23 April 2014

Maus II

 “Maus II” is a biography and autobiography by Art Spiegelman in which he continues to tell his father’s story of his time during the holocaust, specifically of his father’s time in Auschwitz, and how he gained freedom.  In the beginning of the book, Vladek leaves a message to Art saying he has just had a heart attack. When Art calls Vladek he learns, that Vladek is healthy and staying in a bungalow in the Catskills. He left the message, to ensure that his son would call him back. Mala has left him, and Art and Francoise immediately depart for the Catskills. On their way there, Art tells Francoise about his puzzling feelings about the Holocaust, including the guilt he feels for having had an easier life than his parents, and about his sibling rivalry with a snapshot of his brother. After arriving to the Catskills he asks Vladek to tell him what happened when he arrived at Auschwitz. Vladek arrives at Auschwitz with Mandelbaum. All around, there is chaos and a foul smell of burning rubber and fat. They see Abraham, who tells them that he, too, was betrayed and forced at gunpoint to write the letter that sent Vladek and Anja to the camps. Vladek begins teaching English to his guard, who protects him and provides him with extra food and a new uniform. Mandelbaum is soon taken off to work and never heard from again. After a few months, the guard can no longer keep Vladek safe as a tutor, and he arranges for him to take a job as a tinsmith. It is 1987; a year after the publication of the first book of “Maus” Art’s considering the critical and commercial success of Book I.  it's also five years after Vladek's death. Art is depressed and overwhelmed, and visits his psychiatrist, Pavel, also a Holocaust survivor. The two speak about Art's relationship with his father and with the Holocaust. They focus specially on issues of guilt. Art leaves the session feeling much better and returns home to listen to tapes of his father's Holocaust story. While Vladek is at Auschwitz, Anja is being held at Birkenau, a larger camp to the south. Unlike Auschwitz, which is a work camp, Birkenau is one stop before the gas chambers. Anja is faithless and frail, and her supervisor beats her constantly. Vladek makes contact with her through a kind Jewish supervisor named Mancie, through whom he is able to send additional food to his wife. Vladek also arranges to be sent to work in Birkenau, where he is able to speak briefly with Anja.

Vladek arranges to switch jobs from tinsmith to shoemaker, and by fixing the shoes of Anja's guard at Birkenau, he greatly improves her treatment. He learns that some prisoners at Birkenau will begin working at a munitions factory in Auschwitz and saves large amounts of food and cigarettes for a bribe to ensure that Anja is among them. Soon, though, Vladek loses his job as a shoemaker, and he is forced into manual labor. He begins to get dangerously weak, and he must hide during daily "selections" so that he will not be sent to the gas chamber. As the Russians advance towards the camp, he works again as a tinsmith and is made to deconstruct the gas chambers. The Russian army is now within earshot of Auschwitz, and the prisoners are evacuated under German guard. They march for miles in the freezing snow and are packed like animals into crowded boxcars, where they stay for days with no food or water. Eventually they arrive at Dachau, another concentration camp. Very few of the prisoners actually survive the trip. At Dachau, Vladek meets a Frenchman who is able to receive packages through the Red Cross due to his non-Jew status. He shares what he’s receiving with Vladek. Vladek eventually succumbs to typhus and is sickly ill days, just as he starts recuperating; the sick that are able to walk are boarded onto a train bound for Switzerland to be exchanged as prisoners of war. Vladek is among them. Vladek is made to leave the train and move on foot towards the Swiss border. The war ends before they reach it, and their guard’s march them back onto a train that they say will take them to the Americans. But when the train arrives at its destination, there are no Americans, and the prisoners walk off in all directions trying to not get caught by Germans. Vladek is stopped by German patrol, first he and the other Jews are made to wait by a lake, The Jews think that they will be killed, but by morning the guards are gone. Vladek begins to walk again, but encounters yet another German patrol, which force him into a barn with fifty other Jews. Again, they fear for their lives, but again when they wake up the next morning, the guards are gone. Vladek and Shivek a friend he reunited with while at the lake, eventually find an abandoned house, where they stay until the Americans arrive and take the house as a military base. Vladek shows his son a box of old pictures of his family, mostly from before the war. Of his parents and six siblings, only one brother, Pinek survived.

Art is in his apartment when he receives an urgent and unexpected call from Mala. She is in Florida and back together with Vladek, though she doesn’t know why she’s back with him. Vladek had just been admitted to the hospital for the third time in a month, and he leaves the hospital against the advice of his doctors. He wants to see his doctor in New York. Art flies down to help him get home. Back in New York, Vladek sees his doctor and is cleared to go home. A month goes by before Art visits his father again. When he arrives, Mala tells him that Vladek has been getting confused and forgets things. Art sits by his father's bed and asks him about the end of the war. Vladek and Shivek leave the German farm for a displaced persons camp, where they receive identification papers. Life at the camp is easy, but Vladek soon leaves with Shivek for Hannover. While in Hannover, Vladek hears word that Anja is still alive, and he departs for Sosnowiec. The trains are largely broken-down, and the journey takes him over three weeks, but he eventually arrives for an emotional reunion with his wife. The book ends by Vladek ending his story: "I'm tired of talking, Richieu," he tells Art, calling him by the name of his dead brother, "and it's enough stories for now."   

I enjoyed reading this book, even though it’s such a dark topic, it was a really good book to read. The panels give a much more vivid picture, and I can understand the story much better with them. It also extremely different from the way other holocaust stories are written. a really sad and shocking part of this story is at the end of the comic Vladek confuses Art as Richieu. I imagine it might have made art feel even more jealous of a brother he never even met. something I find extremely shocking is how Vladek was able to hide without detection during the selections. 

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