Vladek: But this what I just told you — about Lucia and so — I don’t want you should write about this in your book … It has nothing to do with Hitler, with the Holocaust!
Artie: But Pop — it’s great material. It makes everything more real — more human. I want to tell your story, the way it really happened.
Vladek: But this isn’t so proper, so respectful … I can tell you other stories, but such private things I don’t want you should mention.
I’m not going to die, and I won’t die here! I want to be treated like a human being!
Vladek: Always I went to sleep exhausted. And one night I had a dream … A voice was talking to me. It was, I think, my dead grandfather. It was so real, this voice.
Grandfather: Don’t worry … Don’t worry, my child … You will come out of this place — free! — on the day of Parshas Truma.
This is for me a very important date. I checked later on a calendar. It was this parsha on the week I got married to Anja … And this was the parsha in 1948, after the war, on the week you were born. And so it came out to be this parsha you sang on the Saturday of your bar mitzvah!
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.
He wants me to go help him fix his roof or something. Shit! Even as a kid I hated helping him around the house. He loved showing off how handy he was … and proving that anything I did was all wrong. He made me completely neurotic about fixing stuff. I mean, I didn’t even own a hammer until we moved into this place! One reason I became an artist was that he thought it was impractical — just a waste of time … it was an area where I wouldn’t have to compete with him.
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!
Artie: Wouldn’t they have helped you even if you couldn’t pay? I mean, you were from the same family.
Vladek: Hah! You don’t understand … At that time, it wasn’t anymore families. It was everybody to take care for himself!
Haskel took from me Father-in-Law’s jewels. But, finally, he didn’t help them. On Wednesday the vans came. Anja and I saw her father at the window. He was tearing his hair and crying. He was a millionaire, but even this didn’t save him his life.
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.
Mala: Pragmatic? Cheap!! It causes him physical pain to part with even a nickel!
Artie: Uh-huh. I used to think the war made him that way.
Mala: Fah! I went through the camps … All our friends went through the camps. Nobody is like him!
Artie: Mm … It’s something that worries me about the book I’m doing about him … In some ways he’s just like the racist caricature of the miserly old Jew.
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!
I never felt guilty about Richieu. But I did have nightmares about S.S. men coming into my class and dragging all us Jewish kids away. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t obsessed with this stuff … It’s just that sometimes I’d fantasize Zyklon B coming out of our shower instead of water. I know this is insane, but I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they lived through! … I guess it’s some kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did.
Priest [to Vladek]: Your number starts with 17. In Hebrew that’s “k’minyan tov.” A very Seventeen is a very good omen … It ends with 13, the age a Jewish boy becomes a man … And look! Added together it total 18. That’s “chai,” the Hebrew number of life. I can’t know if I’ll survive this hell, but I’m certain you’ll come through all this alive.
Vladek [to Artie]: I started to Believe. I tell you, he put another life in me. And whenever it was very bad I looked and said: “Yes. The priest was right! It totals eighteen.”
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.
Vladek: What happened on you, Françoise? You went crazy, or what?! I had the whole time to watch out that this shvartser doesn’t steal us the groceries from the back seat!
Françoise: What?! That’s outrageous! How can you, of all people, be such a racist! You talk about blacks the way the Nazis talked about Jews!
Vladek: Ach! I thought really you are more smart than this, Françoise … It’s not even to compare, the shvartsers and the Jews!
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.