[2021-12-31] “The Complete Maus”

Maus” is a biographical graphic novel by Art Spiegelman. It tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, the father of the author, as he and his family survive the horrors of the Holocaust as Jews in Poland persecuted by the Nazis from Germany. It is the only graphic novel so far to have won a Pulitzer Prize. In my opinion, the accolades it has received so far are all justified.

“The Complete Maus” combines both the original volumes, “My Father Bleeds History” and “And Here My Troubles Began”, into a single book. The author is both the writer as well as the illustrator of this graphic novel. The panels are all black and white, with people depicted as animals – the Polish Jews as mice, the Poles as pigs, the Germans as cats, the Americans as dogs, etc. The style of the art and the language takes a bit getting used to, but the story makes you forget about these issues.

Vladek is a fairly prosperous man running his own business and happily married to his love Anna. They have a little son and live with her parents in a joint family in a town in Poland. This is when the second World War starts and Germany invades to occupy Poland. Slowly their lives become worse as hatred for Jews creeps in, with their lives eventually turned completely upside down as their business, house, etc. are snatched from them and the family-members separated by the Nazis under various pretexts. They manage to send their son away to protect him from the horrors, but eventually learn of his death as the Nazi-occupation keeps spreading everywhere. Vladek is quite street-smart and manages to keep himself and Anna safe for as long as possible, but they are eventually caught by the Nazis as they try to flee over to Hungary and then brought over to the dreaded Auschwitz concentration-camp.

At Auschwitz, the Spiegelmans are separated from each other and suffer even more horrors, but somehow still manage to escape the horrible gas-chambers over the course of about ten months, each not knowing whether the other was even alive or not. They finally manage to meet each other (just about) and separately survive till the end of the war based on their luck, their good nature, and with some help from a few folks. After the war, they are able to get back together, have another son (the author), and then emigrate to the US. It would seem that they escaped the Holocaust as survivors after all. However, the book asks if they really did manage to survive the Holocaust.

A few years after the war and after they have migrated to the US, Anna commits suicide after succumbing to her depression. Vladek suffers from diabetes and a heart-disease, which take quite a toll on his health and leave him blind in one eye. He continues to mourn for Anna even after remarrying another Holocaust-survivor Mala. Their marriage is constantly under stress and she even leaves him for a brief period. He becomes extremely miserly and cranky, driving everyone around him nuts. He continuously berates his son as he grows up, leaving the son with life-long psychological scars. The son still respects his father and maintains his distance as an adult, but finally coaxes Vladek to tell his story so that it can be published as a graphic novel. Vladek sadly dies of a heart-attack before the book could be published.

I have always found it difficult to come to terms with the horrors of the Holocaust whenever I read about it or watch its dramatizations. I cannot believe how one set of humans could do such things to other humans. The book describes some of these horrors in vivid detail and it was a very depressing read overall. However, this is an important part of our history that needs to be told again (and again), so that we do not forget about it and learn from it. This book is an important reminder of that tragedy for us all and is well worth the read.

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