When Artie arrives at the house for his next visit with Vladek, he finds Mala crying at the kitchen table. Vladek has been making her miserable again; she complains about his stinginess, telling Artie that he refuses to give her money for even small personal expenses. She remembers how, right after they were married, Vladek tried to force her to wear Anja’s old clothes rather than buying anything new. Artie wonders whether it was the war that made Vladek so painfully frugal, but Mala reminds him that she went through the camps herself, as did all their friends, and none of them are like Vladek. Artie tells Mala that Vladek’s miserly character is one of the things he is most anxious about in drawing his book. Vladek resembles racist stereotypes about Jews that many people still believe, and while Artie wants to create an accurate portrait of his father, he feels conflicted about depicting all the negative aspects of Vladek’s character.
Artie tries to explain away his father’s less flattering traits by fitting them into a narrative about the Holocaust, but Mala rejects that as an easy excuse. The idea that Vladek, despite all his courage and resilience, might simply be a hard person to like – that the unpleasant parts of his personality should not be dismissed and forgiven without question – is a hard one for Artie to swallow. It is easier to excuse his father’s shortcomings as results of trauma than to admit that he might be a flawed person. By depicting his father the way he really is, Artie risks giving ammunition to anti-Semites, or making Jews and more liberal people angry by perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes. He is torn between his need to be honest in his writing, and his sense of responsibility to both his father and the larger Jewish community.
Vladek comes in from watering the garden. Artie, changing the subject quickly, tells Vladek that he has begun sketching pages for his book, and takes drafts out of his bag from the scene where Vladek describes the hanging of the four Jews in Sosnowiec. The scene makes Vladek tearful. He and Mala both praise the work. Vladek tells Artie he will be as famous as “the big-shot cartoonist” – he has forgotten the name of Walt Disney. The atmosphere is pleasant until Mala remarks that she has an appointment with her hairdresser. Vladek makes a derisive comment about how often Mala visits the hairdresser, and the two of them begin to fight. Artie shepherds Vladek into the garden, away from the conflict. As he and Vladek settle into lawn chairs, he suggests that Vladek and Mala might benefit from seeing a marriage counselor to help them learn to get along better. Vladek brushes off the suggestion. Mala doesn’t care about getting along, he says – she only wants his money.
When the pleasant discussion between the three Spiegelmans suddenly deteriorates, Vladek emerges as both the instigator of the conflict and the person responsible for prolonging it. He antagonizes Mala without provocation about her plans to go to the hairdresser, and when he dismisses Artie’s suggestion that he and Mala see a marriage counselor, he makes it clear that he has no interest in learning to coexist peacefully with her. The fight – coupled with Vladek’s frequent comparisons between Mala and Anja, and his remark (at the end of the previous chapter) that he never should have remarried – all suggest that Vladek might be creating conflict in his relationship with Mala as a way of atoning for his guilt about having married again after Anja’s death.
Artie asks Vladek to resume his story in 1944, when he and Anja left Srodula. Vladek talks: The two of them walk toward Sosnowiec under the cover of dark, but don’t know what they will do once they get there – they need to hide, but don’t know where to go. On the outskirts of town, they recognize the house where Janina, Richieu’s former governess, lives. Janina opens the door, and looks terrified as she recognizes the Spiegelmans. She tells them to get away from her house, saying they’ll only bring trouble.
Janina once told Vladek and Anja that she thought of them as part of her own family. Now, however, she rejects them because she fears they will “bring trouble” – meaning that German soldiers will punish her if she helps them in any way. The Spiegelmans are outcasts not only because of Nazi anti-Semitism, but because otherwise good people now turn them away out of fear.
Desperate to get off the streets before dawn, when they are likely to be recognized as Jews, Anja and Vladek walk toward the house where the Zylberberg family lived before the war. Mr. Lukowski, the janitor, still lives in the house. He ushers Anja and Vladek into a shed in the courtyard. Anja is relieved to find that “there are still some kind people left.” Mr. Lukowski tells them they must find a better place to hide soon – one of the neighbors will surely recognize them otherwise.
Anja’s remark about the apparent disappearance of “kind people” highlights her growing sense that the world has become a hostile place for her and Vladek. Though she is not na•ve by any means – she suffered in the ghetto just as Vladek did – Anja’s surprise at her neighbors’ lack of kindness suggests she thought open hostility was limited to the Nazis. She didn’t expect to find her own community turning against her when she returned home.
That day, Vladek goes into the city. He wants to get a feel for conditions, though Anja is fearful of what might happen to him. As when he convinced the train conductor to smuggle him across the border, he wears a pig mask over his mouse head to indicate that he is pretending to be Polish. As he walks down the street, Vladek becomes aware of someone following him. A man speaks to him in Hebrew, asking whether Vladek is a Jew. Vladek hesitates, but he answers in Hebrew. The man is pleased – he is a Jew himself, he tells Vladek. He turns in profile, and the strings of a mask can be seen holding his pig’s face in place. The Jewish man tells Vladek he can find food and information about a place to hide on Dekerta Street. Vladek goes to Dekerta Street immediately, where he finds a woman selling black-market food. He buys an armful of eggs, sausage, and other luxurious foods, and takes them back to an amazed Anja.
Vladek’s ability to move between different languages – he speaks Polish, Hebrew, Yiddish, German, and English with varying levels of fluency – works as a symbol for his tendency to move between different modes of interacting with the world and presenting himself to other people. Vladek has the knowledge and ability to disguise his Jewishness, so his decision to affirm it in this moment by answering the stranger in Hebrew is a subtle act of courage and boldness. Though he is frightened by the stranger’s question and aware that it might be a trap, he takes the risk of standing by his Judaism rather than clinging to a language that might disguise it.
Vladek returns to Dekerta Street, where he learns of a farmer named Mrs. Kawka who, some of the young men suggest, might be willing to hide him and Anja in exchange for payment. Vladek and Anja move into Mrs. Kawka’s barn, but Vladek soon begins looking for a warmer place where they can spend the winter. He goes to Dekerta Street often – much to Anja’s dismay, since she fears for his life each time he leaves – and becomes friendly with a Polish woman, Mrs. Motonowa, who sells black-market food. She knows about Vladek and Anja’s difficult living situation, and one day offers to have them move into her house with her and her young son. Vladek gratefully accepts, and the next evening, Mrs. Motonowa and her son escort Vladek and Anja from the barn on Mrs. Kawka’s farm to their house in Szopienice.
When they begin trying to re-establish a life for themselves in Sosnowiec, Vladek and Anja enter a period of enormous instability. Their hiding places are all temporary and dependent on others, which means they never have the chance to rest without worrying about what to do next, and even the act of going out to buy food has the potential to be a deadly errand. When Mrs. Motonowa opens her home to them, she offers a chance for greater stability – a safe, long-term hiding place where they can have some relief from the pressure and stress of their current lives.
Mrs. Motonowa’s house is more comfortable than the barn at Mrs. Kawka’s farm. Mrs. Motonowa is a good woman, though she is exacting when it comes to her payments – Vladek pays her both for sheltering them and for bringing them food from her black market business. Her little boy loves Anja, who plays games with him and tutors him in German. Things in the house are relatively peaceful until one morning, when the Gestapo (the Nazi police) search Mrs. Motonowa and confiscate her goods while she is selling black market food in Dekerta Street. She runs home and tells the Spiegelmans they have to leave immediately, in case the Gestapo come to search her house.
Though living with Mrs. Motonowa seemed like a way for the Spiegelmans to escape the stress and danger of moving constantly from place to place, this moment of upheaval makes it clear that stability is realistically impossible in their world. There will always be some new danger to threaten them.
Cast out with nowhere to go, knowing it is dangerous for them to be on the streets after dark, Vladek and Anja spend the night hiding in a construction site. In the morning, they return to Mrs. Kawka’s barn – the only place they can think to go. Mrs. Kawka, who has always been severe in her attitude toward the couple, softens when she sees Anja shivering and exhausted. She invites Anja to warm up in her house, and brings Vladek food. Vladek tells Mrs. Kawka he would do anything to get out of Poland. Mrs. Kawka tells him about two people she knows who have been working as smugglers, taking people to Hungary – they took two of her previous Jewish borders, she says, with good results. Vladek, who is clearly very excited by this news, tells her he’d like to meet the smugglers.
Vladek knows there is nothing left for him and Anja in Poland. As long as Germany occupies the country, there will be no chance for them to live without fear. Mrs. Kawka seems to be at the center of the smuggling operation she mentions – she offers her barn to hiding Jews, then connects them with the smugglers, whom she also seems to know personally. Though she talks about the smuggling operation like she has no personal investment in it – she raises the subject casually, and avoids using active language to describe her role – she is clearly involved.
Artie stops Vladek, and asks whether Hungary wasn’t just as dangerous as Poland. For a long time, Vladek says, Hungary was safer. Near the end of the war, the situation would become truly horrible for Hungarian Jews – Vladek remembers hundreds of thousands of them coming into Auschwitz while he was there – but he had now way of knowing that when he decided to try escaping to Hungary. Vladek looks deeply sad as he talks about this, then quickly resumes his story.
Once again, Artie and Vladek confront the narrative problem of knowledge and hindsight. Listening to his father’s story, Artie occasionally forgets that his father could not have anticipated the things to come. Vladek did not have the information to make the kinds of decisions that Artie, years later, assumes a wise person would have made.
Just a day or two after Mrs. Motonowa forces Vladek and Anja to leave her house, Vladek meets her again in Dekerta Street. She greets him warmly, apologizing for the panicked state in which she sent them away. The Gestapo never came to her house after all, she tells him, and he and Anja would be welcome to move in with her again. The couple return to Szopienice that same night. Soon, though, Mrs. Motonowa’s husband, who works in Germany, returns home for a visit. Mrs. Motonowa hides the Spiegelmans in her cellar for the ten days her husband is home, knowing he would throw her out of the house if he discovered she was harboring Jews. There are rats in the cellar, which frighten Anja, but they cannot do anything about it – they must wait for the husband’s visit to pass.
Mrs. Motonowa benefits from hiding the Spiegelmans, for as Vladek already mentioned, he paid well for her help. Still, when she reveals that helping the Spiegelmans forces her to rebel against her husband, assuming all the risks that go with doing so, it becomes clear that Mrs. Motonowa is a good person who is sincerely invested in others’ wellbeing. The animal head metaphor, which constantly challenges and subverts itself, breaks down while Anja and Vladek are in the Motonowa’s cellar. Anja is afraid of rats, though she is supposedly a mouse herself.
Mrs. Motonowa allows them back into the house after her husband returns to Germany, but Vladek has begun to feel that they are not safe with her. He wants to get to Hungary. After Mr. Motonowa leaves, he goes back to Mrs. Kawka’s farm to meet with the smugglers. There, he encounters three other people hoping to escape to Hungary: Mr. Mandelbaum, an old acquaintance of the Spiegelmans who once owned a sweets shop in Sosnowiec; his wife; and his nephew, Abraham. The four of them talk with the smugglers together, then confer about their options, speaking in Yiddish so the Polish smugglers won’t understand. Vladek is not sure whether the men can be trusted. Abraham volunteers to go with the smugglers first, then write to his uncle if everything is safe.
Hebrew, the language of the Torah and the Jewish intellectual tradition, is the language Vladek used to affirm his Jewish identity when questioned by the stranger near Dekerta Street. Yiddish – the more colloquial language of everyday life, which combines both Hebrew and Germanic languages – is the language he uses to build solidarity with other Jews and establish connections and codes that will keep them all safe.
Back at Mrs. Motonowa’s house, Anja insists she will never go with the smugglers to Hungary. They are safe with Mrs. Motonowa, she says, sobbing in terror – leaving is too dangerous. Mrs. Motonowa begs Vladek to reconsider as well, but he refuses to budge. He tells Anja that he wants to be able to walk the streets as a free man; he wants to be treated like a human being.
Like Lolek, Vladek has grown tired of hiding. In another subversion of the animal head metaphor, he insists on living like a “human being,” without fear. His frustration is understandable, but Vladek also shows remarkable stubbornness and insensitivity in asserting his decision. He shows Anja no sympathy, and makes no effort to understand her concerns.
Vladek goes to visit his cousin, Miloch. He has never seen Miloch’s hiding place, but hopes to help Miloch and his family by putting them in contact with Mrs. Motonowa, so they can take Vladek and Anja’s place in the house if they leave for Hungary. When he arrives at the house where Miloch and his family are staying, he is shocked by the conditions: their bunker is a small, freezing-cold crawlspace behind a garbage pit. Even worse, it is clear to Vladek that people know the family is hiding there. He tells Miloch about his situation at Mrs. Motonowa’s, and promises to be in touch when he knows whether he’s going to Hungary.
Miloch helped Vladek and Anja when he allowed them to hide in his bunker during the liquidation of the Srodula ghetto. Though it is dangerous for Vladek even to go outside, he feels a moral compulsion to return Miloch’s kindness. The shocking conditions in which Miloch and his family are living serve as a reminder that, thought the Spiegelmans have had a difficult time, they have been luckier than many people – Mrs. Motonowa has been extremely good to them.
A few days later, the smugglers return with a letter from Abraham. The letter says he is safe and happy in Hungary, and urges them to follow him soon. Vladek and Mandelbaum make arrangements to leave in two days’ time. Anja is terrified – she is convinced the smugglers have arranged some kind of trick, and begs Vladek to call everything off – but Vladek insists, and eventually, Anja relents. Vladek visits Miloch and tells him to move into Mrs. Motonowa’s house. In an aside to Artie, he remarks that Miloch and his family spent the remainder of the war in Mrs. Motonowa’s house, perfectly safe. He and Anja, though, had something else entirely in their future.
Miloch’s experience shows that Anja was correct about Mrs. Motonowa and the safety of their hiding spot. If Vladek had listened to her, they might have waited out the war in relative peace and safety, just as Miloch and his family did. Though Vladek’s desire to get to Hungary is understandable, Anja’s instincts are also good. Since Vladek tends to portray Anja as passive and fearful, never taking initiative or asserting her opinions, this is a crucial moment in the development of her character. Though she ultimately follows Vladek, it is clear that Anja has opinions and priorities of her own, and that she is trying to take agency for her own life rather than simply submitting to her husband.
Two days later, Vladek and Anja board a train, along with Mandelbaum, his wife, and the smugglers. They are barely on the train for an hour – just passing by Bielsko, where Vladek once had his textile factory – when the Gestapo board the train and arrest them. The smugglers have double-crossed them, and delivered them into the hands of the Nazis.
It is ironic that Vladek’s plans should meet such a devastating end so close to the place where he once had his textile factory. The factory represented power, as owning a large, successful business gave Vladek complete authority over his own life and allowed him to dictate how he would live and spend his time. Now, captured by the Nazis and unable to change his situation, Vladek is once again disempowered and has no control over his fate.
The Spiegelmans and the Mandelbaums are marched to a prison in Bielsko, where the men are separated from their wives and thrown into a cell with a few others. They spend several days there. Vladek helps a Polish man write letters to his family – prisoners are only permitted to write letters in German. When the man’s family sends him a parcel full of food, he gives some to Vladek as payment. A few days later, the Germans load dozens of prisoners onto a truck, and Vladek and Anja are reunited. Though Anja insists she isn’t hungry, Vladek forces her to take some of the food the Polish man paid him with, which he has been saving for her.
Loss of appetite is a common symptom of depression, and Anja’s resistance to taking the food Vladek offers hints that she may be struggling with more clinical mental illness in addition to the feelings of fear and hopelessness that have been part of her experience up to this point. By contrast, the food is precious to Vladek. The difference between his excitement and Anja’s apathy shows the way Vladek continues to cling to hope and a desire to survive, while Anja begins to lose her will to live.
The truck takes Vladek, Anja, and the Mandelbaums to Auschwitz. It is now 1944, and every Jew in Poland knows about the gas chambers where Jews are killed en masse, and the ovens where the piles of bodies are burned. Even as they entered through the gates of Auschwitz, Vladek says, the prisoners understood that they would not leave alive. As the prisoners file out of the truck, the Nazis push men into one line, and women into another. Vladek and Anja are separated, unsure of whether they will ever see one another alive again.
Vladek and Anja are separated in an anticlimactic moment of bureaucratic sorting. Guards shove them into different lines, but there is no struggle or time to say goodbye. Vladek and Anja lose one another the way they have lost so many other people: in a moment of confusion, without warning. They absorb the possibility of monumental loss in an instant, with little time to grieve before the struggle to survive goes on.
Artie asks Vladek to come inside with him and search for Anja’s diaries. Vladek hesitates, then confesses to Artie that he has finally remembered what happened to the diaries. After Anja died, he says, he had a “very bad day” and felt overwhelmed by memories of her and of the war. In an attempt to “make an order with everything,” he burned many of Anja’s things – her diaries among them. Artie is stunned, then enraged. He screams at Vladek, cursing him and calling him a “murderer.” His anger upsets Vladek, who tries to explain that his depression after Anja died made it difficult to think straight. He is clearly hurt by the things Artie has said, and Artie backs down from his shouting. He apologizes to Vladek, but makes excuses to leave the house as quickly as possible. As he walks away, he grumbles the word “murderer.”
Vladek did not burn Anja’s diaries out of malice – he was overwhelmed by grief, and had no idea how to live with all the painful memories her diaries evoked – but in calling him a murderer, Artie treats the act as an assault, not only on Anja and her memory, but on him. Depriving Artie of the chance to read his mother’s memories and get to know her through her writing is as devastating as though Vladek had taken Anja away from him in the first place. By obliterating her words from the world, Vladek erases her memory as fully as killing her would have erased her body. It is noteworthy that Artie also uses the metaphor of murder in “Prisoner on the Hell Planet,” when he accuses Anja of “murder[ing]” him by taking her own life.