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.
Art walks into his father's kitchen to see Mala crying at the table. She tells Art that his father treats her like a maid. Vladek gives her only $50 a month, and she is forced to use her savings for anything else she needs. He has hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank but won't spend any money, even on himself. Art muses that he used to think that the Holocaust was what made Vladek so stingy with his money, but wonders why none of the other survivors have adopted similar personality traits. He confides to Mala that he is worried about how he is portraying his father in Maus, that in some ways, he has drawn him as a stereotypical, miserly, racist Jew.
Vladek walks into the kitchen, and Art shows him preliminary drawings from the comic he is writing about his father's Holocaust experiences. Both Mala and Vladek tell Art that the book will be special, but conversation eventually turns to bickering between Mala and Vladek over Mala's frequent trips to the hairdresser. Vladek tells Art that she is constantly threatening to leave, and his son suggests that they see a marriage counselor. Father and son go outside to sit in the garden and continue the story.
It is 1944, and Anja and Vladek are sneaking back towards Sosnowiec. Vladek can easily pass for a Polish man, but Anja has more traditionally Jewish features. They knock on the door of Richieu's former governess, who opens the door, recognizes the Spiegelmans, and then quickly slams it closed. Next they try Anja's father's old house. The janitor lets them in, and they are allowed to hide in a shed. Vladek goes out to find food and encounters another Jew in hiding, who leads him to a black market where they can buy supplies. Vladek returns with eggs, sausage, cheese, and other rare items.
Vladek returns to the black market again and encounters an old friend who tells him of a possible hiding place in the home of a Mrs. Kawka, at a farm just outside of town. They visit the farm, and Mrs. Kawka tells them they can stay in the barn, but they need to find another place in time for the coming winter. Vladek befriends a black market grocer, Mrs. Motonowa, who invites him to stay in her house with her and her son. Her husband is away for all but ten days out of every three months, and Vladek accepts.
Mrs. Motonowa charges for her hospitality, but she is a good woman, and her house is far better than the barn. One day, though, she is searched by the Gestapo and thinks that they may soon arrive at her house soon to search that as well. In a panic, she forces Vladek and Anja to leave. They wander the streets of Sosnowiec and eventually find a construction site where they spend the night. In the morning, they make their way back to Mrs. Kawka's and return to living in her barn. Mrs. Kawka tells Vladek of smugglers who will transport them to Hungary for the right price.
A few days later, back at the black market, Vladek runs into Mrs. Motonowa. She feels terrible about kicking them out and invites them back. Soon, though, her husband returns home for his vacation, and Anja and Vladek are forced to hide in the basement for ten days, with the rats and very little food. The husband eventually leaves and it is again safe to live upstairs, but Vladek does not feel entirely safe, and he resolves to search out the smugglers that Mrs. Kawka mentioned. On his way to the meeting, a group of small German children see him and run away screaming, calling out that he is a Jew. Rather than run, he has the presence of mind to approach the parents and patiently explain that he is a German and a loyal citizen of the Reich, likely saving his life.
When he arrives safely at Mrs. Kawka's farm, the smugglers are in the kitchen. Also in attendance are Mandelbaum, an old acquaintance of Vladek's, and Mandelbaum's nephew, Abraham. The smugglers explain their plan, and the Jews discuss it amongst themselves in Yiddish so that they will not be understood. They are not convinced of the smuggler's honesty, and in the end, Abraham decides to go and promises to write back if he makes it safely to Hungary. The rest will only travel if they receive the letter. Both Anja and Mrs. Motonawa are vehemently against the plan, but Vladek eventually overrules them both.
This issue thus settled, Vladek goes to visit Miloch, who is hiding in a garbage hole behind his old house with his wife and child. Vladek tells Miloch that he may soon be leaving for Hungary, and that there will be a vacancy at Mrs. Motonowa's. Soon after, Vladek, Anja, and Mandelbaum receive a letter from Abraham that says that he has arrived safely in Hungary.
Vladek, Anja, and Mandelbaum meet the smugglers at the train station, and they all board the train. After about an hour, however, they are arrested and stripped of their possessions. They have been betrayed by the smugglers. Vladek is made to board a truck with a hundred other prisoners and is transported to Auschwitz. Vladek and Anja are separated, not knowing if they will ever see each other again.
Art asks his father again about Anja's diaries, and Vladek says that they can't be found, because he burned them after Anja died. Vladek was depressed, and there were too many memories in those pages. All Vladek can remember about the content of the diaries is a sentence wishing that her son would one day be interested in them. Art is furious and screams at his father, calling him a murderer.
As Art visits his father more and more, their relationship begins to change. In previous chapters, most of their communications focused around Vladek's retelling of his Holocaust experiences. Lately, though, their conversations have been getting more personal. At the beginning of Chapter 6, Vladek begins to complain again about his relationship with Mala, and Art suggests that they see a marriage counselor. This kind of honest assessment and advice has been uncharacteristic to date, and seems to be a sign that Art's frequent visits are leading to a more positive and open relationship.
However, as this chapter comes to a close, the relationship is strained almost to the point of breaking when Vladek tells his son that he burned Anja's diaries shortly after her death. And to add further insult to the tragedy, Vladek recalls that Anja once told him that she hoped Art would read them one day. At this, Art explodes at his father, calling him a "murderer." Though he apologizes, he leaves soon thereafter and again calls Vladek a "murderer" under his breath.
As seen in the "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" comic in the previous chapter, Art feels a terrible sense of guilt over his mother's suicide, and blames himself for not being a loving and attentive son. At the end of this chapter, however, Art seems to blame his father for his mother's death. There is a subtle difference between these two forms of blame. Art blames himself for his mother's physical death, but he blames his father for the murder of Anja's memory.
The history of the Holocaust is both the history of a genocide and the history of the individual deaths (and survivals) of millions of European Jews. The sheer magnitude of the horror - five million Jews were killed - is almost unimaginable, and yet each of those five million deaths represents an individual story. The Holocaust is therefore both a deeply personal and numbingly impersonal event. By destroying Anja's diaries, Vladek has made it impossible for his son to ever know the personal aspects of his mother's Holocaust experiences.
An additional point of note in this chapter is Art's decision to draw the different races as different animals. While Vladek and Anja are hiding in Mrs. Motonowa's basement a rat scurries across the floor, and Vladek tells his wife that it was only a mouse. The artist's depiction of the rat is anatomically correct, whereas his depiction of the Jews as mice is not: the Jews are drawn with the bodies of humans and the heads of mice. Similarly, Americans are portrayed as humans with the faces of dogs, while the Nazis use real dogs (with four legs, paws, etc.) to search for Jews in hiding. From this, it is clear that the author intends for the "races-as-animals" motif to be purely symbolic.
While the animal symbolism has been criticized as overly simplistic and for perpetuating racial stereotypes, the cat-and-mouse metaphor is an effective means of representing the Nazi-Jew relationship: the Nazis first "teased" the Jews, slowly taking away their freedom, before eventually killing them. Indeed, the idea of representing Jewish people as mice originated in Nazi propaganda, which portrayed Jews as a kind of vermin to be exterminated.
In addition to being an apt metaphor, the animal representations are a convenient means of visually representing the social and racial stratifications that existed during the war. And as an added benefit, the concept provides the opportunity to portray these relationships visually, without constantly resorting to words like "Jew," "German," and "Pole." However, as will be discussed below, the author himself expresses reservations about these animal metaphors in Chapter 2 of Book II.