Book Report on HOLOCAUST
The book report should be 4-5 pages. Use Maus I, II and Bergen for historical context and background. Answer two questions:
Begin with an introduction, then a general overview of the books and finally a discussion of the two questions above.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
The graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman is a rich and engaging story. It follows his own parents’ story in Poland during the 1930s, and describes their experiences as the Nazis invaded and persecuted the Jewish population. Spiegelman presents his story in graphic form, portraying his characters as animals. Let’s take a look at a summary and analysis.
Maus takes place during two different periods in time. The present time in Florida frames the story of the past. In the present, Art interacts with his father, Vladek. From these interactions, the story moves to the past as Vladek recounts his experiences as a Jew in German-occupied Poland. The second part of the story describes Vladek’s life in the concentration camps.
Part One: The Present
The story begins with Vladek as a young man in the mid-1930s living in Poland. His friends help set him up with a girl named Anja. Anja lives in Sosnowiec, Poland, and her parents are extremely wealthy.
Vladek makes a good impression and shows that he is self-determined and not afraid of hard work. He becomes somewhat successful in his own right, and Anja’s father loans Vladek money to build his own factory. Vladek and Anja soon marry, and have a son, Richieu. Life is good.
Then the threat of the Germans descends on Poland. Vladek fights for the Polish Army on the front line but is captured and becomes a prisoner of war. Vladek is able to escape and returns to his family. He acquires paperwork from his black market contacts, which, in addition to his wealth, keeps his family safe from capture. Many of their friends and some family members are captured or killed.
His son Richieu had been sent to stay with his aunt, but she poisons him along with her own children to prevent them from being sent to the concentration camps. Vladek and Anja barely manage to stay alive in the ghettos where the Germans confine the Jewish population. Eventually they resort to hiding to prevent capture by the Germans, but are betrayed by one of their own, and Vladek and Anja are captured. They are sent to separate camps at Auschwitz.
Part Two: Concentration Camp
Vladek relates the horrors of Auschwitz. His survival, and that of Anja, is due to the people who helped restore their faith and those who spared a moment to help them. Anja would not have survived if it was not for the efforts of Mancie, who befriends her and passes messages and food to her on behalf of Vladek.
Anja is also tormented by a guard who continually gives her difficult tasks, and then beats her severely when she fails to complete them. Their relationship changes for the better when Anja offers her husband’s services to repair the guard’s shoes. It is this quid pro quo which helps Anja and Vladek survive.
Vladek has a way of making friends and having the skills and abilities to please others. This allows him to stay away from the heavy work. Instead, Vladek enjoys comfort and food, particularly when he teaches English to his Polish guard.
Even when Vladek is sick or physically unable to work, his friends help him survive. Toward the end of the war, life devolved to survival. Helping others put yourself at risk. Only if there was some personal benefit would anyone help another. Because of this mentality, both Anja and Vladek survive Auschwitz.
Using Animals to Portray Relationships
Spiegelman’s focus on relationships and how people interact is perhaps the main focus of the story, beyond that of his parents’ experiences in the concentration camps. Art shows how people will stand up and care for one another, even when it means putting their own life at risk. But, he also shows the lengths people will go to harm others out of greed or malice.
Throughout Maus, Spiegelman draws his characters as animals: rats, cats, pigs and frogs. This allows the reader to differentiate the characters rather easily, and provides insight to the relationships between them. Cats are the Germans, who then prey on the mice (the Jewish people). This type of anthropomorphic representation allows Art to tell his story without burdening it with additional textual explanation.
Art’s relationship with his father is a bit more complex. Vladek is a demanding person. Both Art and his second wife, Mala, are unable to live up to his expectations. Their interactions not only introduce the story about Vladek’s past, but also provide insight to his guilt.
There is the residual survivor guilt that Vladek feels, but there is also guilt over the death of his son, Richieu, and the later loss of Anja to suicide when Art is 20. Vladek places some of the blame on Art. Art turns to a therapist and his wife, Francoise, to help deal with this guilt.
Both Francoise and Pavel help Art sort through his feelings regarding his family. These feelings then metamorphose into the story of Maus. Art cares about his father, as shown by his concern over Vladek’s health and hospitalization, but Art is equally frustrated by his father’s actions and words that serve more to belittle than to encourage. In the end, as Vladek comes to the end of his life, he calls out to Art, but says the name ‘Richieu’. This emphasizes how Art is never considered the chosen son.
Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a graphic novel of a son hearing the story of his father and mother’s persecution in the days of the Nazis. His father Vladek grew up in Poland and married Anja, and later they both end up in concentration camps. They survive, but their son Richieu is poisoned by his aunt who was trying to save him from the fate of the camps. Vladek and Anja survive, but Anja later kills herself, and Vladek is left guilty and disparages his son, Art. Vladek’s last words are of his first son.
Spiegelman portrays his characters as animals in order to allow the reader to decipher their personality and characteristics based on this generalization. In addition, he uses his interactions with his father in the present tense as a way to frame, or set up the action in the past.
Art’s interactions with his father show how guilt can damage your relationship with others, as well as bring harm to yourself. Maus can be seen as cathartic in trying to improve Art’s relationship with his father, but it also stands as a tribute to Art’s family, and to himself, for understanding and overcoming the pain and remorse associated with guilt.
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