Art Spiegelman is an American cartoonist and has worked for the Arcade, Raw and The New Yorker. He is best known for his two part graphic novel The Complete MAUS: A Survivors Tale. Maus is the first graphic novel ever to have won a Pulitzer Prize and portrays a Polish Jew’s life before, during and after holocaust.
The book uses pictures to show the hiding and fear of Jews (mice) from the Nazi Germans (cats) and shows how the holocaust developed during the years, swallowing parts of Europe. It is a clever and engaging way to show the horrific events of WWII.
I have no idea how much people generally know about holocaust, I obviously grew up in a country where it was talked about a lot. It was one more pain to add to all the other stuff Nazis and Communists did to ‘us’. And that meant that I learned in school a lot about holocaust and and about the trains to Siberia. We were pushed a lot to museums where there were meetings with holocaust survivors and people who managed to hide Jews. It’s a lot of history that for me seems widely known. It didn’t change much in the University when I studied history and although some might say that it is really good, it wasn’t. The problem was that it was mentioned so much in history lessons that the students just stopped caring. And that is never a good thing.
Because of these lessons and interviews with survivors, I have heard similar stories before, but they are not as fresh in my memory as this one. It obviously was a very real experience and it is a great material to show pupils what and how happened, making them care and make sure that they don’t repeat the mistakes, prejudices that people just a short time ago did.
I think that if this would be one of my first contacts with information about holocaust, I would be really interested and would care a lot more, because those people have gone through hell. But unfortunately as I’ve heard these type of stories a lot since I was a teen, it was a bit harder to engage me, to make me care. It is terrible to see so many other people who have experienced unnecessary pain and torture, but unfortunately the more you mention that in school and put stress on it, the less kids care for it.
I have to say that I loved the details in pictures that would have to be described in novels. Like the Jewish stars people had to wear, Nazi symbols and uniforms and other little details. But I am afraid that people who are not familiar with this period of history might just let them slip by and not notice them.
Although the cat and mice allegory seems to be a good one, I do think that it wasn’t used to all it’s potential, the author could have actually been drawing humans, it wouldn’t change the graphic novel one bit. It was very symbolic – cats chase and don’t care about the mice, they just have fun and gain something for themselves for chasing them, while the mice are just sneaking and trying to find food and place to hide, a place to survive.
I can see so much potential for this book in history class. Starting from reading, analysing and checking the picture for details in order to confirm how legit they are. It seems like a great material and I think that I might even pass it on to my friends – history teachers (I am one when you look at my degree although not a working one). And that would totally change the experience of the dry material and fragments of interviews that don’t give the full picture of what holocaust was. I think that the fact that the whole story of a man was told, gave a better understanding of how destructive it was exactly. Instead of just talking about Auschwitz, it showed how Vladek’s life slowly hit him harder and harder, yet he just kept trying to outsmart death and got out of every situation a bit wiser.
I think that it is an amazing book that shows the progress of the holocaust with attention to detail, explaining a great deal of things. The only objection I might have is the demonisation of all Germans. I understand that many of them were bad and that it’s a story about Vladek, but I don’t think that was fair. There were Germans who did this, because otherwise their families would die, there were Germans who hid Jews and who were as terrified as everyone in Europe. But if I have learned something while I worked in museum during my studies, it is that a lot of Germans are still taking the blame for things they never did, they obviously feel bad, but there are so many people that still make them feel bad.
I know that, if any one little thing would have gone differently in any of the World Wars, I might not even exist. But still I think that history is something we need to respect, we need to respect those who suffered and those who gave their lives for us to live in a better world, but we also need to learn from it to not make mistakes like that again and we shouldn’t dwell on the pain that was caused. I know there’s a lot of hate between people, races, nations, religions etc., because of things that happened a long time ago. I think that we shouldn’t have hate just based on things that were done by people who are dead to people who are still living (or not). I understand that it is hard to forgive or move on to those who experienced it, many of those with whom I have talked about it, still live in there, they can’t move on. But at the same time, many of those have moved on.
Some might say: “Could you do that? You are saying what they should do, but could you do it?” I don’t know, if I could. I understand that it is hard and painful, it’s an experience that changed people completely, I would try not to dwell, but cannot guarantee that I would succeed. Yet, I don’t dwell on pain and troubles that was caused to my ancestors, because it’s not my place. My place is to be a global citizen, instead of a small human, who hates all people who’s ancestors have ever caused pain.
The book showed an excellent point at the end – the fact that these people survived hell, doesn’t make them saints, they also have prejudice, they also hate and they do it without a reason – a race is good enough for a Jew to be disgusted by someone – that seems unbelievable, yet it’s true. And that hurts me, because people should learn from the pains, instead of focusing on them.
Of course, control and money is something all the leaders want and their decisions and plans often, unfortunately, aren’t made, based on what will be the best – wars start and end and people die for issues that sometimes are fictional and human made. They wouldn’t exist, if someone wouldn’t have thought that he could use it.
It’s sad. We don’t live in past, we live in present and should act like it. The world is, has been and probably will be a sad and unjust place. Make it better, if you can.
Upd: I have to mention that as I was publishing this in a pub (still don’t have internet at my new flat), somehow WordPress didn’t save all my edits, so I’m sorry for mistakes and typos that I fixed once, but can’t fix again as I don’t have proper internet (just my phone, sniff) anymore.