Art Spiegelman is the author and narrator of Maus, and also one of the story's main characters. Born in Stockholm after the Holocaust, he is the only surviving child of Vladek and Anja Spiegelman. His brother, Richieu, died as a child during the war, and his mother committed suicide in 1968 when he was twenty years old. He has a history of mental illness and is married to Francoise, a French woman who converted to Judaism upon their engagement. Maus centers around two primary narratives: Vladek's experiences as a Jew in World War II Poland, and Art's relationship with his aging father. This second narrative follows a period of time in Art's life beginning around 1978 and ending sometime shortly before Vladek's death in 1982.
When the story opens, Art lives in New York and does not see his father very often, though he lives only a short distance away in Queens. But as Art begins to draw this story about Vladek's Holocaust experiences, he begins to visit his father more and more frequently. Their relationship is strained, as Vladek's gruff demeanor and unwillingness to spend money routinely infuriate his son. Art is filled with complex feelings towards his father ranging from admiration for his survival in Auschwitz, to frustration towards his aggravating tendencies, and guilt for his own neglect of a father who has lived through so many difficult times.
Art also has complex emotions towards the Holocaust. Though he did not live through it personally, he feels that he is constantly affected by it. His father's personality was largely formed from his experiences in Auschwitz, and this personality in turn directly affected the way in which Art was raised. Art is consumed by varied feelings of guilt, especially regarding the fact that his life has been so much easier than his parents'. He sometimes wishes that he had been in Auschwitz, so that he would know what they went through.
Vladek is Art Spiegelman's father. He grew up in pre-war Poland, and much of Maus traces his experiences in the Holocaust, as told in his own words to his son. As the story opens in 1978, he is married to his second wife, Mala. The couple does not get along, and they are briefly separated in Maus's second volume. Mala is furious about the fact that he does not give her any money, even for things that she needs. Vladek, on the other hand, views Mala with a suspicion that borders on spite, and is constantly afraid that she is trying to steal the money that he has spent a lifetime saving.
Vladek marries Art's mother, Anja, in Poland in 1937, only two years before the Nazi invasion. Anja's father is a wealthy manufacturer, and he provides Vladek with his own textile factory upon their marriage. Shortly thereafter, they have their first child, a boy named Richieu, who will die a few years later as a victim of the Holocaust. Vladek and Anja ultimately survive the war, and afterwards they move to Sweden for two years before settling in America. While living in Stockholm, they have their second child, Art. Anja kills herself in 1968, and Vladek mourns her until his death in 1982.
Vladek's personality is largely dominated by his Holocaust experiences. During the Holocaust, he exhibited a spectacular resourcefulness, work ethic, and presence of mind that often enabled him to secure food, shelter, and safety for himself and his family. He was a shrewd businessman, and in the most troubling times he saved everything of use. In 1978, he still saves everything and tries to exchange those things that he no longer needs. Once so resourceful and competent, he is still constantly working on small projects, some of which he is incapable of completing. His last words of the story, in which he accidentally calls Art by the name of his son who died in the war, provide a final testament to the continuing relevance of the Holocaust in Vladek's life.
Anja is Art's mother and Vladek's first wife. The couple meets in Poland while Vladek is in a long-term relationship with another woman, Lucia Greenberg. They marry in 1937. Shortly after, they have their first child, a boy named Richieu, who will die during the war. Always an anxious woman, she suffers an acute depression shortly after the birth of her son and spends three months recovering in a sanitarium. Her father is a wealthy manufacturer who provides Vladek with his own textile factory, and the two live in comfort for a short while, until the German invasion in 1939. She survives the Holocaust with her husband, and they immigrate to the United States a few years after the war.
Anja commits suicide in 1968, leaving both Art and Vladek in emotional turmoil. Art's last memory of his mother is recorded in a comic called "Prisoner on the Hell Planet," in which she enters Art's room and asks him if he still loves her. His response, a terse and dismissive "sure," haunts him for years.
Richieu is Vladek and Anja's first child, born in Poland in 1937. In 1943, Vladek and Anja send him to live under the protection of Uncle Persis, where they think he will be safer. Richieu travels with Anja's sister, Tosha; Tosha's daughter, Bibbi; and Vladek's niece, Lonia. But soon after, Zawiercie is liquidated by the Nazis. Rather than be taken to the gas chamber, Tosha poisons herself and the children under her care, including Richieu. After his death, Vladek and Anja keep a photograph of their first child hanging on the wall of their bedroom, and Art comes to feel a sense of sibling rivalry with his "ghost brother."
Mala is Vladek's second wife, and a friend of his family from before the war. The couple does not get along. Mala is consumed with frustration towards Vladek's inability to part with money, while Vladek views his wife with considerable distrust and accuses her of trying to steal his money. Fed up with her husband, Mala eventually leaves him and moves to Florida, though they are later reunited against her better judgment. Like Vladek, she is a Holocaust survivor.
Art's wife. She is French and converted to Judaism in preparation for their marriage to please Vladek. She is intelligent, kind, and opinionated, and their relationship is strong. She plays a relatively minor role in the story, serving mostly as a means for Art to discuss his relationship with his father and the Holocaust.
Anja's father. Before the war, he is a wealthy manufacturer who owns a hosiery factory. When Vladek and Anja are married, he provides Vladek with a factory of his own. He survives with his family in German-occupied Poland, until the family is captured and sent to await transport to Auschwitz. By bribing his cousin, Haskel, Vladek is able to arrange for the release of himself and Anja. Though Haskel also accepts payment for the release of Anja's parents, he is ultimately unwilling to help them, and the two eventually die in Auschwitz.
A friend of Vladek's family in Poland. When Vladek is a prisoner of war, Orbach claims him as a cousin, so that Vladek is released into his custody and eventually returns home to Sosnowiec.
Vladek's father is a tough and deeply religious man. His wife dies of cancer before the worst of the Holocaust. Before the war, Vladek's father intentionally starves his son so that he will be declared unfit for the army. Later, the Nazi grip tightens, and all Jews are made to register in a nearby stadium. Those who are fit to work are sent to one side, while the elderly and women with many children are sent to their deaths at the concentration camps. By registering at a table manned by his cousin, Mordecai, Vladek's father is spared. Before he leaves the stadium, however, he sees his daughter, Fela (Vladek's sister) and her four small children standing with those destined for Auschwitz. He crosses over to be with her, and all die in the camps.
Anja's brother. Along with his wife, Hela, he is visiting the New York World's Fair when the war begins, and they remain in the United States to escape the horrors abroad. He has a son of about 15 years, Lolek, and a young daughter, Lonia. Lolek is sent to Auschwitz but survives, while Lonia is poisoned by Anja's sister, Tosha, rather than be sent to the gas chambers.
Tosha is Anja's older sister. At the beginning of the German occupation of Poland, she lives with Anja's family in her father's house, along with her husband, Wolfe, and their small daughter, Bibbi. As the situation deteriorates Uncle Persis offers to keep her safely in nearby Zawiercie ghetto, where he is a prominent member of the Jewish Council. She agrees, and leaves with Wolfe, Bibbi, and Vladek's son Richieu. Soon, though, the Germans slaughter the Jewish Council and begin to evacuate the Jews of Zawiercie to the camps. Rather than be sent to the gas chambers, Tosha poisons herself, her daughter, Herman's daughter Lonia, and Vladek's son Richieu.
A former customer of Vladek's from before the war. The two meet again after the German occupation and begin conducting business on the Sosnowiec black market. Mr. Ilzecki has a son about the same age as Vladek's, and he offers to send Richieu along with his own son to a Polish friend to hide until things get better. Vladek thinks this is a good idea, but Anja refuses. Mr. Ilzecki's son will survive the war; Richieu will not. Mr. Ilzecki himself dies in the Holocaust.
A friend and business partner of Vladek's during his black market days in Sosnowiec. Nahum is arrested along with his son for selling goods without coupons. The Nazis decide to make an example of them and they are hanged in a well-know black market center and left there for a full week.
During the initial period of the German occupation, they live in Anja's father's house with the rest of the family. Later, they are told to relocate to a "community better prepared to take care of the elderly." The family hides them for over a month, until the authorities arrest Anja's father and threaten to arrest more of his family if the grandparents are not given over to the Germans. Anja's grandparents are taken away to Auschwitz, where they are killed.
Vladek's nephew and Uncle Herman's son. Lolek lives with Anja's family for much of the initial German occupation, first at Anja's father's house and then in the Srodula ghetto. When the situation deteriorates and Vladek makes preparations to hide in a shelter until the Nazis have evacuated the town, Lolek tells his uncle that he is tired of hiding, and he is soon transported to Auschwitz. He survives the camps and eventually becomes a college professor.
Haskel is Vladek's cousin, and chief of the Jewish Police in the Srodula ghetto. He is the brother of Miloch and Pesach. He is what Vladek calls a kombinacya, or "schemer." While he is a rather unsavory character, he is a good person to know in the ghetto. When Vladek's family is discovered in the "chandelier" bunker and sent to a compound to wait for transport to Auschwitz, Haskel arranges for Vladek, Anja, and Lolek to be released in exchange for valuables. He also accepts valuables for assistance in releasing Anja's parents, but ultimately refuses to help them. Upon their release, he arranges for them to work at a shoe repair shop resoling German boots. Haskel ultimately survives the war, and Vladek sends him packages for some time afterwards.
Miloch is Vladek's cousin, and brother to Haskel and Pesach. He is Vladek's supervisor at the shoe repair shop in the Srodula ghetto, and an honorable man compared to the scheming Haskel. When the Germans make plans to eliminate all Jews in the ghetto, he prepares a hidden shelter behind a pile of shoes at the shop, where Vladek, Anja, and 15 other people hide for days. After the Germans evacuate the ghetto, Miloch hides at his old house in Sosnowiec, hidden by his former maid in the garbage pile with his wife and small child. When Vladek attempts to flee to Hungary, Miloch and his family hide with Mrs. Motonowa, with whom they safely survive the war.
Pesach is Vladek's cousin, and brother to Miloch and Haskel. Like Haskel, he is a schemer and a rather unsavory character. His most significant involvement centers on a scheme to sell cake to the inhabitants of the ghetto. He makes a fortune, but everyone who eats it becomes sick - the cake was accidentally made with laundry soap in addition to flour. When the Germans liquidate the Srodula ghetto, he hides with Vladek and Miloch in the shelter behind the pile of shoes. Eventually, though, he becomes tired of waiting and bribes some German guards to look the other way as he escapes. He is betrayed and killed by the same guards.
The janitor at Anja's father's house. When Vladek and Anja escape from the Srodula ghetto, they knock on his door and he allows them to stay in a shed behind his house. They eventually leave to hide at Mrs. Kawka's farm.
Mrs. Kawka is the owner of a small farm on the outskirts of Sosnowiec, and for a price she allows Vladek and Anja to hide in her barn. She is outwardly gruff but also has a kinder side. They eventually leave to hide at Mrs. Motonowa's house. Mrs. Kawka is the person who tells Vladek about the smugglers who can take him to Hungary.
Vladek befriends Mrs. Motonowa at the Sosnowiec black market after the liquidation of Srodula, and she offers to hide him and Anja at her farm, with her seven-year-old son. She is a kind woman, and the house is comfortable, except for a ten-day period in which Mrs. Motonowa's husband returns home from Germany on vacation, and they are forced to stay in the basement. One evening, she is searched by the Gestapo in the black market, and she becomes worried that they will return to search her house. Terrified, she forces the Spiegelmans to leave. A few days later, however, Vladek sees her again at the black market. She feels terrible about kicking them out, and the Spiegelmans return to live with her again. After Vladek and Anja attempt to escape to Hungary, she shelters Miloch and his family for the remainder of the war.
Before the war, Mandelbaum owned a pastry store in Sosnowiec where Vladek and Anja often shopped. Vladek sees him again while meeting with the smugglers who will take him to Hungary. His cousin, Abraham, is also with them. When they are betrayed by the smugglers, Mandelbaum is sent to Auschwitz with Vladek. He has a difficult time at the camp and ultimately dies there.
Abraham is Mandelbaum's cousin. He agrees to accompany the smugglers, and promises to write Mandelbaum and Vladek if he arrives safely in Hungary. He is betrayed, however, and forced at gunpoint to write the letter anyway. Though Vladek is not certain, he thinks that Abraham is ultimately killed at Auschwitz.
The Karps are Vladek's neighbors at his Catskills bungalow. When Art visits his father there, they take him aside and tell him that Vladek cannot possibly take care of himself.
A "kapo" is a Polish supervisor at a concentration camp. Soon after Vladek arrives at Auschwitz, Vladek's kapo asks the Jews in the barracks if anyone there can speak English. Vladek volunteers, and the kapo takes him on as a tutor. He keeps Vladek safe in the quarantine block for as long as he can, and he provides him with extra food and clothing. Ultimately, Vladek must start working, and the kapo helps Vladek find work as a tinsmith, since skilled laborers get better treatment.
Pavel is Art's psychiatrist. Like Art's father, Pavel is a survivor of the Holocaust. Art sees him once a week, and the sessions always seem to make him feel better.
Yidl is Vladek's boss at the tin shop in Auschwitz. He is Communist and Jewish, and he despises Vladek for having owned a factory before the war and for not knowing how to work with tin. Vladek is terrified that Yidl will report him, so he arranges to give him frequent gifts of food.
Mancie is a female Hungarian Jew at Birkenau with Anja, and has higher status as a result of an affair with S.S. guard. She acts as a go-between for Vladek and his wife, carrying notes and food.
After Vladek is transferred from Auschwitz to Dachau, he befriends a Frenchman with whom he converses in English. Because he is not Jewish, the Frenchman is able to receive packages of food through the Red Cross, which he shares with Vladek, probably saving his life.
A friend of Vladek's from before the war, they meet again upon their release from the concentration camps. Together, they escape the remaining German patrols and eventually find their way to an American base camp, and then to a displaced persons camp. Afterwards, they travel together to Shivek's brother's house in Hannover. They then begin heading towards Poland, but are separated. Shivek returns to Hannover, while Vladek continues on to Sosnowiec.
After being released from the concentration camps, Anja is able to return to Sosnowiec before Vladek. Though she knows it is foolish, she visits a gypsy fortuneteller to find news of her husband. The gypsy looks into her crystal ball and sees the death of everyone in her family, including her father, mother, and child. But she sees that her husband is still alive, and together they will find a new life in another part of the world, with a new little boy.
MAUS Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for MAUS is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Vladek was a businessman. He owned a textile factory after his marriage (a gift from his father-in-law), and worked in trading goods in America. His experiences during the war taught him to work with what he had.
The Nazis have stripped the town of whatever food they can carry. Vladek and Shivek, however, are able to locate an abandoned home where they find milk and chickens. They hide there, subsisting on the little food left behind.