Maus, by Art Spiegelman, shows the trials and tribulations that the main character, Vladek, and his companions suffered during the Holocaust. No matter the situation, Vladek rises up to the challenge, and does the only thing he can do: live. For the Jewish people during that time surviving was a challenge and for those that actually survived was pure luck. Throughout Maus we find this survival in the portrayal of Vladek Spiegelman; father of the author.
Vladek resourcefulness helps him survive because of his knowledge of different languages, skills to work on anything, and initiative to make trades with others allows him to survive the years that he was trap in the Holocaust. Vladek played an active role in his survival during his time spent on different concentration camps. Although his resourcefulness was the most essential factor in his survival, his intelligence also played a role. Vladek could speak English, Polish, German, and Yiddish. His multi-lingual capabilities contributed to his survival in several instances.
First, after Vladek and Anja were captured for trying to escape to Hungary, Vladek helped a Polish man write letters to his family. The letters had to be in German, and the man did not know how to speak German. The man, in return, shared his food packages with Vladek (Maus I, 156). Later, in Auschwitz, Vladek got on good terms with his polish block supervisor by teaching him how to speak English. This saved him from being sent to the gas chambers on more than one occasion and earned him both food and a uniform that fit. The block supervisor also helped Vladek to get a job working in a tin shop (Maus II, 47-49).
Finally, he was able to speak to the French prisoner in Dachau who was desperate for someone to talk to. The Frenchman was so happy to have company that he shared his food packages with Vladek (Maus II, 93-94). Although Vladek’s knowledge of multiples languages played a role in his survival, his resourcefulness was the major factor that kept him alive throughout the war. You begin to see Vladek’s resourcefulness when he is called to war after Germany first invaded Poland. He sent Anja and Richieu to Sosnowiec and told Anja to take her “knick-knacks and doll collection….
When things went worse later she was able to sell such things” (Maus I, 38). His ability to anticipate what items to conserve saved him on several other occasions as well. After leaving Auschwitz, Vladek saved the thin blanket they had given him, and he used it to hang above the other passengers in the train that they stuffed all of the prisoners into. This saved him from suffocating and also allowed him to reach snow off of the roof of the train. The snow kept him hydrated, and he was able to trade it with other passengers for sugar (Maus II, 85-87).
One of the main things that we encounter during that state of desperation for food is throughout the panels of page 86 in Maus II. There Spiegelman through the darkness of his panels shows all the commotion and frustration that the Jewish have because they can find ways to eat or protect themselves from each other; that is why we see one of the fallen Jews in the floor because of tiredness, tries to stab with his knifes his companions on their legs so they cannot step on him. We can say that is a blade because of the effect that the light creates when it touches the metal part of the blade.
On another occasion, Vladek saved the food that he was given by his French friend and traded it for a shirt. He then cleaned the shirt and wore it whenever it was time to eat and the German officers were performing lice checks (Maus II, 91). Another aspect of Vladek’s resourcefulness was his ability to find work even when it seemed there was none. Before the war he worked in textiles, but he held many different jobs during the years of the war. After he was released as a prisoner of war, he traded clothes with Ilzecki (Maus I, 77).
When that fell through, he started to trade gold, jewelry, and food (Maus I, 84-85). Also in Sosnowiec, he did some work in a German woodshop in order to get papers that said he worked (Maus I, 90-91). In Srodula, he worked in a shoe shop. In Auschwitz, he worked as both a tin man and a shoemaker (Maus II, 47, 61). As a tin man Vladek worked for a little time, but it was an opportunity to show that he could work on that because he just needed help on how to do it and after that he was able to do it right, this is demonstrated in the panels that Spiegelman presents on page 47 of Maus II.
After a while, on page 60 of Maus II, he gets the job of the shoemaker because the last one was gone because the S. S wanted him for something. Also he proves that he has been a shoemaker for a long time, more than being a tin man, because he proves to the Kapo that he can fix the shoes. And, after the war, he sold stockings in Sweden (Maus II, 125-126). The final aspect of Vladek’s resourcefulness that helped him to survive the war was his ability to initiate trade with others. After Vladek’s family was caught hiding from the guards in Srodula, he bribed his cousin to help himself and Anja escape Maus I, 114-115). Later, he was able to buy a hiding spot for them when the Srodula ghetto was being cleaned out (Maus I, 125-126). After escaping from the ghetto in Srodula, he arranged a hiding spot for him and Anja with a helpful Polish woman (Maus I, 141-143). In Auschwitz, Vladek traded with the Polish workers for food. He then used this food to bribe his boss at the tin shop to let him stay and work even though he was not actually a tin man (Maus II, 47-48). When the opportunity arose, he took the job as a shoemaker.
Because he knew little about fixing shoes, he bribed a real shoemaker to show him how to fix shoes (Maus II, 60-61). Also, both Anja’s and Vladek’s survived because on the active role Vladek took in ensuring it. Vladek worked as a constant support system for Anja. When she became weak, he forced her to go on. He was by her side until they were sent to Auschwitz (Maus II, 24-25). Anja did not do well on Auschwitz. If it wasn’t for Vladek arranging her friendship with Mancie, she may not have come out alive.
Manice was a Hungarian girl that brought the couple back the opportunity to continue living because Anja and Vladek could know that they were both alive. This is shown on page 52 of Maus II when Art asks his father how Anja survived after they were moved out of Auschwitz. Vladek replies: “Manice-the Hungarian girl what I knew there in Auschwitz-she kept Anja close by her” (Maus II, 52-54). Many sources claim that Holocaust survivors were simply lucky but for some was a challenge that needed a lot of confidence on themselves and their knowledge of how to deal with the situation.
In certain instances or dramatic moments that happened throughout Maus, the Spiegelman’s survived because they were lucky. However, Vladek’s resourcefulness played a big role on saving his life and his wife’s, Anja. Throughout the Maus, Art complains about how cheap his father is, but Vladek has a legitimate reason and personality for being that way. It kept him alive through the part of the Holocaust that he had to experience, so perhaps he simply felt that he should stick to what worked before.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon, 1986. Print. Spiegelman, Art. Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon, 1991. Print.