Literature Study GuidesMausBook 2 Chapter 1 Summary

Maus | Study Guide

Art Spiegelman

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Maus | Book 2, Chapter 1 : And Here My Troubles Began (Mauschwitz) | Summary

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Summary

As Book 2, And Here My Troubles Began, opens, Artie Spiegelman and his wife are vacationing with friends in Vermont when they receive a phone call from Vladek Spiegelman, whom they visited just days before at his bungalow in the Catskill Mountains. Mala Spiegelman had taken money from their bank account, hopped in the car, and driven to Florida, and Vladek is a mess, so Artie and his wife, Françoise, drive back to the Catskills to stay with him for the weekend. Vladek has other ideas. He thinks they should spend the rest of the summer with him and then move into his house in Queens. That's not going to happen. His constant complaining and criticisms are driving Artie crazy, and after a painful fight about saving matches, Artie leaves the house to cool off, only to be accosted by Vladek's neighbors who insist Artie must stay to take care of his father. Later in the day, Artie and Vladek take a walk to the Pines, a loosely secured resort where Vladek likes to pretend he's a guest to play bingo and use the steam room. Vladek resumes his story.

Vladek and Anja are separated upon their arrival at Auschwitz in 1944, but Vladek manages to stick close to Mr. Mandelbaum. They are forcibly showered, completely shaved, and tattooed with their six-digit serial numbers. Vladek is told by a Polish priest that his number, 175113, is a good omen because it adds up to the lucky number 18. The priest is certain Vladek will make it out of Auschwitz alive. This gives Vladek, who had been very depressed, somehow the strength to carry on. Mr. Mandelbaum, however, isn't doing well. His clothes are too big, one of his shoes is too small, and he has lost his spoon. He is freezing and hungry and miserable.

Shortly after they arrive, the kapo, or supervisor, of the unit recruits Vladek to tutor him in English. The kapo, who is a Polish prisoner, already knows German, but he thinks it would be valuable to know English if the Allies win the war. He is impressed with Vladek and treats him almost as a friend, making sure he is safe from the daily culling of the prisoners. He also gives Vladek all the food he can eat and a set of clothes that fit, including real leather shoes. Even Mr. Mandelbaum benefits from the kapo's generosity, but his change of fortune lasts only a few days, as he is soon sent to a work detail. Vladek never sees him again.

Vladek stays in the quarantine block for two months under the kapo's protection, much longer than any other prisoner. When the kapo can hold Vladek no longer, he arranges for him to have one of the better work details in the tin shop.

Analysis

Vladek would likely not have survived Auschwitz without his unique skills. He speaks English, knows how to work with tin, is comfortable doing carpentry, and can even cobble shoes. His practical experience in a variety of fields makes him invaluable to his superiors, who soon forget he's just another nameless Jew. Names, in fact, can matter in Auschwitz because they are hardly ever used. Each prisoner was assigned a six-digit serial number, which was tattooed on one arm. Guards and other officers referred to the Jews only by their numbers, not their names, which was a means of dehumanization. Taking away a person's name damages self-esteem and the person's sense of self-worth, which makes everyone easier to control. People treated this way become more like livestock than actual humans, which makes it easier for the people in charge of the camp to punish and eventually kill them. This is one of the reasons the kapo keeps Vladek around for so long. He begins calling Vladek by his last name rather his number, after Vladek becomes his tutor, and even eventually calls him Vladek. The kapo is a nasty guy—Spiegelman draws him as a snarling pig with a cigarette perpetually dangling from his mouth—but his interactions with Vladek make him realize Vladek is perhaps a human being with thoughts and feelings. It's a lot harder to hurt someone when you value him as a human being.

Vladek manages to keep both his humanity and his morality in his first weeks in Auschwitz. He risks his own safety to secure a new spoon, new shoes, and a belt so Mr. Mandelbaum can be more comfortable and less afraid, and he uses the information the kapo gives him to help his friend stay safe as long as possible. That kind of selflessness can be hard to find during times of war. Abraham, Mr. Mandelbaum's cousin, is a good example. He tells his uncle and Vladek the Gestapo would have killed him if he hadn't written the letter encouraging them to go through with the escape to Hungary. He knows they are going to be captured and sent to Auschwitz, but that doesn't seem to matter. He is concerned only with saving himself. Vladek, who understands the instinct for self-preservation, doesn't blame Abraham for his actions. The reader might. What if Abraham had refused? He would have died, but he might have saved two lives in the process. There isn't any right answer in this situation, which illustrates the moral quandaries many people face in life-or-death situations such as the unimaginable Auschwitz.

Back in the present, Artie is faced with a moral dilemma of his own. Does he stay to help Vladek now that Mala is gone or does he live his life as before, dropping in now and again for an interview? Artie doesn't want to be burdened with caring for his father—he doesn't even really like being around him—but he feels a sense of obligation to Vladek, and he's uncomfortable with it. From Artie's point of view, Vladek is supposed to be the adult in the relationship. Artie shouldn't have to take care of him. But Vladek's medical conditions and his age have turned the tables. The proud man who managed to survive Auschwitz with nothing but his ingenuity now feels like he needs someone to take care of him. With the safety net of Mala gone, the only person left is Artie.

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