. The children immediately start screaming “A JEW! A JEW! HELP! MOMMY! A JEW!” (155). Instead of panicking and running away Vladek slowly approaches the children and convinces them that he is not a Jew by saying “HEIL HITLER” (155). This gets rid of the mother’s suspicions and prevents him from exposing his identity. Hence being clever and using wisdom plays an immense role in Vladek’s survival.
Accordingly, another way Vladek Spiegelman survived being exterminated was by being a resourceful man. He had the foresight and always planned for the future. Likewise, he tended to hold onto items that seemed unimportant and invaluable at the time. When Vladek received a draft notice to leave he instructed Anja to pack the “knick-knacks” and the doll collection. In a later conversation with his son, Vladek reflected upon his decision saying “I was right. When things went worse later, she was able to sell such things” (38). In addition, Vladek was also the master of all trades since he was able to learn new skills quickly and use them to his advantage. For instance, in Auschwitz when Vladek was faced with the problem of fixing shoes he was able to make it because he had already acquired the skill of fixing shoes in the Ghetto. However, one time he received an extremely battered shoe which he didn’t know how to fix and decided to pay an actual shoemaker to fix it for him. After carefully observing the shoemaker fix the shoe he was later able to replicate the process when given another busted shoe. Therefore, Vladek’s ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties was essential to his survival.
Moreover, equally important to Vladek’s survival was his perseverance and optimistic mindset. Despite the multitude of harsh challenges, he proves to be a strong-willed character. To be a European Jew in the years of World War II was a terrifying matter through which Vladek survives with persistence. His brave mentality helps both him and Anja endure the dread of the Holocaust. When comforting Anja after the death of Riches he tells her: “To die its easy…But you have to struggle for life” (124). In this Vladek acknowledges that it would be far easier to die but stresses that they can’t give up the fight for life. In an interview about her experiences in Nazi camps, a survivor states “You’d be surprised, a person wants to live so badly, that you never think about it on a daily routine, you know, thank god this morning I woke up and I’m on my feet. You don’t really think about it as much except when it is you’re the biggest gift from God that you did wake up this morning and that you did survive the day. Living is something you really want very badly, under any circumstances'(Lazar). Similarly, to Helen Lazar Vladek too held on tightly to his life and had the determination to live. Throughout all his troubles and losses Vladek never gives up the will to live. In the end, his diligence and determination eventually pay off as he remains alive.
In addition, to Vladek’s ingenuity, his luck also contributes to his survival. From time and time again Vladek gets in situations where luck bails him out. For instance, in Auschwitz, he meets a Kapo that wants to learn English. Luckily, Vladek knows English quite well and can teach Kapo. This partnership with Kapo allows him to survive much longer in Auschwitz than he otherwise would have been able to. Despite whether Vladek had known English or not if he hadn’t met a Kapo who wanted to learn English he most likely would have died. Vladek also gets lucky with his timing of catching Typhus as he catches it near the end of the war. He was fairly healthy throughout his time at Auschwitz and can avoid the disease killing hundreds daily. He manages to pull through until boarding the train that’s picking him up and handing him over to the red cross. Catching the disease at the “proper time” defiantly prolongs his chances of surviving. Thus, to an extent luck plays a visible role in his survival.
To conclude in Maus Art Spiegelman depicts his father Vladek Spiegelman’s experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. He narrates the hardships his father dealt with and the tactics he used to overcome the challenges. Vladek Spiegelman’s survival was primarily due to his intelligence, resourcefulness, and perseverance. Furthermore, aside from these personality traits Vladek’s luck also played a considerable role in his survival. In short, Maus illustrates the real world of Vladek Spiegelman, an ordinary man who does the extraordinary.
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