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MAUS Summary and Analysis

by Art Spiegelman

Book I, Chapter 5

Note: Maus jumps back and forth often between the past and the present. To facilitate these transitions in this summary, the Holocaust narrative is written in normal font, while all other narratives are written in italics.

Mouse Holes

It is 7:00 in the morning. Art is asleep in bed with his wife, Francoise, when the telephone rings. It is Mala, in hysterics. She tells Art that Vladek climbed onto the roof to try to fix the drain and then got dizzy and had to come down. Now, he wants to climb back up, and Mala is trying to talk him out of it. Vladek takes the phone and asks Art if he will come over to help. Art replies that he will call him back and hangs up. He tells Francoise that he has always hated helping his father out around the house. When he was a kid, nothing he did in that department was good enough for Vladek. One of the reasons he decided to become an artist was the fact that he wouldn't have to compete with his father. He would rather feel guilty than travel to Queens to help the old man fix the roof. When he calls his father back, Vladek tells him that his neighbor, Frank, has agreed to help him.

About a week later, Art visits his father again in Queens. Vladek is in the garage sorting nails, clearly upset. Art, feeling guilty, asks whether he can help, and his father curtly declines any assistance. In the kitchen, Mala tells Art that his father recently found a short comic that Art wrote years ago called "Prisoner on the Hell Planet," which told the story of his mother's suicide. In the comic, which is reprinted in full, Vladek arrives home to find Anja in the bathtub, her wrists cut and an empty bottle of pills nearby.

In the comic, the year is 1968. Art is 20, recently released from the state mental hospital and living with his parents. He arrives to find his father lying on the floor, a complete wreck. In accordance with Jewish custom, they sleep together on the floor, Vladek moaning through the night. Art is consumed by guilt. He thinks back to the last time he saw his mother, when she entered his room and asked him whether he still loved her. "Sure," he replied, and turned away. The comic ends with a message to his dead mother: "Congratulations, you've committed the perfect crime...You murdered me, Mommy, and left me here to take the rap."

Vladek walks into the room, and tells Art that the comic brought back painful memories of Anja, even though he is always thinking about her anyway. He isn't angry, only sad. Art and Vladek walk together to the bank, and Vladek continues the story of his Holocaust experience.

The year is 1943. All Jews are forced to leave Sosnowiec for a ghetto in the nearby town of Srodula. One night Persis, an uncle of Anja's brother-in-law, arrives. He is on the Jewish Council in a nearby town and wants to take Anja's sister Tosha, her husband Wolfe, and their daughter Bibbi to live with him in nearby Zawiercie, where he has some influence and thinks he can keep them safe. He wants to take Richieu with him as well, and Vladek and Anja agree. The parents watch as he takes Richieu away. It is the last time they will ever see him. A short time later, all the children in Srodula are rounded up to be killed, and the parents are glad that they have sent their son away, but the Zawiercie ghetto is liquidated shortly thereafter. Rather than be sent to the gas chambers, Tosha poisons herself, her children, and Richieu. Vladek and Anja are not made aware of this until much later.

In Srodula, the Germans begin to round up Jews at random. To protect himself and his family, Vladek builds a shelter under a coal bin, in which they hide during Nazi searches. Soon, though, they are moved to a different house. Again, Vladek builds a shelter, this time in the attic and accessible only through a chandelier in the ceiling. One evening, as they are leaving the shelter, they see a stranger below. It is a Jew, who tells them that he was only looking for food for his starving child. They think about killing him to be sure that he will not report them, but they take pity on him and give him some food. That afternoon, the Gestapo arrives and takes Vladek and his family into a secure compound in the middle of the ghetto.

The compound is a waiting area for transport to Auschwitz. Vladek enlists his cousin, Haskel, who is Chief of the Jewish Police, to help. In exchange for a diamond ring, Haskel arranges for the release of Vladek and Anja. Anja's parents also send valuables to Haskel, but in the end he chooses not to help them. At this point in the Holocaust, family loyalties have largely eroded, and it is every man for himself. They are transported to Auschwitz, where they eventually die. Haskel is a schemer and a crook, but he is well-connected and a good man to know in the ghetto. Every week, he plays poker with the German soldiers and intentionally loses so that they will like him. On one occasion, Vladek is out walking when he encounters a German guard who points a gun at his head and says that he is going to kill him, but when Vladek produces his papers and the guard sees that he is a friend of Haskel's, he is set free. Haskel arranges for Vladek to work in a shoe repair factory fixing the German soldiers' boots.

Vladek and Art are still walking to the bank when Vladek has an attack of angina, a pain in his chest caused by lack of blood flow to the heart muscle. He takes a Nitrostat pill and feels better almost immediately.

The Nazis continue to transport the Jews of Srodula to Auschwitz. Haskel arranges to smuggle himself out of the ghetto, but his brothers Miloch and Pesach have created a bunker behind a pile of shoes in the factory. Also around this time, Vladek and Anja finally hear the news of Richieu's death. Anja is hysterical with grief and tells Vladek that she wants to die. Vladek responds by telling her that "to die, it's easy...but you have to struggle for life." They retreat to the bunker along with about fifteen other people. There is no food. After many days, Pesach tells the group that he has bribed some guards to allow them to escape. Many in the bunker leave with him, but Vladek stays and watches as they leave the bunker and are shot by the guards. After a few more days, the ghetto is completely evacuated, and Vladek heads in the direction of Sosnowiec with his wife.

Vladek and Art arrive at the bank. Vladek wants to make a copy of the key to his safety deposit box for his son, so that if he dies Art can remove its contents before Mala can take it. In the box, Vladek has kept valuables from before the war, which he had hidden in a fireplace before being sent to the concentration camps. He retrieved them after the war, sneaking into the house in the middle of the night while the occupants slept. There is also a diamond ring in the box, which Vladek gave to Anja when they arrived in the U.S. Mala is obsessed with changing his will, he tells his son. Vladek wonders why he ever remarried and cries for the memory of his dead wife.


The short interruption of "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" comprises an additional narrative voice in Maus, making a total of four voices (past, present, meta, and "prisoner"). The comic represents an entirely new and radically different artistic style than the simple and subdued style present throughout the rest of the book. The characters have distinctly human faces, and the drawings are marked by sharp angles, altered perspectives, and often surreal and grotesque human forms. But while the artistic style differs, it shares with Maus the theme of guilt. In "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" Art feels an unbearable sense of guilt over his mother's suicide, facilitated by the fact that his relatives seem to blame him as well. His cardinal sin, he feels, is one of neglect. This is poignantly driven home through Art's memories of the last time he saw his mother alive, when she came into his room and asked him if he still loved her. His answer, a dismissive "sure," is a constant reminder of his perceived neglect. Art's guilt over his mother's death is noteworthy for its similarity to the guilt that he feels regarding his father. This guilt is also based on neglect, and is highlighted at the beginning of this chapter, when Art refuses to help his father fix a leak on his roof.

In the analysis of the previous chapter, the question was posed as to why the Holocaust affected Vladek differently than Anja or Mala. One possible reason, explained in more detail in the previous chapter, is the fact that different people had different ways of coping with the horrors of the Holocaust. Vladek's means of survival - his resourcefulness and ability to use even the smallest of items for his benefit - clearly had an effect on his personality in later years. But while Vladek relied on his own resourcefulness, Anja relied primarily on others for her survival. Before she was taken to the concentration camps, she was almost completely reliant upon her husband for food and shelter. After the death of their son, it was Vladek who convinced her to live.

Anja's only post-Holocaust appearance within Maus occurs during the "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" comic, but though her appearance is brief, we can discern a great deal about her personality. In the comic, she is clearly depressed and on the verge of suicide. Her only line of dialogue is a question posed to her son, asking him if he still loves her. Art's response, a terse "sure," is far from reassuring. From this scene, we can surmise that Anja feels both alone and unloved. Cut off from the support of her family, she eventually kills herself. Just as she was dependent upon the kindness of others for survival during the Holocaust, her post-Holocaust personality is similarly defined by dependence. And just as Vladek's means of survival later manifested themselves in extreme forms, Anja's means of survival - her dependence on others - has manifested itself in a form so extreme that it eventually leads to suicide.

This chapter also deals with survival, another important theme of the book. As the Nazi brutality continues to worsen, the instinct for survival begins to overpower the powerful bonds of Jewish identity. This is first seen in the form of the Jewish Police. They are just as brutal as the Nazis, and almost indistinguishable from them save for the Stars of David on their shoulders. Vladek tells his son that some of these Jewish police felt that they could actually help the Jewish cause, but many joined in an attempt to save their own lives. The bonds of family break soon after, as Vladek's cousin, Haskel, will not help him without first receiving some form of payment. Says Vladek: "At that time it wasn't any more families. It was everybody to take care for himself!"

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