Literature Study GuidesMausBook 1 Chapter 3 Summary

Maus | Study Guide

Art Spiegelman

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Maus | Book 1, Chapter 3 : My Father Bleeds History (Prisoner of War) | Summary

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Summary

Artie Spiegelman goes to his father's house for dinner, and he tells Mala Spiegelman how his dad used to force him to eat everything his mother served him when he was a kid. After dinner, Vladek Spiegelman resumes his story.

In August 1939 Vladek has only a few days of training before being sent to the front lines of battle against the Germans. Vladek doesn't know what he should be shooting at and decides to just shoot his gun in the air. Then he sees a bush "walking" on the other side of the river and begins shooting madly. Two hours later he and the rest of his unit are captured by the Germans. They are marched to the other side of the river, where they have to load the bodies of fallen German soldiers into transport vehicles. Then the Prisoners of War (POWs) are taken to a camp near Nuremberg, Germany. The Jews are separated from the rest of the detainees. The Poles live in relative comfort, while the Jews are housed in flimsy tents with only their summer uniforms and thin blankets for warmth. They barely get any food. After six weeks of misery, a sign is posted calling for Polish POWs to volunteer for a German work camp. Vladek's friends think it's a trick, but Vladek says anything would be better than dying in the POW camp. His friends eventually agree with him, and they volunteer as workers. They end up literally moving mountains, flattening the surrounding terrain with shovels and pick axes.

Vladek has a dream that foretells they will all be released on the date of Parshas Truma, which will be in three months' time in mid-February. (Parshas Truma is a yearly Jewish remembrance of God's instructions to the people about building the holy place where they are to worship and the objects to be used in their worship rituals.) The prophecy comes true. On that very day the Gestapo and the Wehrmacht come to the camp and begin discharging POWs onto a train. A fellow prisoner, who is also a rabbi, tells Vladek he is a "Roh-eh Hanoled," or a person who can see the future. But Vladek couldn't imagine what would happen next. Instead of getting off the train at Sosnowiec, he is forced to go to Lublin, where days before 600 Jewish Poles were marched into the forest and shot. Luckily, Jewish officials have bribed the Germans to allow the new group of POWs to be released to local families as "relatives." Vladek is claimed by a family friend, Orbach. He rests for a few days and then convinces a Polish train conductor to help him sneak across the border to Sosnowiec. He is reunited with his parents and Anja.

Returning the narrative to the present, Vladek complains to Artie about Mala, whom he says is concerned only about money. Artie doesn't want to talk about it, but Vladek insists there's no one else he can talk to. Artie goes to the closet to find his old coat, but it's not there. Vladek has thrown it away as he continues to treat his son like a child.

Analysis

War is shown in its effects on people. Vladek, who has so far shown himself to have fairly high morals, doesn't necessarily want to shoot his gun at the opposing German army. "Why should I kill anyone?" he wonders in his trench. Yet when he sees the "bush" moving across the river, he not only shoots the man hiding behind it, but keeps on shooting even after the man puts his hand up in surrender. When Vladek sees the man's body, he feels pride instead of remorse. "Well, at least I did something," he says to himself. Vladek doesn't feel bad about his actions, because, as he puts it, "otherwise, he could have shot me!" Vladek is learning that pacifism, or the belief that violence is never justified, has no place in times of war, especially when one's life is on the line.

Vladek was in more danger after his release than during his stay in the POW camp and the work camp. The problem was the way Germany and Russia had conquered and divided Poland in the five months since the beginning of the war. Germany claimed the western part of Poland for the Reich, an alternate name for the German Empire; the USSR claimed the east. The central area was a protectorate, which meant it was Polish in name but run by Germany. Poles in the west, which included Sosnowiec, were considered German subjects. International law didn't prevent Germany from doing anything to its own people, including killing them. That's how the Nazis managed to kill 600 prisoners of war in the forests of Lublin without technically breaking the law.

Vladek still carries a lot of metaphorical baggage with him more than 30 years after the war. Artie's recollection about Vladek forcing him to eat everything on his plate, even if he didn't like it, is common for children of parents who survived long spells of poverty and hunger, such as the Great Depression and war. It is hard for Vladek to understand why anyone would turn away good, hot food after so much of his life had been spent with no food at all. Food (and the lack of it) was used as a weapon in the POW camp, as in the concentration camps in which Vladek was imprisoned later in the war. Vladek knows what it's like to not have any food at all, and he can't stand to see it wasted. Vladek's disposal of Artie's beloved coat is also a long-term effect of the war. New clothing was considered a luxury during the war years, and Jewish prisoners were never dressed appropriately for the season or climate. Vladek can't understand why Artie would want to wear a shabby old coat when Artie could wear Vladek's coat or even purchase a newer and warmer coat with just a trip to the store, just as Artie can't understand why his father thinks he has the right to dictate what Artie wears. Instances like this illustrate the deep rift in their ongoing relationship.

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