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Themes and Colors
The Holocaust and the Responsibility of its Survivors Theme Icon
Family, Identity, and Jewishness Theme Icon
Grief, Memory, and Love Theme Icon
Guilt, Anger, and Redemption Theme Icon
Death, Chance, and Human Interdependence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Maus, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Grief, Memory, and Love Theme Icon

Vladek tells Artie that he has spent years trying to rid himself of memories of the war and the Holocaust, but he recounts his story in remarkable detail, recalling the names and eventual fates of almost every person who crossed his path during those years. Though his descriptions are straightforward and unflinching, he has clear emotional reactions to many of the events about which he speaks — he cries when he remembers four of his friends being hanged in Sosnowiec for dealing goods on the black market, and talks with passionate sadness about his dead son, Richieu. Love and compassion are what make Vladek’s memories of the war so painful. But, just as he and Anja keep the photograph of Richieu hanging in their bedroom, he keeps those memories as tokens of the people he has lost, even when they prove to be a heartbreaking burden.

The memory of Artie’s mother, Anja, hovers over every conversation between Artie and Vladek, as does their mutual uncertainty about how best to deal with the reality of her death. Anja committed suicide in 1968, when Artie was a young man. Though Vladek’s stories suggest that Anja struggled with depression throughout her life, her death seems to have been completely unexpected. She does not leave a suicide note, and so Artie has very little insight into her reasons for choosing to end her life. While Artie tries to confront the complex feelings attached to his grief — to represent the anger he feels about his mother’s suicide, as well as his continued love for her — Vladek does everything he can to preserve the best possible version of his wife, ignoring all the difficult and painful aspects of their relationship in the story he presents for Artie. He covers his desk with photographs of Anja, which prompts Mala to compare the desk to a shrine, and he tells Artie: “Everywhere I look I’m seeing Anja … always I’m thinking on Anja.” Vladek’s displays of uncomplicated devotion contrast with the Artie’s tense silence on the subject of his mother. Except in “Prisoner on the Hell Planet” — a comic he drew and published shortly after her suicide, which resurfaces during his interviews with Vladek many years later — Artie avoids talking about his relationship with Anja. He treats her as simply another character in the long narrative of Vladek’s survival, albeit a more important one than many.

Vladek’s desire to protect Anja’s memory sometimes has disastrous consequences. Artie learns partway through his interviews with Vladek that Anja left a series of diaries telling her side of their story, and that Vladek burned these diaries shortly after her death. When Artie learns what his father has done, he calls Vladek a “murderer” — he equates the destruction of Anja’s voice and memories with an act of violence. Though Artie’s anger seems justified, it is also clear that burning Anja’s diaries was a way for Vladek to shield her from unsympathetic scrutiny. By seizing control of her narrative, he guarantees that his gentler-than-life version of Anja and their relationship will be the one to survive; that her legacy is in the hands of someone who loves her and has her best interest at heart.

While scholars and activists often treat remembrance as a moral imperative — arguing that to forget the Holocaust would be an additional act of violence against those who suffered and died — Maus interests itself in the idea of remembrance also as an act of generosity and compassion.

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Grief, Memory, and Love ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Grief, Memory, and Love appears in each chapter of Maus. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Grief, Memory, and Love Quotes in Maus

Below you will find the important quotes in Maus related to the theme of Grief, Memory, and Love.
Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

Ilzecki and his wife didn’t come out from the war. But his son remained alive; ours did not.

Related Characters: Vladek Spiegelman (speaker), Richieu , Mr. Ilzecki
Page Number: I.81
Explanation and Analysis:

Vladek and his wife, Anja, had a first son named Richieu, and when Vladek explains his experiences during the Holocaust to his son Artie, he lingers on the memory of Richieu. Here, he tells Artie that his associate, Mr. Ilzecki, had a young son who survived World War II--despite the fact that Ilzecki himself did not. By contrast, Valdek did survive the war, though his first child did not.

There is no rhyme or reason in World War II, and in fate in general--indeed, as the passage suggests, the only "rule" of the war seems to be that no family emerged unscathed. Vladek was lucky and blessed to survive the Holocaust, but he could do nothing to pass on his good fortune to his child.


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Cohn had a dry goods store. He was known all over Sosnowiec. Often he gave me cloth with no coupons. I traded also with Pfefer, a fine young man — a Zionist. He was just married. His wife ran screaming in the street … Ach. When I think now of them, it still makes me cry.

Related Characters: Vladek Spiegelman (speaker), Nahum Cohn , Pfefer Cohn
Page Number: I.83-84
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Vladek describes people he used to know, Nahum and Pfefer Cohn. The Cohn family was hanged by the Nazis to warn Jews to obey the Nazis at all costs. Strangely, Vladek is still immensely moved by the deaths of the Cohns, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he didn't know them particularly well. (He just bought some clothes from Nahum now and then.)

Why do the Cohns' deaths move Vladek so greatly, when he's witnessed so many horrors? Why does he remember the Cohns years later? Perhaps the passage is meant to suggest that Vladek is an enormously compassionate man, capable of feeling sympathy even for people he didn't know closely. Or perhaps the passage conveys a more subtle point: the very fact that Vladek didn't know the Cohn family at all well makes their deaths more, not less, moving. Almost every single person Vladek knew died in the Holocaust--whether he knew them closely or slightly. Perhaps Vladek isn't crying for the Cohns so much as he's crying for the overall devastation of the Holocaust, and for the utter destruction of his previously peaceful, safe community--a place where he could trade goods on credit with people he knew and trusted.

Vladek: I couldn’t see anywhere my father. But later someone who saw him told me … He came through this same cousin over to the good side. Then came Fela to register. Her, they sent to the left. Four children was too many.

Mr. Spiegelman: Fela! My daughter! How can she manage alone — with four children to take care of?

Vladek: And, what do you think? He sneaked on to the bad side. And those on the bad side never came anymore home.

Related Characters: Vladek Spiegelman (speaker), Mrs. Spiegelman (speaker), Mordecai , Fela
Page Number: I.91
Explanation and Analysis:

Vladek recalls a particularly frightening and moving moment from his Holocaust experiences. He and the rest of his family was being "relocated" by the Nazis; i.e., sent into nightmarish concentration camps. Some of the Jews in the area were sent to work (a blessing, relatively speaking, since it kept them out of the death camps), while others were sent to be murdered. Vladek's father was sent to work, since he was in good health. Yet when he saw his daughter, Fela, being sent to her death, he sacrificed his own life by going to the "bad side"--i.e., going with her to the camps.

Vladek's father's gesture is incredibly bold and compassionate--and it may have been even braver than he intended it to be (most didn't yet realize just how dangerous the "bad side" was). The passage testifies to the heroism of ordinary people, like those in Vladek's family. Many gave up their lives, simply to provide aid and comfort to the people they cared about. They preferred to die with their family than survive alone.

Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

In 1968 my mother killed herself … she left no note!

Related Characters: Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman (speaker), Anja (Anna) Spiegelman
Page Number: I.100
Explanation and Analysis:

Artie recalls one of the saddest moments of his life--the suicide of his mother, Anja. Anja always had a difficult relationship with her son. In his last interaction with her, Anja woke Artie up in the middle of the night to ask if she loved him, and Artie sarcastically said "Sure, ma." Artie felt that his relatives blamed him for Anja's suicide--they believed that because of his own issues (he had recently been released from a mental hospital) Anja had killed herself.

Artie's description of Anja's suicide--focusing on the fact that she left no note--is interesting because it suggests Anja's pain or spitefulness, or maybe Artie's denial, or maybe neither. By refusing to leave a suicide note, it would seem, Anja was trying to cause her family as much pain as possible--or else she was in so much pain that she couldn't even write anything. But perhaps it's wrong to make assumptions about Anja's behavior, as Artie clearly does. The fact that Artie faults Anja for not leaving a note suggests that he's still trapped in his own sense of guilt and responsibility, angry at Anja because she left no way for him to resolve anything at all.

Well, Mom, if you’re listening … Congratulations! … You’ve committed the perfect crime … You put me here … shorted all my circuits … cut my nerve endings … and crossed my wires! … You murdered me, Mommy, and you left me here to take the rap!!!

Related Characters: Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman (speaker), Anja (Anna) Spiegelman
Page Number: I.103
Explanation and Analysis:

Artie creates a comic book in which he tries to come to terms with his mother's suicide. In the comic book, he depicts himself in a prison cell, yelling at Anja. Artie screams that Anja has sent him to jail for murder: she's killed herself, manipulating the rest of the family to blame Artie for the tragedy. Artie will always be "trapped" in the prison of his own guilt and shame.

The passage is important for two reasons. First, it reinforces the tense relationship between Artie and his family: Artie is an enormously complicated individual, and in many ways he's still living out the legacy of the Holocaust, in the sense that he's living in the shadow of his parents' pain and suffering. Second, the passage reinforces why Artie writes Maus in the first place: as with Anja's death, he thinks that he can use art, fiction, and even humor to move past his own pain and guilt.

When things came worse in our ghetto, we said always: “Thank God the kids are with Persis, safe.” That spring, on one day, the Germans took from Srodula to Auschwitz over 1,000 people. Most they took were kids — some only 2 or 3 years. Some kinds were screaming and screaming. They couldn’t stop. So the Germans swinged them by the legs against a wall … and they never anymore screamed. In this way the Germans treated the little ones what still had survived a little. This I didn’t see with my own eyes, but somebody the next day told me. And I said, “Thank God with Persis our children are safe!”

Related Characters: Vladek Spiegelman (speaker), Richieu , Bibi , Lonia , Persis
Page Number: I.108
Explanation and Analysis:

As the situation deteriorates for Jews under Nazi rule, tragedy strikes Vladek's community. Nazis savagely murder hundreds of children--a crime that's virtually unspeakable. Vladek and his family have sent their own children into the care of Persis, the head of the Jewish council in the ghetto. Vladek believes that his child and his family's children will be safe with Persis, because Persis has some power with the Nazis. Little does Vladek know (at the time) that Persis will be murdered soon, leaving the children to be killed--ironically, by Tosha (Anja's sister).

The passage is enormously sad--so sad that there's almost nothing left to say about it. In the midst of tragedy, there's nothing Vladek can do but thank God that he and his own loved ones are safe. And yet the tragedy is even greater than he imagines, since his loved ones are anything but safe. Spiegelman suggests that the scale of suffering at this stage in the book is really beyond human understanding--we can only bear witness to it and remember.

Tosha: No! I won’t go to their gas chambers! And my children won’t go to their gas chambers! Bibi! Lonia! Richieu! Come here quickly!

Vladek: Always Tosha carried around her neck some poison … She killed not only herself, but also the 3 children. I’m telling you, it was a tragedy among tragedies. He was such a happy, beautiful boy!

Related Characters: Vladek Spiegelman (speaker), Richieu , Tosha , Bibi , Lonia
Page Number: I.109
Explanation and Analysis:

In this wrenching section of the book, Tosha (the sister of Anja) makes a big decision. She knows that she and her sister's children will be arrested by the Nazis and sent to their deaths in the gas chambers. Instead of allowing such an atrocity to occur, Tosha decides to kill herself, along with the children.

Vladek's grief at hearing that Richieu (his child) was murdered is beyond understanding. It's not even clear that Tosha did the "wrong" thing--she probably did protect Vladek's children from an awful, prolonged death, preceded by weeks of fear, starvation, and cold. As Hannah Arendt said, the Holocaust forced the Jews to do things that were neither wrong nor right--things that were simply outside the scope of mortality altogether. Spiegelman dares us to judge Tosha's actions--our own criteria of good and evil simply aren't strong enough to help us understand her decision.

Anja: The whole family is gone! Grandma and grandpa! Poppa! Momma! Tosha! Bibi! My Richieu! Now they’ll take Lolek! … Oh God. Let me die too!

Vladek: Come, Anja, get up!

Anja: Why are you pulling me, Vladek? Let me alone! I don’t want to live!

Vladek: No, darling! To die, it’s easy … but you have to struggle for life! Until the last moment we must struggle together! I need you! And you’ll see that together we’ll survive.

Related Characters: Vladek Spiegelman (speaker), Anja (Anna) Spiegelman (speaker), Mr. Zylberberg, Matka Zylberberg , Richieu , Tosha , Bibi , Lolek , Mr. Karmio , Mrs. Karmio
Page Number: I.122
Explanation and Analysis:

As the situation for European Jews deteriorates, Vladek's wife, Anja, falls into despair. She's endured more suffering than most people would have to deal with in ten lifetimes: her entire family, more or less, has been killed, or is on the way to death. Anja can barely stand to live any longer, so great is her misery.

At this moment in the text, Anja relies heavily on Vladek for emotional support. Her desire to give up in the face of such horror is entirely understandable, but Vladek takes a different view. He tries to convince Anja to be strong and optimistic: he says that they have a profound responsibility--they owe it to their dead relatives to survive the Holocaust together. One great tragedy of the Holocaust is that even when the victims survived (as Vladek and Anja did), they had to live with the agony and guilt of being the last living members of their families.

Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

And we came here to the concentration camp Auschwitz. And we knew that from here we will not come out anymore … We knew the stories — that they will gas us and throw us in the ovens. This was 1944 … We knew everything. And here we were.

Related Characters: Vladek Spiegelman (speaker), Anja (Anna) Spiegelman
Page Number: I.157
Explanation and Analysis:

Vkladek and Anja are shipped off to the concentration camp of Auschwitz. There, they immediately realize that they're never going to see each other again--they're going to be murdered. They both know the rumors of gas chambers and mass graves, and now they can see that the rumors are true. The passage, in short, evokes utter hopelessness. Here, surrounded by machines of death and destruction, even Vladek feels his hope leaving him. He has nothing to look forward to; no relatives to bribe; no children to protect. His reasons for hopefulness are extinguished. But as we'll see, Vladek still summons the courage to survive--with sheer willpower, as well as lots of luck, he manages to brave the concentration camps and come out alive on the other side.

Vladek: These notebooks, and other really nice things of mother … one time I had a very bad day … and all of these things I destroyed.

Artie: You what?

Vladek: After Anja died I had to make an order with everything … These papers had too many memories, so I burned them.

Related Characters: Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman (speaker), Vladek Spiegelman (speaker), Anja (Anna) Spiegelman
Page Number: I.158
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Vladek tells Artie about Anja’s notebooks. Anja kept journals and diaries for many years—included in these diaries, it’s implied, were discussions of her time in the Holocaust, her feelings for Vladek and Artie, and many other important pieces of information. To Artie’s genuine shock, Vladek hasn’t preserved his wife’s papers—after she committed suicide he destroyed them in order to escape from “the memories.”

The passage illustrates a basic difference between Vladek and Artie: Artie wants to remember, Vladek wants to forget. Artie is writing a book on the Holocaust, but seems not to consider the ethical implications of what he’s doing; by interviewing his father, he’s asking him to relive the worst moments of his life. By the same token, Artie can’t understand why Vladek would burn Anja’s diaries—he’s so hungry for information (information that could potentially absolve him of some of the responsibility for Anja’s suicide) that he can’t conceive of anyone who wouldn’t want it.

God damn you! You — you murderer!

Related Characters: Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman (speaker), Vladek Spiegelman , Anja (Anna) Spiegelman
Page Number: I.159
Explanation and Analysis:

Immediately after Artie learns that Vladek burned Anja’s papers, he lashes out at his father. Artie is furious that Vladek destroyed Anja’s writing, in part because he believes that the writing could have relieved some of his intense guilt, or at least given him a sense of resolution (Artie partly blames himself for his mother’s suicide years before). His hunger for knowledge—and forgiveness, which he associates with information—means that he’s furious with his father for denying him the chance for this forgiveness. Artie even calls his father a murderer--by burning Anja's papers, it's as if Vladek has killed Anja all over again.

In essence, Artie is making his father a scapegoat for his own lack of closure with regard to Anja’s death. There’s no guarantee that Anja’s papers and diaries would have brought Artie any peace or comfort—so it’s easier for him to get angry with Vladek than it is for him to face the facts: he’ll never be truly at peace with his mother's death. Artie still feels that he caused his Anja's suicide—and so by yelling at his father, he deflects some of the guilt he (Artie) feels.

Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

Vladek died of congestive heart failure on August 18, 1982 … Françoise and I stayed with him in the Catskills back in August 1979. Vladek started working as a tinman in Auschwitz in the spring of 1944 … I started working on this page at the very end of February 1987. In May 1987 Françoise and I are expecting a baby … Between May 16, 1944 and May 24, 1944, over 100,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed in Auschwitz.

Related Characters: Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman (speaker), Vladek Spiegelman , Françoise Mouly , Nadja Mouly Spiegelman
Page Number: II.41
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Artie contrasts his own work as a writer with his father’s life and work. But he does much more: he compares his life with the lives of his ancestors, including the millions of Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.

It’s imperative that Artie keep the Holocaust “in perspective” as he proceeds to write a book about it. The Holocaust is a tragedy almost beyond the comprehension of any individual person. Artie’s book isn’t just about the Holocaust—it’s about his struggle to try to understand the Holocaust. Artie talks to his father about his (father’s) experiences, but even here, mere words can’t convey the full extent of the tragedy to Artie. In the end, Artie’s experience writing his book is a sobering experience. His own petty acts of creation—the book, the baby, the marriage—pale in comparison with the single act of destruction that took place in Europe during World War II. There is simply no decent way to write a book about the Holocaust that doesn’t involve the acceptance that one’s book is neither a solution nor a comprehensive response to the Holocaust.

Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

More I don’t need to tell you. We were both very happy, and lived happy, happy ever after.

Related Characters: Vladek Spiegelman (speaker), Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman, Anja (Anna) Spiegelman
Page Number: II.136
Explanation and Analysis:

Vladek here concludes his description of the Holocaust with a disingenuous happy ending: he claims that he was freed from the concentration camp, reunited with Anja, and went to live with her happily ever after. Of course, we know very well that Vladek’s marriage to Anja is anything but happy. Surviving the Holocaust doesn’t really teach Anja and Vladek to love each other better, enjoy life more fully, or deal with each other more patiently. Instead, Anja and Vladek’s marriage is full of drama and sadness—and in the end, Anja kills herself.

One of the toughest lessons Maus teaches is that surviving a great tragedy doesn’t necessarily make you a saint or even a better person. Vladek and Anja could be considered heroic for the bravery with which they survive the camps, and yet their bravery doesn’t excuse their racism, their selfishness, or their inability to show love for other people. But Spiegelman's point seems to be that naïveté and optimism aren't necessarily bad. The fact Vladek and Anja don't have a happy marriage doesn't mean that Vladek shouldn't get to savor the memory of reuniting with Anja--and after all, his memory is the primary place she lives now, particularly since Vladek himself has burned all her documents.

So … Let’s stop, please, your tape recorder … I’m tired from talking, Richieu, and it’s enough stories for now.

Related Characters: Vladek Spiegelman (speaker), Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman, Richieu
Page Number: II.136
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of Maus, Vladek reveals, beyond any doubt, that Richieu (his dead son, a victim of the Holocaust) is just as much a part of his life and his consciousness as is his living son, Artie. Vladek has just finished talking to Artie about his experiences during the Holocaust. Tiredly, he calls Artie "Richieu" by mistake. Vladek's mistake could suggest that he's slowly losing his mind to dementia. But it's also a sign that he thinks about his son constantly--not because he's getting senile but because he's a loving father. More generally still, Vladek's misstatement suggests the way that he continues to remember all his experiences during the Holocaust--just because they happened a long time ago doesn't mean they don't continue to affect his life.

Artie's burden, we come to realize, is that Vladek will never have his complete attention. On some level, Vladek will always measure Artie against Richieu, his deceased son, and compare his American life with Artie to his old European life with Richieu. While Artie will never be entirely okay with his father's "divided love," he's learned to accept Vladek's behavior and respect his father's courage and heroism.