1 Jul 2015

Spiegelman. ch6. of Maus I, “Mouse Trap,” summary

by Corry Shores
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Art Spiegelman

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, vol.1

Ch. 6
Mouse Trap



Brief summary:

We learn from Mala that perhaps Vladek’s extreme stinginess may perhaps not be from his traumas during the war, since other survivor friends do not behave this way. Vladek recalls the difficult period when they had to hide in sympathetic people’s houses (although always paying them), at times living for days in a basement without food. Against Anja’s better judgment, they trust smugglers to take them from Poland to Hungary, where (at this time at least) they would be safer. The smuggler’s deceived them, and they are instead captured by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz. We learn finally that Vladek burned Anja’s diaries from this period in a fit of despair following her suicide, even though Anja hoped Art would someday read them. Art is infuriated by this loss of a highly precious connection to his deceased mother, and he calls Vladek a murderer.




[We begin of course in the present.] Vladek’s door is unlocked, and so Art enters himself. He sees Mala crying in the kitchen. She is upset because she cannot live with Vladek any more. “He treats me as if I were just a maid or his nurse … worse! […] At least a maid has some days off and gets paid! He only gives me $50.00 a month. When I need a pair of stockings I have to use my own savings!” Art replies that this is how he always was. “Whenever I needed school supplies or new clothes Mom would have to plead and argue for weeks before he’d cough up any dough!” (130). Mala says that when she argues with Vladek, he moans like he is having a heart attack, which forces her to stop, even though he might be faking it [recall from the last chapter that Vladek had something like a minor heart attack]. “I feel like I’m in prison!” She continues, “I feel like I’m going to burst!” (130). Mala then says that after they married, she told Vladek that she needed clothes, and he only offered Anja’s (his prior wife’s) clothing. Art thinks it is because of the camps, but Mala says neither she nor other friends who also survived have Vladek’s disposition.


[[Note here that a running theme, that Vladek is obsessively conservational on account of his traumas during the war,  is now called into question, and the observation is made that many survivors did not end up this way.]] Art then expresses a concern. He is drawing his father and characterizing him [all perhaps in a way which intends to deconstruct the prejudicial metaphors and beliefs espoused by the Nazi’s], but instead, “in some ways he’s just like the racist caricature of the miserly old Jew” (131). 


[[For example, in an interview Art gave in 1991, he explains that the idea of ‘dehumanizing’ the characters into animal form comes from the Nazis’ own propaganda campaigns. “This particular menagerie, I tend to think of it as humans with animal heads. And these are animals that stand up and insist on their own humanity in spite of the fact that building something around this highly flawed notion. In that sense, this is Hitler’s idea, not mine. He said, ‘the Jews are certainly a race, but they are not human.’ He slated Jews for extermination, which is not something that is done to people, it is done to pests, to vermin.” From: “The Holocaust Through the Eyes of a Maus (Art Spiegelman)”. In a sense, there is supposed to be a deconstructive sort of operation done to these stereotypes, but perhaps, Art’s concern seems to be, he is only reinforcing them.]] Mala says that Vladek has hundreds of thousands in the bank, but “he lives like a pauper!” For example, Vladek takes papers towels from public bathrooms so that he will not need to buy napkins or tissues. Just after Mala says she cannot understand how Anja lived with Vladek, he enters the room.

Art shows them both the image of the black market Jews hanged in Sosnowiec, and the next panel when Vladek says it still makes him cry [see chapter 4; this is a remarkably powerful image]. Mala observes, “It’s an important book. People who don’t usually read such stories will be interested” (133).


 [[This is an important issue, namely, that the story is told so well in this comic form. Spiegelman addresses it in the interview mentioned above, “The Holocaust Through the Eyes of a Maus (Art Spiegelman)”. One of his ideas here is that the medium and the animal imagery and the simplification of the cartoon form enable a strong proximity and identification with the characters and events.]] Vadek says even he is interested, even though he never reads comics. Mala observes he would be interested, since it is his own story. Vladek replies that he knows the story by heart, but he is still interested in its comics form. Mala says it will be very successful [and indeed it was!], and Vladek says Art will be famous like Walt Disney. Art then leaves to get a pencil, saying “I’ve just gotta write this conversation down before I forget it!” (133).

Vladek welcomes them to the garden, but Mala excuses herself to the hairdresser. Vladek complains that she went just a week ago: “she sees more often the hairdresser than she sees me!” (134). Mala then complains that she cannot even leave briefly without Vladek making her feel guilty. After she leaves, Vladek complains that she is hard to endure, and Art suggests he and Vladek go sit in the garden. Vladek continues to complain about Mala, saying that she often threatens to leave him, to which Vladek apparently replies that if she does, she cannot come back (134).

As they emerge outdoors, Art suggests Vladek and Mala see a marriage counselor. Vladek says he does not want to confide private stories with a stranger. He also recalls that long ago he was warned by a lawyer that Mala is “money-conscious” (135). Vladek again mentions how Mala wanted to change the will just a month after settling on a version. Art says the reason to see a therapist is not about the will but about how to get along better. Vladek replies that with Mala, the issue is not getting along but rather it is just about money for her. Art then says, “I give up … I don’t know what to say,” and he begins asking about Vladek and Anja (135). As Vladek covers his legs with a blanket, Art asks, “what happened in 1944, after you left Srodula?” [intervening single panel cut to past, following later with the past on the next page].

[[The interjected past panel is visually similar to the swastika road formation from when the story left off in the prior chapter. We also notice again the visual combination of past and present.]] Vladek and Anja were sneaking back to Sosnowiec in the dark, trying to keep themselves hidden. They first go to Richieu’s governess, Janina [who is apparently a non-Jewish Pole, since she remained safely in town and is in pig form]. Janina sends them away immediately, since she is worried they will bring trouble. They are wearing their pig-masks [meaning that they are trying to appear as non-Jewish Poles.] Anja suggests they go to her father’s old house, since they might get some help from the janitor, Lukowski, who has known the family for years. Vladek notes that he is pretty well disguised, since he is wearing the sort of coat and boots that a Gestapo would wear when not in the service. But Anja was more vulnerable, since she was more visibly Jewish. They arrive at the house, and Lukowski lets them in (136).

[[Note the masks, especially when they are removed.]] Just as Anja was saying thank God there are still kind people left, “an old witch recognized Anja from her window” and yelled, “There’s a Jewess in the courtyard! Police!” (137). Vladek and Anja then hurry to the shed. Later Lukowski arrives and assures them probably no one heard the old woman, who is a little senile anyway. Vladek goes out alone to “scout around,” and it is nearly morning at the time. On the street Vladek hears someone following him (137). If Vladek walked slow, so did the pursuer; or if fast, the same as well. Finally, when they are alone, the man, also wearing a pig mask, asks “amcha?” which is Hebrew for “our nation?” Vladek affirms reluctantly, “a-amcha” (138). The man confides that he too is a Jew, hiding in Sosnowiec with his wife.


[[Note how in the first two panels, before we learn the pursuer is a Jew too, that the left border of the panel frame cuts-off the edge of his mask. So at first, we do not know whether or not he is non-Jewish or hiding it. The angle here is from Vladek’s side, which along with the man’s body language, makes the encounter seem confrontational. Then in the next panel, when it is revealed that he is wearing a mask, the angle changes to the pursuer’s perspective, which again along with the body language, makes the encounter suddenly become welcoming and friendly.]] The man suggests Vladek go to the black market on Dekerta street. At first there was no one there, but then a woman offers Vladek food that could be purchased without coupons. “She showed to me sausages, eggs, cheese … Things I only was able to dream about.” He buys some, and goes quickly back to Anja (138). He surprises Anja with all the wonderful goods. She thinks it is miraculous, asking how he managed it. Vladek replies, “I’m a magician! Have some milk” (139). [Single panel cut to the present.] Vladek says he goes back to the Dekerta black market, where “he could change jewelry for marks – and marks for food, or a place to stay” (139). There he saw more people, even some Jewish boys he knew before the war. He tells them [who are also wearing pig masks] that he needs a hiding place. They suggest he goes to Mrs. Kawka’s farm on the outskirts of town. She might take them if they pay. They go there, and she agrees to let them stay in her barn, as long as they promise to pretend they do not know her if they are ever caught.

1.139.10[[Here the image is shown through a window, which gives a feeling of secrecy. We see also the mask in his hand, suggesting perhaps both a commitment to the disguise but also a humiliating admission it is fake. The angle is a bit imbalanced, which along with the body language, gives the scene a strong feeling of tension. The pattern on the exterior wall surrounding the window adds to this sense of confrontation, fear, and mistrust, since it looks a bit like lighting. Overall the structural lines seem skewed, which gives it an expressionist mood of uncertainty and the feeling that something is wrong.]]

Thus they live in the barn with Kawka’s cow [[we note the obvious dehumanization and animalization of the situation]]. When Vladek says he will leave for the market, Anja gets distressed, since she becomes terrified when left alone there. Vladek explains it is necessary and temporary.

[[Note the inclusion of the cow. Here we have both the animal forms of the humans and the pure animal of the cow.]] [Perhaps because the barn was so far away,] Vladek took a streetcar into town. There was a car for Germans and officials and another for regular Poles. Vladek would always use the official car, since he would have been quickly detected as a Polish Jew in the Pole car.

[[Here again we note the fluidity of identity.]] Vladek goes to the black market and meets a woman, Mrs. Motonowa, whom he has become friendly with and has been buying goods from. This time he buys bread from her. She cannot make change, but he [perhaps uncharacteristically] wants her to keep the change so that she can use it for her young boy. She then offers Vladek and Anja to stay at her house. Her husband comes home just 10 days every three months, so they will have to stay hidden during those times. She even offers to escort them there, since it is a bit far away. On their trip, they pretend different roles so to disguise themselves. Vladek walks with Motonowa like her husband would, and Anja walks with Motonowa’s son like a governess.

[[Here notice not only the masks, but as well Vladek’s uncharacteristic behavior of being generous. One interesting element in the Maus stories are the economics, how in the absence of other social structures and bonds that once held, what instead creates those bonds are temporary economic ties. One way we might look at this scene is that the generosity built a structure, or a ‘pack’, using Canetti’s term. In other words, perhaps without this and other economic acts, other flows of goods between them, the new living arrangement would not have been made. The other thing to observe is again the fluidity of identity and power of falsehood in the final panel.]]

The boy loved Anja, and she reminds him not to mention her or Vladek, since they will kill all of them. [Four panel cut to the present]. Art asks if they had to pay Mrs. Motonowa. Vladek says yes, since no one will risk their lives for nothing. And one time, when Vladek was unable to pay the full price for bread, Mrs. Motonowa claimed she could not get any, even though probably she could. Vladek overlooked this, understandingly, saying she was a good woman.

[[Note the first panel. There is a dynamic visual rhythm that is created with the distribution of characters, making your eyes jump between figures each evoking a different shade of feeling. We also see more on the economic relations, which are not understood by Vladek in a cold way but rather as somehow a strange mixture of pure business and a sense of loyalty or community.]] Anja even helps the boy learn German. When the teacher asks the boy how he improved so much, he cleverly tells her his mother helped him (142).

Vladek says that not everything was great about the situation. If anyone came, they had to hide in the closet. There was a close call even when Vladek sneezed while hiding. Then one day when Mrs. Motonowa was at the black market, she was searched by the Gestapo, who confiscated her goods. She is worried that they may come search her house, so she orders the Spiegelmans to leave. They then walk toward Sosnowiec, with Anja shaking in fear on the way. They speak German to disguise themselves.


[[We note the disguise of speaking in German.]]

They then hide in a large hole in a construction site.


[[Here we again see them reduced to a rodent-like, dehumanized existence.]] They return to the barn with the cow where they once lived. But now it is winter. Kawka says they can stay, as long as they promise to pretend Kawka has no knowledge of them being there, if caught. She sees Anja shivering, and takes her inside a while to warm up. Then she brings Vladek some food. He then says to Art, “In those days I was so strong I could sit even in the snow all night” (145). Vladek tells Kawka that he really wishes to leave Poland. She tells him that previously there was a young man and his son hiding in the barn, and two people smuggled them into Hungry, where they apparently are doing well now. Vladek excitedly says he wants to meet the smugglers (145). [Five panel cut to the present]. Vladek says the smugglers visit Thursday evenings, and that day was a Monday. Art is confused, because is not Hungry just as dangerous for Jews as Poland is? Vladek said at that time it was better in Hungry, but near the end of the war, all the Jews there were also sent to Auschwitz. Vladek was at Auschwitz, and he saw hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews there. “So many, it wasn’t even room enough to bury them all in the ovens. But at that time, when I was there with Kawka, we couldn’t know then” (146). The next day he goes to the Dekarta street black market, and he encounters Mrs. Motonowa. She expresses her guilt for having abandoned them. She invites them back. [Single panel cut to the present]. And that night they go back again (146).


But as soon as they got there, they receive news that Mrs. Motonowa’s husband is coming, and they will need to hide in the cellar for 10 days. They live there in the dark, co-habiting the space with rats.


[[Here we again see a real animal.]] Three days go by without Motonowa coming with food. They live off little candies. Since they cannot wash, Anja gets a terrible rash. Finally Motonowa comes down, and she explains she had to wait, because her husband was getting suspicious. Anja complains about the rats, but Motonowa notes they are better than the Gestapo, since rats will not kill them. [[It is ironic that they get better treatment from the rats than from the “humans”.]]


They finally get to live inside, but Vladek expresses his desire to live in Hungry instead (148).

[Since he will need to meet the smugglers at Kawka’s] he takes a streetcar the next Thursday to Sosnowiec. He was passing children. They were taught to fear Jews, and one of them starts yelling “Help! Mommy! A Jew!” [Single panel cut to the present.] Vladek approaches the mothers, saying “Heil Hitler,” and he tries to convince the children and the mothers he is not a Jew. He succeeds, but the experience was scary for him.


[[Here we have one of the most powerful examples so far of identity flexibility.]]

Vladek arrives, and the smugglers are in the kitchen. Vladek is sent to another room, where he sees a man named Mr. Mandelbaum, whom he knew from before the war. Mandelbaum owned a sweets shop that Anja and Vladek used to go to. Also there is his nephew Abraham, who was a “big member of the Jewish council” (150). They all gather with the smugglers, who describe their plans. They will take the Jews through the mountains, which Vladek observes is risky and expensive. The Jews discuss the proposition in Jewish. Vladek says he knows Kawka, but he is not sure if he can trust the smugglers. Abraham suggests that first he goes alone, then he will write back if he makes it safely. Vladek agrees to wait for the good letter from Abraham, and he would meet again there with Mandelbaum (150).

Anja does not like the idea. She feels safe with her current circumstances. Vladek raises the possibility that the Gestapo comes to search the house for black goods or that the husband comes and finds them. Anja resists. Mrs. Motonowa also says they should not do it, since they do not know anything about these smugglers. Anja replies “Snf. It’s like talking to a wall” (151) [[we might here notice Vladek’s stubbornness]]. Vladek reminds Anja that they will only go if they get assurances from Abraham. Mrs. Motonowa complains that she has been having nightmares since Vladek’s trip. Vladek then leaves them to find Miloch to see if he can help Miloch by giving over this place to him in case they go to Hungary.


[[Here we note the bond that was built between these cousins and not with the others, which is based on a flow of exchange.]] [Single panel cut to the present.] At Miloch’s house, he is hidden by his former janitor, who is a non-Jewish Pole. While there, the Janitor is entertaining company, so she must wait to take Vladek to Miloch. The janitor introduces Vladek as her own cousin. The guests complain that they are out of vodka, and one says, “Bah! She’s hiding her vodka!” and another continues, “Just like she’s hiding Jews in her yard!” (152). The janitor and Vladek freeze out of fear, and the guests demand more vodka or else they will inform the Gestapo about the hidden Jews. Vladek tells them to relax, and he sends the janitor to get some vodka from the store, which appeases the guests. They all drank until midnight, when the guests left (152). The janitor takes trash to the backyard dumping receptacle. Miloch is hiding in a tiny chamber set inside the receptacle, and he lives there with his wife and child. Even though it is cold, he is glad that the decomposing garbage creates some heat. Vladek notifies him that people know already about them hiding there. Vladek tells MIloch about the possibility of him going to Hungry and that opening up the better place to hide.

Vladek goes back to Kawka’s to meet with Mandelbaum and the smugglers. Abraham [to all appearances at least] sent a letter confirming he was safe, so Vladek agrees to go ahead with the plans. Anja is still very reluctant, but Vladek finally convinces her. [Two panel cut to the present.] Vladek tells Miloch about how to get to the place in Szopenice to hide. He says also Miloch and his family survived there until after the war, but he himself and Anja were not so lucky.


When the day comes and they are at the train station, one of the partners leaves to use the phone. The other partner tells the Jews not to worry, because he is just going to phone ahead to notify the next group who will meet them at the border. But they were still worried, and rightfully so. They come to Bielsko-Biala where Vladek once had his factory. Then the smugglers disappear. The Gestapo burst in and catch them all. Afterward, they march the Jews through Bielsko, past even Vladek’s former factory (155).


The Nazis confiscate Vladek’s things. They even scoop all the shoe polish out of a can and find a gold watch Vladek had hidden inside, saying “Well, well … a gold watch. You Jews always have gold!” (156). [Five panel cut to the present.] Vladek says this watch was a marriage gift from his father-in-law. Art interrupts and asks what happened to Abraham. Vladek says Abraham ended up in a concentration camp, but first Vladek will finish his current story before telling about Abraham. They languish in a prison with little food and nothing to do. A non-Jewish Pole also there in the cell asks for someone who can write in German. They only allow letters written in German to be sent out of the cell, and if he can write a letter in German, he can send for a food parcel. Vladek knew how to write in German, so he writes the letter. When the package came, he offers Vladek some of it. “It was eggs there … it was even chocolates. … I was very lucky to get such goodies!” (156). A truck comes and takes about 100 of them. Vladek meets again with Anja, and he gives her many of the things from the food parcel. The truck then takes them to Auschwitz, and they know they are doomed never to return, since they knew well already of this place.


[Final cut back to the present]. After they opened the truck, men were pushed one way and women the other, thus splitting up Anja and Vladek with no knowledge if they ever would see each other again. Art then says, “This is where Mom’s diaries will be especially useful. They’ll give me some idea of what she went through while you were apart” (158). Vladek says she went through the same terrible sorts of experiences as he did. Art suggests that since it is cold, perhaps they could go upstairs to look for the notebooks. Vladek says he looked but he cannot find them. Art suggests they check the garage. Then Vladek admits, “These notebooks and other really nice things of mother… one time I had a very bad day … and all of these things I destroyed” (158). Art is in disbelief. Vladek explains he could not deal with the pain and the memories when she died, so he burned them. Art complains, “Christ! You save tons of worthless shit, and you …”. Vladek says he never read them, but he recalls Anja saying, “I wish my son, when he grows up, he will be interested by this” (159). Art is enraged that Vladek would deny Anja her wishes and Art his precious connection to his mother, and he accuses Vladek of being a murderer.


Vladek says Art should not yell at his father like this, and he reminds Art that he was so severely depressed when he did this that he “didn’t know if I’m coming or I’m going!” (159). Art apologizes and excuses himself to leave, and as he walks away, he says to himself, “murderer” (159). This ends book one of Maus.



Spielgelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, vol 1. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.


Or if otherwise noted:

Art Spiegelman. Television Program entitled, "The Holocaust Through the Eyes of a Maus (Art Spiegelman)." University of Washington Television (UWTV). Available on youtube: https://youtu.be/BLVG3GNvHkU

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