The ghettos, cattle cars, and concentration camps through which Vladek and Anja move during the war are filled with death, most of which is a result of random and senseless violence. Though the Nazi regime is sometimes calculating about which people it will murder — as when Vladek’s sister Fela, whose four children are considered an unnecessary drain on the state’s resources, is sent to her death during a mass registration of Jewish families in Sosnowiec — soldiers also deal out death sentences for minor infractions, or for no reason at all. Likewise, illness and privation ravage the bodies of those in concentration camps completely indiscriminately; frail, skinny Anja survives Birkenau against all odds, while strong, healthy Vladek nearly dies of typhus in Dachau. Though Vladek is, as Artie puts it in his conversation with Pavel, “incredibly present-minded and resourceful” in his efforts to keep himself and Anja safe, their survival is a matter of luck much more than intelligence or merit. Pavel reminds Artie soberly of this fact, and warns him against thinking about the Holocaust as a contest that the living have won and the dead have lost.
While chance is the most powerful force determining Anja and Vladek’s survival, they also depend on the compassion and humanity of those around them — people who share their knowledge and resources, sacrifice some of their own wellbeing, and on occasion even risk their lives to help Vladek and Anja. From the nameless priest who gives Vladek hope with an auspicious interpretation of the identification number on his arm; to the French man who shares food from his Red Cross packages; to Mancie, who carries Vladek’s letters to Anja in Birkenau, the kindness of strangers gives the Spiegelmans both the emotional strength and the material resources they need to survive. Likewise, random indifference and undeserved cruelty — the unpredictable aggression of guards, or the fear of Jewish collaborators trying to save themselves at the expense of others — compromise the safety of innocent people, and trap some in deadly situations. Nearly all the men and women of Maus, regardless of their ethnicity or social position, are forced to make decisions that will determine whether others live or die. Though Vladek is pessimistic about human nature — he encourages Anja to think only of her own wellbeing, assuring her that her friends won’t have her best interest at heart — many such people prove themselves generous and humane even in the worst of circumstances.
Death, Chance, and Human Interdependence ThemeTracker
Death, Chance, and Human Interdependence Quotes in Maus
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.
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.
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.
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.