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The Complete Maus

The Complete Maus Summary


Here you will find a The Complete Maus summary (Art Spiegelman's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Complete Maus Summary Overview

The narrative revolves around the real-life experiences of a Holocaust survivor, as recounted to his son. It includes two major timelines: the torment he endured as a Jew during the Second World War, and the present-day exchanges between him and his son who seeks to understand his father's past. The father's tales not only reveal the atrocities he witnessed but also touch on the challenges his son grapples with as the child of a Holocaust survivor. The father's obsession with thriftiness and constant fussing over his son's choices serve as reminders of the trauma he survived. The characters in this tale are drawn as anthropomorphic animals, with Jews represented as mice, Germans as cats, and other nationalities depicted as various other animals. The story kicks off in the late 1970s, with the son visiting his unwell father in New York City. The father, a survivor of two heart attacks and emotionally scarred by his wife's suicide, shares his experiences from World War II at his son's behest. The father starts with his life in Poland in 1935, where he had established a comfortable life through his father-in-law's financial support. However, the onset of the war and the Nazi persecution of Jews disrupts his life, leading to his service in the Polish army, capture by the Nazis, and subsequent return to Poland. The father's struggle to provide for his family amidst food scarcity, and the subsequent deportation of his family members, set the scene for the harrowing experiences to follow. As the narrative unfolds, the father, his wife, and their son are forced to hide from the Nazis and, despite attempts to escape, are captured and sent to Auschwitz and Birkenau. The son learns about his mother's post-war diaries that the father destroyed in a moment of despair, leading to a heated argument. The father's account of his experiences in the concentration camps, including the harsh conditions, resourcefulness for survival, and separation from and reunion with his wife, form the crux of the story. But as the son hears the final chapters of his father's experiences, he also wrestles with his responsibility towards his ailing father, who, in his confusion, mistakes his son for his other son who tragically died during the Holocaust.

book 1 chapter 1

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale is a distinctive graphic novel where characters are portrayed as anthropomorphic beings. Notably, Jews such as Artie, Vladek, and their families are shown as mice. The novel is a mix of Artie's present-day interviews with his father, Vladek, to write a comic and Vladek's past recounting of World War II and the Holocaust. The story begins with a prologue set around 1958 in Rego Park, New York. During a childhood incident, Artie's roller skate breaks and his friends abandon him. He helps his father Vladek cut wood, and when Vladek sees him upset, he reprimands Artie for his childish understanding of friendship. Fast forward to approximately 1978, Artie visits his aged and unhealthy father in New York. Vladek, who has suffered two heart attacks and the suicide of his wife Anja, has remarried Mala, a woman he quarrels with constantly. Artie requests Vladek to share his World War II experiences to create a comic. Initially hesitant, Vladek consents. Vladek's flashbacks start around 1935 in Czestochowa, where he was a handsome young man often compared to actor Rudolph Valentino. His friend introduces him to Lucia Greenberg. They date for a time, although Vladek isn’t particularly fond of her. In 1935, he visits his family in Sosnowiec, where he meets Anja Zylberberg, an intelligent and well-off woman. After returning to Czestochowa, Vladek and Anja converse regularly. Vladek ends things with Lucia to marry Anja in 1937, despite Lucia's desperate pleas and attempts to sabotage the relationship. Coming back to the current timeline, Vladek requests Artie to exclude his past with Lucia from the comic. Artie complies, even though he believes it to be captivating content.

book 1 chapter 2

Over several months, Artie continues to visit his father for more stories, and one visit sparks a conversation about Anja's former suitors, leading to a shift into Vladek's recollections. Vladek recalls a time when he learned about Anja's involvement with her ex-boyfriend's secret communist activities, which almost led to her arrest. To evade capture, she handed over the incriminating documents to a seamstress who was subsequently arrested by the Polish police, represented as pigs. The seamstress was released three months later. Disturbed by Anja's association with communists, Vladek threatens to end their marriage if she persists. Anja's father assists Vladek in purchasing a textile factory in Bielsko, ensuring a secure future for any potential grandchildren. They welcome a son, Richieu, in October 1937. As Vladek manages the factory, he spends the weekends with Anja and Richieu. However, when Anja struggles with postpartum depression, Vladek turns to her family for help, while he takes her to a sanitarium in Czechoslovakia. During a train ride in 1938, Vladek sees a Nazi flag and learns from fellow Jewish passengers about Nazi persecution. At the sanitarium, Vladek and Anja enjoy a semblance of normalcy for three months before returning to Poland. Upon their return, they find the factory had been burgled. With Anja's father's help, they rebuild and establish a comfortable life in Bielsko, but anti-Jewish sentiment is on the rise. In August 1939, Vladek is drafted into the Polish army, leaving Anja and Richieu in the care of her parents. Returning to present day, Vladek shares an anecdote about his glass eye, a story Artie has heard before. Artie is glad to pause their conversation, his hand aching from extensive note-taking.

book 1 chapter 3

During a visit to Vladek and Mala, Artie is upbraided for not eating all his meal, a habit he recalls from his childhood. Vladek starts griping about Mala, yet Artie wants him to continue the story from where he stopped last time. Vladek recounts how his father, a former Russian army soldier, made him and his brothers slim by starving them, so they wouldn't qualify for the draft. A year later, Vladek opts for the draft to avoid hunger, gets drafted into reserves and trained for 18 months. But in 1939, he's thrust into WWII with brief training and joins the Polish army to combat the Nazis. In September 1939, Vladek, from a trench, kills a German soldier disguised as a tree. Soon, he and fellow Polish soldiers are captured by the Nazis, compelled to carry injured Nazi soldiers. He finds out the slain soldier's name was Jan from his ID tag. Jewish soldiers are isolated from other Polish prisoners, blamed for starting the war, and subjected to worse conditions. A Nazi soldier coerces Vladek into handing over money, spouting antisemitic stereotypes. Vladek maintains his health by exercising and bathing frequently, while trading his family's care package items like cigarettes for food. A notice stating POWs can get better housing by volunteering to work in Germany makes other Jewish prisoners suspicious. But Vladek signs up, seeking decent treatment. The improved living conditions still involve hard labor. Vladek has a dream in which his grandfather prophesies his release on Parshas Truma day. Months later, on Parshas Truma, Vladek and other Jewish prisoners are sent back to Poland. Vladek reveals that this day also marks significant events in his life: his wedding to Anja, Artie's birth, and his bar mitzvah. Their train travels past Sosnowiec to Lublin, where their status as Polish POWs offers some protection until they're released. Then they become vulnerable as "Jews of the Reich". After some men bribe the guards, Vladek is set free and shelters with family friends. Vladek goes back to Sosnowiec in disguise as a Pole. He learns that Nazis forced his highly religious father to shave his beard. He also reunites with Anja and their son Richieu, now two and half. Back in the present, Vladek yearns for Anja and criticizes Mala for always discussing money and his will. Vladek plans to leave his wealth to Artie. Before Artie leaves, he discovers his father discarded his coat for being too shabby and substituted it with an ill-fitting one. Artie departs, a bit puzzled and surprised.

book 1 chapter 4

Artie visits his father, Vladek, who is disappointed that Artie came too late to mend a broken drainpipe. Vladek criticizes Artie and Mala, his wife, saying they “think money grows on bushes.” Artie starts recording their conversation as writing everything was becoming a challenge. Continuing his story from 1940, Vladek explains that he, his wife Anja, their son Richieu, and other family members lived with Anja's parents. Despite the Nazis taking over Jewish businesses, including Vladek's, they managed to live comfortably. However, the limited food rations forced Vladek to trade in the black market. To avoid getting arrested, Vladek secures a work permit from a tin shop, learning essential skills that would be helpful at Auschwitz. By 1941, the Nazis began deporting Jews, regardless of their paperwork. Vladek narrowly escapes capture, thanks to his associate Ilzecki, who hides him. Vladek considers sending Richieu to stay with Ilzecki’s son, but Anja dissuades him. Vladek laments that while Ilzecki’s son survived the war, Richieu didn’t. As Jews are moved into ghettos, Vladek’s family of 12 crams into a tiny apartment. Some of Vladek's friends are executed for selling goods without ration books, a crime Vladek also committed. Despite the risks, Vladek continues to trade on the black market to keep his family alive. Artie inquiries about Anja's activities during this period, and Vladek reveals that Anja kept diaries, penning down her experiences. However, Vladek doesn’t show Artie the diaries and quickly changes the subject. Vladek proceeds with his narrative. When the Nazis order the relocation of Jews aged seventy and above to Czechoslovakia, Vladek assists in hiding Anja's grandparents. However, they eventually surrender themselves to prevent their family from facing repercussions, and are sent to Auschwitz. Vladek shares that he heard terrible tales about Auschwitz, which many dismissed due to their horrifying nature. Later, all Jews in Sosnowiec are asked to validate their papers at the Dienst stadium. Vladek, Anja, and Anja's parents are cleared, but Vladek's sister Fela and her children are not. Vladek's father chooses to stick with Fela and her children, and none of them are seen again. Back in the present, Artie talks to Mala, who shares that her family was at the stadium and were eventually killed in Auschwitz. Artie searches for his mother's post-war diaries but can’t locate them. Mala advises him to leave everything as it was to avoid Vladek's wrath.

book 1 chapter 5

Artie gets a distressing call from Mala, indicating that his ailing father, Vladek, plans to clean the drainpipes. Even though he initially plans to assist, Artie later chooses not to. On visiting his father a week later, Artie finds Vladek upset. Mala reveals it's due to a comic, Prisoner on the Hell Planet, that Artie had created earlier, which Vladek had just read. The comic, Prisoner on the Hell Planet, portrays humans instead of animals and shows Artie in prison stripes. The narrative revolves around Artie's discovery of his mother's suicide after his release from a mental hospital. At the funeral, Vladek climbs onto the coffin in grief. Artie feels accused for his mother's suicide by the condolences he receives. In the comic, Artie's last interaction with his mother was her asking if he still loved her, to which he replied, "Sure, Ma". In the comic's concluding panels, Artie, from a prison cell, accuses his mother of committing the perfect crime: killing herself and leaving him to bear the blame. Vladek joins Artie and Mala in the kitchen, where Artie apologizes for the comic. Despite the painful memories it stirred up, Vladek acknowledges that it allowed Artie to vent his emotions. Then, as they head to the bank, Vladek continues his story about his experiences during the Holocaust. In 1943, all Jews in Sosnowiec are forcefully relocated to Srodula. Vladek and others are made to work in German workshops each day. A friend's uncle, Persis, promises to protect Vladek's son Richieu, but this is the last time Vladek sees him. Later in the spring, the Nazis transport 1,000 children from Srodula to Auschwitz. To prevent a horrifying fate in Auschwitz, Tosha poisons Richieu, herself, and her children. Back in the present, Vladek sketches a diagram of his hideout behind a false wall in the coal cellar. Despite the use of dogs, Vladek and Anja remain undiscovered by the Nazis. By July 1943, only 1,000 people remain in Srodula. Vladek and the other survivors live in an attic bunker. However, they are betrayed by a stranger and end up being discovered by the Gestapo. Thanks to a family member's influence, Vladek, Anja, and their nephew Lolek manage to escape. Vladek relays how Haskel, a corrupt family member, secured favor with the Gestapo by intentionally losing at cards. In the past, almost everyone is sent to Auschwitz, but Vladek, Anja, and a few others manage to hide in a secret bunker. Despite a tempting offer from another group to bribe the guards and escape, they decide to stay put. This proves wise, as those who tried to leave are killed. The remaining survivors disguise themselves as Polish civilians to escape. Back in the present, at the bank, Vladek makes an extra key for Artie to his safety deposit box. He shows Artie some jewelry he recovered post-war, including a diamond ring he'd given Anja. Worried about Mala's intentions for his money, Vladek instructs Artie to retrieve everything from the deposit box before Mala can, once he passes away. Overwhelmed by grief, Vladek breaks down, deeply missing Anja.

book 1 chapter 6

Upon his next visit to his parents, Artie discusses his father's stinginess with Mala. She complains that Vladek's strictness feels like a prison, a sentiment Artie understands. He deduces that the war caused Vladek's reluctance to part with money, but Mala believes this attitude is unique to Vladek. Artie worries about portraying his father as a stereotypical "miserly old Jew". After showing them his comic progress, both Mala and Vladek think it will be successful. Artie then joins Vladek in the garden to hear more of his story. In 1944, returning to Sosnowiec, Vladek and Anja are rejected by their friends when they seek refuge. Vladek trades jewelry for necessities at the black market, learning about a farm where they could stay. Owned by Kawka, they're allowed to reside in her barn. Vladek would travel to town frequently, using the German officials’ streetcar due to his confidence. At the black market, he meets Mrs. Motonowa who invites him and Anja to stay with her, for a price. When her husband returns from abroad, they hide in a rat-infested cellar for ten days with little food. Upon learning about smugglers who assist Jews to escape to Hungary, Vladek decides to explore this option. He meets a familiar family whose nephew Abraham plans to try the smugglers first and write a letter if he arrives safely. Meanwhile, Vladek advises his cousin Miloch to consider Mrs. Motonowa’s home as a hiding place. Abraham's letter confirms his safe arrival in Hungary, which encourages Vladek and Anja to attempt the same. However, they are betrayed by the smugglers, arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Auschwitz, where they know Jews are being exterminated. In the present, Vladek confesses to Artie that he destroyed Anja's notebooks because they triggered painful memories. A furious Artie accuses his father of being a murderer, leaves in anger, and continues to mutter "murderer" as he departs.

book 2 chapter 1

Artie is at his Vermont friends' house, drawing his wife, Françoise, as different animals for his book. Françoise suggests being a mouse due to her conversion to Judaism to please Vladek, Artie's father, even though Artie remarks that a rabbit might reflect France's anti-Semitism. Suddenly, they hear about Vladek's supposed heart attack. When Artie contacts Vladek, he discovers that Vladek claimed to have a heart attack because Mala, his wife, took money from their account and left. Artie plans a visit to Vladek's summer house in the Catskills and on the way, he shares childhood reminiscences with Françoise. He mentions a photo of his deceased brother, Richieu, and how he felt overshadowed by him. He also worries about his ability to effectively portray the Holocaust events and Vladek's experiences in his comic. Upon reaching Vladek's place, they are disturbed early next morning by Vladek's complaints about Mala stealing from him. Vladek also quarrels with Artie over using wooden matches. Outside, Artie meets the worried neighbors who insist that Vladek is very sick and requires care. They also reveal Vladek's dangerous behavior of leaving his gas burner on throughout the day to save matches. Vladek resumes his Holocaust story, starting with his time in Auschwitz. The arriving Jews are stripped and replaced by prison clothes and shoes, tattooed with identification numbers on their forearms. Vladek reunites with Abraham and finds out that his earlier letter was forced. He also spots the Polish smugglers who betrayed him and Anja, now arrested by the Gestapo. Despite his grief, a priest uplifts Vladek by pointing out significant Jewish numbers in his tattoo. Vladek and Mandelbaum, Abraham's imprisoned father, share a bed in the crowded barracks. A kapo supervising the prisoners makes them do exhausting exercises, resulting in some deaths. The kapo asks for a Polish-English translator, and Vladek steps up to teach him English in exchange for safety tips. The kapo later feeds Vladek, offers him better clothing, and extra items for Mandelbaum. Ultimately, Mandelbaum is chosen for work, and Vladek loses contact with him. Vladek speculates about Mandelbaum's fate but isn't sure. The kapo keeps Vladek safe and assigns him to a roof repair crew due to his tin shop experience. In the present, Vladek wraps up his story for the day and takes Artie to a hotel patio, dodging the hotel security. He mentions his habit of sneaking into the hotel for dancing lessons or bingo games.

book 2 chapter 2

Artie, depicted as a human wearing a mouse mask, works at his drafting table. He shares that his father Vladek died of heart failure in 1982 and mentions important dates like the birth of his child, publishing Maus, his mother's suicide, and the mass killing of Hungarian Jews in Auschwitz. He is hounded by animal-masked reporters and businessmen regarding his book, and as their questions intensify, Artie appears to shrink into a child. He then visits his psychiatrist Pavel, an Auschwitz survivor and Czech Jew. In conversation with Pavel, Artie discusses his insecurity about his success compared to his father's Auschwitz survival. Pavel only expresses sadness, not guilt, about surviving the Holocaust. Artie fears tackling the next part of his book which involves illustrating Auschwitz and his father's workplace, the tin shop. Pavel advises him on the shop's details. After leaving the clinic, Artie transforms back into an adult. Back at his drafting table, Artie listens to a previous recording of his father complaining about Mala, which makes him regress back into a child. The narrative then transitions to Vladek's experiences. He describes Yidl, the communist Russian Jew who manages the tin shop where he works. Yidl dislikes Vladek, who used to own factories, but Vladek attempts to get on his good side by giving him food, a scarce and valuable commodity among prisoners. Vladek recounts that his wife Anja was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, a larger camp primarily for those awaiting execution. He also talks about meeting Mancie, a female prisoner from Birkenau who became a link between him and Anja. Artie inquires about the orchestra at Auschwitz, but Vladek claims ignorance. When Vladek volunteers to fix roofs in Birkenau, he gets fleeting chances to interact with Anja. But he is severely beaten for talking to her during a repair. Recuperating in the camp hospital, he narrowly escapes selection for extermination by Dr. Mengele. To keep Yidl pleased with gifts, Vladek becomes a shoemaker. He learns to repair boots so expertly that an SS officer rewards him with a sausage. Vladek learns that new accommodations are being built for female prisoners from Birkenau. After a bribe to a kapo, Anja is transferred to his camp. Although limited by an electric fence, they are comforted by their proximity. However, Vladek is then reassigned to manual labor, and his deteriorating health makes him fear selection for the gas chamber. As the Russians invade Poland, Vladek is ordered to dismantle the gas chambers, to be reassembled later in Germany. He encounters a man who had the grim job of transporting bodies from the gas chamber to the ovens. Vladek shares chilling tales of his experiences, including burning bodies of both dead and living victims. In the present, Artie questions why the Jews didn't rebel against the Nazis, to which Vladek responds that the Nazis would retaliate by killing hundreds of innocent prisoners for every act of rebellion. After Vladek retires for the night, Artie and Françoise discuss their hopes of Mala's return so they won't have to be responsible for Vladek. They overhear Vladek's troubled sleep, reminding Artie of his childhood belief that everyone moaned in their sleep.

book 2 chapter 3

Vladek's morning in the Catskills starts with him offering Artie food, though Artie isn't interested. Vladek's post-war aversion to wasting food is evident. A sarcastic remark by Artie about Hitler leads to an apology and a trip to the grocery store. Conversation touches on a revolt at Auschwitz, where gas-chamber working prisoners killed three S.S. men and were subsequently hanged. Vladek's tale goes on. Prisoners hear explosions as the front nears Auschwitz. However, the camp's liberation is delayed as guards force the prisoners into a night-long march towards Germany, causing many deaths along the way. After reaching Gross-Rosen camp, 200 prisoners are crammed into cattle cars, causing many to suffocate or starve. Only 25 out of 200 survive the journey to Dachau. The story returns to the present when Artie and Françoise observe Vladek arguing with the grocery store manager over returning opened food. Despite Artie's embarrassment, Françoise suggests they should prolong their Catskills stay due to Vladek's visibly deteriorating health. Vladek's narrative resumes. In Dachau, the Nazis gather remaining prisoners into terrible conditions. To escape the lice-ridden barracks, Vladek purposely wounds his hand to get admitted to the infirmary. A friendship forms with a non-Jewish French prisoner (portrayed as a frog), who shares his family-sent food packages with Vladek. The two cleverly trade food for extra clothes to conceal their lice-infected shirts and pass inspection for daily soup rations. Vladek contracts typhus and becomes seriously ill, resorting to trading food for aid in using the bathroom. After some recovery, he's selected for a prisoner exchange in Switzerland. With assistance from infirmary staff, he departs Dachau for Switzerland by train. Back in the present, Françoise picks up an American hitchhiker (illustrated as a dog person) on their way from the grocery store. Vladek expresses his disbelief over this in Polish and later explains his mistrust about the hitchhiker possibly stealing their groceries. Françoise challenges Vladek's racist views, comparing them to Nazi prejudices against Jews. Vladek stubbornly insists on his beliefs, leaving Artie to tell Françoise that arguing is futile.

book 2 chapter 4

During a fall visit to his father in Rego Park, Artie listens to Vladek's lament about his solitary old age, despite having saved money throughout his life. Vladek offers Artie and Françoise a space in his home, but Artie suggests a live-in nurse instead. The conversation turns to Mala's proposition to return if Vladek put $100,000 under her name. Artie steers the discussion to Anja. Vladek admits to always having her in his thoughts, thus leading the tale back to the past. Vladek initially lost track of Anja when Auschwitz was evacuated. It was later revealed that she was freed by the Russians and constantly protected by Mancie. Upon the war's conclusion, Vladek's attempts to reward Mancie were in vain as he could never locate her. Upon reaching Switzerland, Vladek and other released prisoners are informed that the war has ended. However, the Nazis reroute them to another town promising the presence of Americans. But instead, they encounter German soldiers who gather them by a lake. Rumors circulate that the Germans plan to execute them all. In this dire situation, Vladek and his pre-war friend Shivek pray for survival. The next day, the German soldiers vanish, but Vladek and Shivek are apprehended by another troop and confined in a barn. They overhear skirmishes throughout the night. By morning, the soldiers have retreated. When the farmhouse owners flee to avoid the battle, Vladek and Shivek find food and clothes inside. The unfamiliarity of eating makes them sick. Eventually, American canine-depicted soldiers arrive. Vladek and Shivek inform them of their past, and they're allowed to stay in exchange for doing chores. The Americans appreciate Vladek's English fluency and shoe repair skills, nicknaming him "Willie." When the original German owners return, they demand their clothes back. Back in the present day, Vladek presents Artie with a box of old photos, many from Poland and pre-war times. Vladek begins narrating the stories of the pictured individuals, most of whom perished in the war. Vladek’s younger brother, Pinek, was the only other family survivor. As the reminiscing continues, Vladek experiences heart attack-like symptoms. Artie insists on his resting, dismissing Vladek's wish for help with storm window installation. Though Artie apologizes for the taxing conversation, Vladek expresses his happiness seeing Artie.

book 2 chapter 5

Artie listens to Vladek’s recorded narrative, sharing with his wife Françoise that he gathered over 20 hours of content. Their conversation shifts towards Vladek's living conditions and health, as Mala – his partner – voices concerns over his recurring lung issues. Artie travels to Florida to assist Mala and arranges their return to New York. Vladek and Artie share a moment outside, where Vladek reminisces about his time in Sweden post-war, working in a department store and selling unpopular knee-length stockings. They return to New York, where a doctor confirms Vladek's improved health. When Artie visits his father a month later, Mala expresses concerns over Vladek's deteriorating health and memory. Artie proceeds to ask about the war's conclusion. Vladek talks about his post-war experiences in a refugee camp, battling typhus, and his subsequent diabetes diagnosis. He and Shivek journey to Hannover, Germany, where they witness the aftermath of bombings. Vladek decides to return to Sosnowiec, fearing Anja didn’t survive Auschwitz, but is advised to search in Belsen, a gathering point for Jewish refugees. Vladek encounters familiar faces in Belsen who caution him from returning to Sosnowiec due to ongoing violence against Jews. He discovers Anja is alive and has returned to Sosnowiec. Back in Sosnowiec, Anja seeks news of Vladek at the Jewish Organization and consults a fortune-teller who predicts their reunion and future son. She eventually receives a letter from Vladek, informing her of his typhus and his plan to return home. Vladek and Shivek venture to Poland, but become separated due to destroyed train tracks. After a three-week journey, Vladek reunites with Anja. In the contemporary setting, Artie records the final part of Vladek’s story. An exhausted Vladek mistakenly refers to Artie as "Richieu" and asks to cease the recording. The story concludes with an image of a double headstone bearing Vladek and Anja’s names and lifespan dates, while Art Spiegelman signs and dates the work below.

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