Holocaust Experience From the Animator Art Spiegelman

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The Maus series of books offers a powerful narrative about an individual’s firsthand experience during the Holocaust, diverging from the traditional novel format. These books employ comic panels to effectively communicate the story. Particularly controversial is the utilization of animals to represent various races, a depiction that amplifies the impact of the Holocaust’s atrocities compared to utilizing human characters alone.

Art Spiegelman chose to use a unique and potentially offensive approach by assigning different animals to represent various groups. The mouse is the first animal introduced, symbolizing the Jewish people during the Holocaust and in contemporary times (Maus 1 p. 5). The initial arrests of Jewish individuals involved Polish law enforcement (Maus 1 p. 27). In Spiegelman’s scheme, Polish people are depicted as pigs. When the Germans enter the narrative, the choice of animals becomes clearer (Maus 1 p. 33). Germans are represented by cats. Lastly, dogs are introduced as Americans and are always portrayed as friendly towards Jewish individuals (Maus 2 p. 12).

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The relationship between the animals depicted in the text effectively represents the themes of the Holocaust. Mice, being small and vulnerable creatures, are often pursued by Cats who seek to consume them. This mirrors the German’s relentless pursuit and extermination of Jews during the mass genocide. Pigs, known for their greed and self-centeredness, betrayed the Jewish people on multiple occasions in the story (Maus I p. 143). For instance, when Vladek and his family sought refuge at Kawka’s farm, she deceitfully warned them that they could be discovered at any moment and urged them to leave. Dogs, who chase cats, symbolize the Americans who sympathized with the Jewish people in the book. While these descriptions of the animals are simplistic, they serve the purpose of this essay.

In the Maus series, Vladek’s experience during the Holocaust is depicted in great detail. The use of animals helps convey a particular perspective. Through portraying the Jews as scrawny mice in the camps and while being pursued, Art aims to depict the extent of their oppression. Typically, authors would represent humans as humans, rather than different species. There are advantages and disadvantages to portraying humans as humans instead of animals. In choosing to depict humans as humans, any potential controversy regarding the portrayal of Jews and other races would be avoided. Conversely, depicting humans as animals generated controversy, partly because it could be perceived as demeaning to identify oneself as an animal. One disadvantage of depicting humans as humans is the difficulty in illustrating how Jews had to conceal their identities at times (Maus I p. 136). While fleeing from the Germans, Jewish characters had to disguise themselves in order not to be recognized as Jewish individuals. The main drawback of using humans as characters is the challenge in distinguishing between different races. By employing animals and masks, there was no confusion about a character’s racial identity.

In the opening of Maus II, Art and his girlfriend have a discussion about how Francoise should be depicted as an animal. They consider different options, but the frog stands out as a potential symbol for the French. However, a disagreement arises because Francoise has converted to Judaism. Francoise argues, “If you’re a mouse, I should be a mouse too. I converted, didn’t I?” She believes that her conversion justifies her being depicted as a mouse, and Art agrees with her. This perspective is supported by the acceptance of such practices in most temples, making it appropriate for Francoise to be represented as a mouse.

Masks were another device utilized in the books to depict different races. The introduction of masks occurred when Art was gathering more information amidst the presence of numerous simulated dead bodies (Maus II p.41). In this particular scene, Art dons a mouse mask, while other characters opt for masks representing cats, dogs, and additional animals. The fact that Art wears a mask as opposed to assuming the role of an actual mouse, combined with the timing of the scene following Vladek’s passing, suggests that Art possesses a profound comprehension of his people’s collective plight, yet has never experienced the same sense of diminishment they underwent. By wearing a mask, he aims to convey that although most individuals understand the events that transpired during the Holocaust, they can never truly comprehend its full magnitude. However, it is worth noting that when conversing with Vladek throughout the narrative, Art truly assumed the identity of a mouse.

During periods in the present when Art would talk to Vladek, Art was depicted as an actual mouse. While portraying Jewish individuals as mice today may be somewhat demeaning, there could be a justification for this decision. It appears that Art is attempting to convey the idea that despite not experiencing the Holocaust himself, he can comprehend its impact because of his father. This understanding extends to other individuals who have had connections with his father. Art made some highly controversial choices when creating the Maus series. Nevertheless, these decisions were the most appropriate given the circumstances. The use of animal representations accurately portrayed the individuals and conveyed a powerful statement. Through the incorporation of masks, Spiegleman effectively highlighted the characters’ differing mindsets and moments of concealment. Additionally, by allowing them to stand upright instead of crawling, Spiegleman maintained the humanity of the characters even as they were portrayed as animals. Daniel Genest supports Spiegleman’s decision to preserve the human-like characteristics of the animals while still representing them as distinct creatures. Utilizing animals, Spiegleman presented a thoughtful depiction of the Holocaust.


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Holocaust Experience From the Animator Art Spiegelman. (2018, Nov 27). Retrieved from


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