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Maus | Book 1, Chapter 4 : My Father Bleeds History (The Noose Tightens) | Summary

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Summary

Artie Spiegelman brings a tape recorder to his next visit with his father, Vladek Spiegelman, who is angry that Artie came over after dark. He wanted Artie to fix a leaky drain pipe on the roof. The interview resumes about Poland.

A lot has changed in Sosnowiec since Vladek left for the army. Jews are allowed just a little bread, sugar, jam, and margarine each week. The Zylberberg family buys everything else they need on the black market. Vladek's father-in-law is concerned about how long the money will last because the family's factories, even Vladek's, have been taken over by "Aryan managers." Vladek begins smuggling fabric to a local tailor and brings home money his first week back from the war. It's dangerous for Vladek to be walking around town without a work permit, so his father-in-law arranges for a friend, who is a tinsmith, to get Vladek a priority work card.

On January 1, 1942, all the Jews in Sosnowiec are forced to leave their homes and move into the Stara Sosnowiec quarter. Not long after, four men, two of whom Vladek did business with, are hanged and left hanging as a warning in the center of town for selling goods without coupons. Smuggling is too much of a risk, so Vladek trades gold and jewelry, sells black-market groceries, and works in a German carpentry shop.

In 1942 the Jewish police force the Zylberbergs to hand over Anja Spiegelman's grandparents so they can go to Theresienstadt with the rest of the city's elderly Jews. The family later learns they were taken to the gas chambers in Auschwitz instead. A few months later, all the Jews in Sosnowiec and the surrounding areas are told to report to the stadium. Nearly 30,000 people show up. They are divided into two groups—those who are young and able-bodied enough to work and those who are either old, without work cards, or have too many children. The Zylberbergs are approved to stay, but Vladek's sister, Fela Spiegelman, and her four children are sent to the left with the rest of the "rejects." Vladek's father sneaks onto the "bad" side so Fela won't have to take care of the children alone. Vladek never sees them again.

Vladek tells Artie he's done for the day after this long story. Slumped on his exercise bike, he looks exhausted and sad. Artie visits Mala Spiegelman, Vladek's second wife, for a few minutes. She tells him how her mother escaped the "bad" side of the stadium only to end up in Auschwitz with her husband before the war's end. Artie searches the sitting room for Anja's old diaries, which Vladek briefly mentioned during the interview. It turns out Vladek is something of a hoarder, saving everything he's ever been given. Unable to find the journals, Artie says he'll try again another day.

Analysis

Vladek survives the war and the concentration camp because of his ingenuity and his willingness to take risks. This is partly because of the experiences he had during the first few months of fighting. While his brother-in-law, Wolfe, is convinced the war will be over soon, Vladek has seen the utter hatred the Nazis have for the Jewish population. He knows they will stop at nothing to kill anyone who stands in their way, and he's certain they won't be stopped until they get what they want. Until Vladek's return, Wolfe and the rest of the Zylberbergs have been somewhat protected in Sosnowiec. Mr. Zylberberg is probably still the wealthiest Jew in town, and he has connections worth far more than money. He pays for the black-market goods that allow them some aspect of comfort, and he arranges working papers and a cover story for Vladek, who is the only person actually bringing money into the household. Vladek takes risk after risk to ensure his son, his wife, and his wife's extended family survive. This instinct to take care of others has been visible since childhood. According to Spiegelman, Vladek's family called him "Little Father" because he exhibited so much practicality and a willingness to take care of his family, even as a child.

Book 1, Chapter 4 makes the first mention of Auschwitz, the infamous extermination camp where Vladek was eventually imprisoned. Auschwitz was actually three separate camps near the Polish city of Oswiecim. The first, Auschwitz I, was built in the summer of 1940. It was mainly a work camp and prison, but there was an area to kill "small, targeted groups of the population." It was a regular destination for Jews in Sosnowiec who had broken laws, even minor ones like forgetting to wear a badge. About 65 Sosnowiec residents were sent each week. Relatives learned of their loved ones' deaths weeks later via letters in the mail. Rumors about Auschwitz spread, but many people couldn't—or wouldn't—believe it, even when people returned from the camp with eyewitness accounts. But soon the rumor became impossible to ignore. As Vladek tells Artie, "[t]his same news came more and more, so we believed, and later on we saw."

Artie has trouble understanding how the Jewish police, who had been the ones to force the Zylberbergs to hand over Anja's grandparents, could be involved with the mass deportations they must have known were going to end in death. Vladek explains many who cooperated with the Germans thought "[i]f they gave to the Germans a few Jews, they could save the rest." In other words, they believed in sacrificing a few people for the greater good. Siding with the Germans also allowed the Jewish police to ensure that they and their families would live at least a little bit longer. Artie's and Vladek's position on this topic illustrate the differences between peacetime and wartime morality. Artie, who has never experienced war, can't fathom that the Jewish police would actually help the Germans break up Jewish families. Vladek, on the other hand, doesn't blame the Jewish police at all for their actions. They did what they had to do to survive.

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