Art Spiegelman’s “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” is one of the most critically acclaimed and poignant tales of Holocaust survival. In April, we reviewed Part I, and will now be looking at Part II: And Here My Troubles Began. I found the title of this volume striking, as if Vladek hasn’t had any troubles until now – which I found surprising after reading Part I. To recap, the author Art is telling the readers the story of his father Vladek’s time during the Holocaust. We have learned that Vladek’s wife at the time, Anja, survived Auschwitz as Vladek did, but committed suicide some years later. At the end of Part I, Vladek and Anja were entering Auschwitz. We have also seen the strained relationship between Vladek and Art. It is clear to the reader they have not had a loving relationship up to this point.
As Part II begins, we learn that Mala, Vladek’s second wife, has left him. Art and his wife Francoise drive down to see him (planning on staying for the weekend, while Vladek wants them to stay forever). As the struggle between Art and Vladek continues, we dive back into the story of Vladek entering Auschwitz. Separated from Anja, Vladek uses his skills and past expertise to stay alive in the camps. His knowledge of both English and Polish is his first asset – as he teaches a guard English, the guard rewards him by keeping him alive. He works as a tinsmith, which allows him to be close enough to see Anja from time to time, giving each other hope. Unfortunately, he also sees hundreds and thousands of men die right in front of him, whether from the hands of the guards or from pure starvation and exhaustion, passing out and never waking up. While Vladek does survive Auschwitz, it is not without trauma – both physically and mentally. He is subject to beatings as every victim is, witnesses horrific deaths (including those of his friends), contracts typhus which almost kills him, (likely contracted by the fleas and lice that inhabited the camps) and more.
As in Part I, there is also the story of Art and Vladek being told in the graphic novel. Art struggles with the notion that his book is nothing compared to the traumas his parents and the thousands of other Holocaust victims went through. He sees a therapist (who is also a Auschwitz survivor), who helps to try and offer some insight into the angst between Art and his father:
As the story progresses and the relationship between Art and Vladek continues to strain. Vladek’s insistence on spending as little money as possible and keeping everything annoys Art endlessly. In Vladek’s words, “ever since Hitler I don’t like to throw out even a crumb”. He learned to ration and trade everything in the camps, and this practice continues with him now. This is fully emphasized when Vladek attempts to return cereal that Mala left behind that has been opened, but he cannot eat. Art and his wife watch from the car, too embarrassed to enter the store with him.
The novel ends with Vladek and Anja’s reunion after they both return to Sosnowiec, Poland. It is an uplifting event for the reader to end with, followed by a drawing of a shared tombstone for the couple (by the time Part I of “Maus” is published in 1986, Vladek had already passed away in 1982, as Art tells us in the novel). While the reader knows that not everything went smoothly after their reunion (particularly with the death of Anja), it is a nice way to end their story and know they were together again after the horrors they went through, when there were thousands who were not as lucky. “Maus” is one of the most thought-provoking and honest stories of Holocaust survival to be read, and should be continued to be celebrated almost 40 years after it was published. If you haven’t already (and even if you have), check out “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” by Art Spiegelman today!