I remember when I first heard about the Holocaust. I was watching Schindler’s List, with my cousin. His grandfather was a Polish Jew who escaped Poland just in the nick of time, and naturally the Holocaust is very personal to him. After he told me his grandfather’s story, I just remember feeling shocked, overwhelmingly sad, and curious. I just kept asking myself how could people do this to each other?
“I know this is insane, but i somehow wish i had been in auschwitz with my parents so i could really know what they lived through! I guess it’s some kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did.”
Maus tells the story of Art Spiegelman’s father’s experience during World War II, specifically as a Polish Jew. Through POW camps, hiding in barns and basements, to the crammed ghettos, life in the camps, and finally liberation. Vladek tells his son his terrifying tale of death and survival.
This is one of many accounts accounts of a Holocaust survivor. However, this was my first graphic novel reading of one. What sets Maus apart is the animal depiction of humans. Hitler often referred to Jews as mice or vermin, and Spigelman plays on it by making Jewish people mice. However, he doesn’t stop there, every ethnicity and nationality has its own animal rendering.
Representing people as animals adds a powerful message to the story. It also does what words can’t. You can describe all sorts of differences between people, but actually lumping them into separate species, moreover, their stereotypes truly speaks volumes for how society views each other.
I would love to be able to say that this mentality ended with World War II, but we all know it hasn’t. People are still stereotyped, still persecuted because of their beliefs and differences, and some are still viewed as animals.
While the tone of Maus overall is sad, there are surprisingly some humorous moments. Vladek tells his story, but it isn’t a straight forward bleak account. He mixes a few bright moments he experienced throughout his ordeal. The novel also alternates between the present and the past, so we also see Vladek as an old man with his medicines, doctor appointments, and his modern day woes.
I’ve read so many memoirs and novels of Holocaust survivors, accounts of not just Jewish people but those of Homosexuals, Gypsies, Handicaps, and also Germans. Every time these terrifying and heart wrenching stories leave my blood running cold and my heart aching, but still I read them. I still try to understand I guess, even though I know I’ll never truly understand. It’s too much for anyone who didn’t live it to understand. All we can do is remember it, and do our part to keep the memory of all those who suffered alive.
“No, darling! To die it’s easy… But you have to struggle for life!