Literature Study GuidesMausBook 1 Chapter 5 Summary

Maus | Study Guide

Art Spiegelman

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Maus | Book 1, Chapter 5 : My Father Bleeds History (Mouse Holes) | Summary

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Summary

In hysterics Mala Spiegelman calls her stepson, Artie Spiegelman, because his father, Vladek Spiegelman, is on the roof, trying to fix the leaky drainpipe himself. Artie is annoyed by the early call and the demand for his help, and then even more annoyed when Vladek gets on the phone and says a neighbor is going to help him. Vladek seems depressed when Artie visits a few days later. Mala says it's because he read Artie's comic about Anja Spiegelman's suicide, Prisoner on the Hell Planet. Vladek and Artie walk to the bank so Artie can get a key to Vladek's safety deposit box. Vladek is convinced Mala will try to take everything if something happens to him. On the way he picks up stray telephone wire on the street to hoard and has to rest to take nitrostat for his chest pains. He also resumes telling his story.

In 1943 all Jews in Sosnowiec are moved to nearby Srodula, now a Jewish ghetto. Wolfe, Tosha, and Bibi Steinkeller leave the rest of the family to go to Zawiercie, where Wolfe's Uncle Persis is the head of the Jewish council. Vladek and Anja send their son, Richieu Spiegelman, and their niece, Lonia Spiegelman, with them, thinking they will be safer in Persis's care. Months later, they learn the Nazis sent everyone in Zawiercie to extermination camps. Tosha got early warning of what was to come, and she poisoned the children and herself so they wouldn't be taken by the Nazis.

Life in Srodula is hardly better than prison. The Jews are locked in the city except when coming and going to work camps, which are a 90-minute march away. People are being arrested whether they have work permits or not. At the end of July, 10,000 Jews are moved to an extermination camp. Vladek, Anja, their nephew Lolek Zylberberg, and Anja's parents are spared because they hide in a basement bunker. They build another bunker, this time in an attic, when they are forced to move to a new house, but a fellow Jew finds them and turns them into the Gestapo. Vladek later buries the same man, whom his cousin Haskel Spiegelman ordered to be shot.

Haskel is a chief of the Jewish police. He smuggles Anja, Vladek, and Lolek to safety after they are captured by the Gestapo but doesn't attempt to save Anja's parents because they are so old. Vladek and Anja get jobs at the shoe shop, which is run by Vladek's other cousin, Miloch Spiegelman. When the Nazis begin "liquidating" the last 1,000 people in the ghetto, Miloch, Vladek, Anja, and a dozen others hide in a bunker in the shoe shop hidden underneath a massive pile of shoes. Miloch's brother Pesach Spiegelman, who is hiding in another bunker, bribes a German officer to "look the other way" while he and a group of others escape. Miloch and Vladek think this is a bad idea. They are right—the entire group is shot upon sight. After a few days of silence in the ghetto, Vladek, Miloch, and Anja leave the bunker and go their separate ways. With nowhere else to hide, Vladek and Anja head toward Sosnowiec. They are wearing pig masks.

Analysis

Prisoner on the Hell Planet, which is included in the text of Maus, was originally published in 1972 in Short Order, a short-run underground comic. Spiegelman never intended his father to see it because he assumed Vladek would be angry with him for portraying Anja's suicide in such a crude, unsympathetic way. In the last three cells, Spiegelman shows himself as an inmate in a large prison as he blames his mother for his own depressive nature. "You murdered me, Mommy, and you left me here to take the rap!!!" he yells after accusing Anja of "short[ing] all [his] circuits," "cut[ting] [his] nerve endings," and "cross[ing] his wires." This is a reference to Spiegelman's diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia when he was 20, which resulted in a month-long stay at a state mental institution just prior to his mother's death. The comic is an emotionally overwhelming and unflattering portrayal of a family in the middle of a crisis, but Vladek is saddened by it only because it makes him miss Anja more than he already does. Showing an unusual sensitivity to the feelings of others, Vladek says to Artie of the comic, "It's good you got it outside your system." In later interviews Spiegelman says his father's reaction to Prisoner on the Planet Hell was one of the first times he realized just how little he understood his father's personality. He had been expecting uncontrollable anger and rage, but he got sympathy instead.

Most of Book 1, Chapter 5 takes place in Srodula, the ghetto for Jews from Sosnowiec. Ghettos were established by the Nazis throughout Poland as a means of segregating the Jewish population from non-Jews and from one another. More than 1,000 ghettos existed at one time or another in Poland and the Soviet Union during the war years. They were not permanent homes, but rather a way station while Nazi officials tried to figure out how to "solve" the problem of the Jews they had under their control after conquering Poland. In the meantime the ghettos were run by Jewish councils. Appointed by the Nazis, these groups oversaw daily life in the ghetto. Laws were enforced by Jewish police like Haskel, Vladek's cousin. Both Haskel and Persis, Wolfe's uncle, are lulled into a false sense of security because of their close working relationship with the Nazis. They think they and their families will be spared the fate of the rest of their people because they have proven themselves to be different and valuable. They don't understand they are pawns in a game that was rigged from the beginning. Vladek does. He never fully trusts any of his cousins except Miloch because he thinks they are kombinators, or crooks, who are hardly any better than the people trying to kill them. It doesn't matter if they're family—that kind of loyalty died long ago. At the same time, Vladek would not have survived Srodula if Haskel hadn't weaseled his way into the good graces of the Nazis. That's why he still sends care packages to Haskel, who is still alive and living in Poland decades later. Vladek doesn't like the type of man Haskel was, but he also knows he owes him his life.

The last page of Book 1, Chapter 5 is full of symbolism. Vladek, Anja, and the rest of the group emerge from the shoe bunker wearing pig masks. In Maus non-Jewish Poles are depicted as pigs. Wearing the masks, which are pig faces that tie with a string around the back of the head, is symbolic of how the group is trying to hide their Jewishness and blend in with the rest of the Polish population. That the masks are pig faces is particularly significant, since religious Jews do not eat pork and ham, staples of the Polish diet. There's a sense this scheme isn't going to work well. Spiegelman draws the road to Sosnowiec in the shape of a swastika, the symbol of the Nazi Party, which is a foreboding hint there will be no place for Vladek and Anja to safely hide.

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