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.
Grief, Memory, and Love ThemeTracker
Grief, Memory, and Love Quotes in Maus
Ilzecki and his wife didn’t come out from the war. But his son remained alive; ours did not.
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.
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.
In 1968 my mother killed herself … she left no note!
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!!!
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!”
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!
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.
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.
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.
God damn you! You — you murderer!
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.
More I don’t need to tell you. We were both very happy, and lived happy, happy ever after.
So … Let’s stop, please, your tape recorder … I’m tired from talking, Richieu, and it’s enough stories for now.