MAUS Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapter 3

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.

And Here My Troubles Began

The next morning, Vladek begins packing up the food that Mala left so he can return it to the store. Since the Holocaust, he says, he can't seem to throw anything away. He tries several times to give his son some of his extra food, but each time Art refuses, quickly rising into anger. Vladek asks his son to stay with him in the Catskills until the end of the summer, but Art and Francoise both agree that they will only be there for a few more days. They drive to the store, sitting three-across in the front seat of the car. Art asks his father about something he read about Auschwitz, about prisoners working in the crematorium who revolted, killing three guards and destroying the building. Vladek responds that while the story is true, the conspirators were later killed, and the young girls that supplied the ammunition were hung just outside of his workshop.

The Russian army is now very close, and the sound of artillery can be heard in the distance. The Nazis plan to take all prisoners into the heart of Germany, but a friend of Vladek's contrives a plan to escape. When the Germans move to take everyone away, they will hide in an unused attic until the camp is evacuated. To prepare, Vladek arranges to acquire civilian clothes for himself and his co-conspirators, and each day they save half of their food to store in the room. During the final days of Auschwitz, they hide in the attic to avoid detection. During the evacuation, however, rumors fly that the Nazis will set fire to the entire camp and bomb the buildings after they leave. Vladek and his friends fear for their lives and leave the camp with the rest of the prisoners and guards. The camp is never bombed.

They are marched for miles through the woods in the freezing snow. Those who cannot walk fast enough are shot. Some of Vladek's friends from the attic bribe the guards to allow them to escape, and they ask Vladek to join them. Vladek refuses, and when the time comes for the escape, his friends are shot in the back as they run. And so he is marched into Germany to Gross-Rosen, a small camp with no gas chambers. The next morning, they are forced onto a train and packed shoulder-to-shoulder, perhaps two hundred to every car. Vladek still has a thin blanket with him and is able to attach it to some high hooks to create a makeshift hammock. He sits above the shoulders of his fellow Jews for the duration of the ride.

The train travels for some time, and then stops for many days. There is no food or water. Vladek is able to reach through a window and survives on snow from the top of the car. One man in the car with Vladek has some sugar, but when he eats it, it burns his throat. He pleads to Vladek for some snow from the roof, but Vladek will only give him some in exchange for some sugar. Only about twenty-five people make it out of the train alive. The doors are eventually opened, and the prisoners are made to throw out the dead and clean the cars. There are many other trains whose doors were never opened, and are filled with the dead. Soon, they are herded back into the train. Each day, the Nazis open the doors to remove more bodies, and the car becomes more spacious. The train again begins to move, and again they are left for days with no food or water. Then, improbably, the doors open and they are greeted by the Red Cross. Each man receives a cup of coffee and a piece of bread before being herded back onto the train, which they now know is headed for Dachau.

They arrive at the grocery store. Vladek wants to return some opened and partially-eaten food, and Art and Francoise wait in the car, embarrassed and unwilling to participate. They see Vladek and the manager shouting at each other through the store window. Eventually, though, he returns to the car victorious, having received six dollars of groceries for only one dollar. He tells his son that the store manager was happy to help once he told him about the Holocaust, Mala's departure, and his current poor health.

Dachau is extremely crowded, and the prisoners lie huddled in the locked barracks. The straw in the barracks is full of lice, and the lice carry typhus. In order to receive food, all prisoners are forced to remove their shirts for inspection before every meal. If the shirt has lice, they are denied food. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to escape the lice. Vladek's hand becomes infected, and he cuts at it to make it worse so he can move to the infirmary, where there is food three times a day and everyone has their own bed. He continues to irritate his infection daily, but he is eventually discovered and allows his hand to heal. He still has the scar.

Back at the barracks, Vladek is approached by a Frenchman who is looking for somebody he can talk to. Nobody in the camp speaks any French, but the man does speak a little English. The two talk each day to pass the time. Because he is not a Jew, he is allowed to receive packages, and he shares the food he receives with Vladek, likely saving his life. By trading some of the Frenchman's food, he is able to secure for himself an extra shirt, which he washes thoroughly and keeps in a piece of paper. During meal times, he changes into the clean shirt so that he can pass the lice inspection.

After a few weeks, however, Vladek contracts typhus, a deadly disease from which many others will die in Dachau. He must travel back and forth to the restroom, walking through a crowded corridor and stepping on the bodies of the dead. Eventually he is carried to the infirmary, where he lies for days, too weak to eat and close to death. Still, he saves his food and uses it for bribes. His fever eventually goes down, and shortly afterward a guard arrives informing the sick that anyone well enough to travel should line up outside to be exchanged as prisoners of war. Vladek is still weak, but he bribes other prisoners with bread to help him down from his bed and across to the train, which takes him towards Switzerland.

In the car on the way back from the store, Vladek tells his son that he exchanged letters with the Frenchman for years, but burned them along with Anja's diaries. Francoise stops the car to pick up a hitchhiker, an African-American. Vladek is furious and mumbles to himself in Polish. When the hitchhiker is let out, Vladek screams at Francoise about letting a "schvartser" into the car who might have stolen their groceries. His prejudice originates from his first few days in New York after the war; he says that blacks would steal his belongings if he left them unattended.


After Vladek was separated from Anja for the last time before their reunion at the end of the war, all his instincts focused on one thing: survival. It was now truly every man for himself, as he was marched through freezing woods and packed into a boxcar with two hundred other prisoners. Vladek was able to eat the snow from the roof of the car, but he did not give any to the other prisoners unless they had something to trade in return. Likewise, later on when Vladek was sick with typhus and needed to walk to a train so that he could be released as a prisoner of war, he had to bribe someone to help him; they would not help for free. The frantic struggle to survive had largely broken the common bonds of humanity, religion, and friendship that previously held the Jewish community together.

What is even more striking about this breakdown is the fact that during the final days of Auschwitz and subsequent tribulations in the train cars and at Dachau, Vladek did not once mention Anja. He never once appeared to worry about her survival, nor did he attempt to include her in his escape plans from Auschwitz. Part of the reason for this is likely the fact that including his wife in his own plans was simply not possible. Anja was in Birkenau, while Vladek was in Auschwitz, and the bribes that would have been required to bring Anja to Auschwitz would have been too much even for Vladek to save. But it would also appear (at least from Art's re-telling of Vladek's story) that during his most difficult times, even his thoughts for his wife were supplanted by the struggle for his own survival.

Against this backdrop of self-preservation in which even the most fundamental human bonds were severed, the few occasions in which prisoners displayed pure altruism became particularly memorable. Perhaps the only example of altruism in the face of the Holocaust's most difficult times is found in Mancie, Anja's companion at Birkenau. Though passing notes and food between Vladek and his wife could very well have gotten her killed, she did so without accepting any payment. And, as Vladek tells his son in the next chapter, Mancie continued to keep Anja by her side through their own long and cold march from Birkenau, likely saving her life.

It is also interesting to note that the author's drawings of Jews are virtually indistinguishable from one another, especially when they are all wearing the same prisoner's uniform or when they are naked. In drawing the mice this way, Art Spiegelman is calling attention to the fact that the Holocaust can be thought of in two different ways: both as a faceless genocide, and as the individual murders of five million people. In Maus, we are reading an isolated account of one man's Holocaust survival, and yet this story was not an isolated event. The Holocaust did not just happen to Vladek, but to an entire race of people. Similar stories unfolded for millions across Europe, and Vladek's account is only one among many. In other words, Vladek's story is not unique, in much the same way that the facial characteristics of Spiegelman's Jews are not unique.

Also of note in this chapter is the fact that Vladek, the victim of perhaps the most horrendous application of mass racism in the history of civilization, is himself a racist, as evidenced by his reaction to picking up a black hitchhiker. His feelings towards African-Americans are the result of his experiences during his first few days in New York City; he felt that they were always trying to steal his valuables. From this, Vladek has judged an entire race of people in much the same way that the Jews were condemned during the Holocaust (albeit on a much smaller and less violent scale).