(Artist and Writer)
two classics, Maus, A Survivor's Tale I: My Father Bleeds History
and Maus - A Survivor's Tale II: And Here My Troubles Begin, written
and drawn by Art Spiegelman, were published in 1973 and 1986 respectively
and are currently being released in Italy as a single volume by Einaudi.
Maus, which is the German translation of the word "mouse",
is the graphic solution used by Spiegelman for representing the Jews
persecuted by the Nazis and the Holocaust itself. The Jewish are the
mice persecuted by the cats, that is, the Germans, amongst the pigs
(the Polish). These mice are already going to deal with the most atrocious
destiny, regardless whether they survive or not such a horror. Maus,
A Survivor's Tale I: My Father Bleeds History is the story of the
life of Spiegelmans parents, focusing on his father Vadlek Spiegelman,
who was one of the survivors from the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Vladek is a surly and difficult person to deal with, he has many small
obsessions (for instance, he always wants to repair everything himself,
he hates waste and untidiness) but he is incredibly full of life.
He recounts the most important facts of his life, from his days as
a young "libertine" bachelor, his women his encounter with
his future wife, Anja, not at all striking as a beauty, but educated,
intelligent and from a rich family. Then the nightmare begins: Vladek
tells about the first anti-Semitic incidents, the invasion of Poland,
his leave for the front and subsequent capture by the Germans. Then
his imprisonment, and his return to his family, based in Sosnowieck
(which has now completely changed, and where the Jewish have lost
every right and have become a "plague" to be eradicated).
His escape, his life as a clandestine and finally his and Anjas
capture and their deportation to Auschwitz, or rather "Mauschwitz".
Vladeks story entangles with the unlucky story of many other
Jews, most of whom are already destined never to go back to their
homes. We also come across with the story of others, who, in their
misery, turn somebody else in for a little money or just for the "simple"
pleasure of ruining their lives. We also read of the report of the
Nazi "trap", which relentless develops without anybody intending
or being able to stop it.
On a parallel level, although in present time, another story is told:
it is the story of Vladeks and his son Arts relationship.
Art, a cartoonist, interviews his father with the objective of writing
"Maus"; from his interviews with his father, we can see
a strange detachment that Vladek feels about his past, so full of
suffering, yet featured by his constant energy to go ahead, with no
tears. Arts mother, a more sensitive person than Vladek, will
not be able to find such personal strength...
In Spiegelmans second volume, Maus - A Survivor's Tale II: And
Here My Troubles Begin, Spiegelman tells his story via a double narrative:
through Vladeks memories and through his current life, in which
he has to deal with his artist son and with Mala, the
woman who fills in the emptiness left by his beloved Anja. The narration
of Vladeks life in Auschwitz is firmly linked to his wife Anjas,
from whom he initially loses contact (she is deported to Birkenau)
to find her again (thanks to secret bribes, Vladek manages to have
her transferred to Auschwitz), and whom he then loses once again as
Vladek and his mates are deported to Dachau. These events make their
love story even more extraordinary and intriguing. Vladek and Anja
will manage not only to survive but also to get together and continue
their life together. But the suffering and pain experienced seem to
be a heavy burden for Anja
In this volume Arts autobiographic view is also interesting.
In Maus II he becomes a bit of a celebrity, courted by journalists
who interview him about Mauss meaning, but also by agents who
looking to do business with him want to persuade him
to start a multi-billion dollar merchandise business. Besides, Art
is also concerned about the imminent birth of his son, and questions
his ability to be a good father and avoid the mistakes made by the
Maus tales successfully represent the dramatic events of the Holocaust.
Their drawings, in black and white, effectively match with the simplicity
of the story. Most of the time the characters speak a very simple
language, based on the need to communicate simple concepts: if we
bear in mind that it was necessary to switch from Polish to Hebrew
to German, we have to recognise that the final result is quite effective.
Vladeks and Anjas story, albeit painful, always leaves
space to a feeble hope and it becomes inevitably touching when the
two finally re-unite again despite their misfortunes, at the end of
In the second story of Maus, Spiegelman also introduces other animal
types: the frog (which represents the French guy who befriends Vladek)
and the dogs (the Americans) in addition to the already known cats
and pigs. Moreover, we read about recurrent premonitions when Anja
asks a fortune-teller (represented as a butterfly), who predicts her
reunion with her husband and their future life in the States. In the
first story, also Vladek has a premonition dream, which takes place.
Einaudi, the Italian publishing company of Maus, has just re-edited
and re-translated the book, giving a wonderful opportunity for not
only adults but also kids, to get to know this masterpiece. Spiegelmans
work is going to become one of the must reads on the Holocaust,
something in between Anna Franks Diary and If This Is a Man
by Primo Levi. In order never to forget.