MAUS Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapter 4

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.


It is autumn in Rego Park. Clearly lonely and depressed, Vladek talks to his son about money, wondering why he has saved his whole life if all he has now is diabetes and an emergency oxygen bottle. He asks Art again to move in with him, and Art once again refuses, telling his father that he should find himself a live-in nurse. Ending this conversation, Vladek asks his son for help putting in the storm windows in his house, but Art delays, asking his father to tell him more about the Holocaust. He asks his father how Anja survived the end of the war. Though Vladek's memories of this are not so clear, he tells his son that she was taken from Auschwitz earlier than Vladek and marched through Gross-Rosen, all the while being kept safe by Mancie. All Vladek really knows is that she was eventually released close to Russia and then made her way back to Sosnowiec. After the war, he looked hard for Mancie to express his gratitude, but he never found her.

Vladek is taken on a train towards the Swiss border to be exchanged for prisoners of war, and is given a Red Cross package filled with food. It is a passenger train with seats, in contrast to the cattle cars of the last train in which he traveled. However, before the train reaches border they are made to get out and walk towards the frontier. On their way, they are stopped by their guards and made to stand in place for hours. Then the news arrives: the war is over. But they are not released. Instead, they are marched towards another train which they are told will take them to the next town, and to the Americans. The train is unguarded, but when it stops a half hour later, the Americans are nowhere to be found. Rather than wait, the former prisoners walk off in different directions. Soon, Vladek is stopped by a German army patrol and forced to walk towards a lake, where he encounters his old friend, Shivek, and several other Jews. They don't know what is going to happen to them. There are machine guns set up all around them, and they fearfully wait through the night, certain that they will be killed. But when they wake up the next morning, the Germans are all gone, having even left their machine guns.

Vladek and Shivek walk away, but they encounter yet another German patrol that forces them and perhaps fifty other Jews into a barn, where they wait through another anxious night. There is machine gun fire all around them, but the next morning they awake to find that once again, their guards have left in the middle of the night. Vladek and Shivek walk out to find somewhere safe to hide and encounter a gruff German civilian who tells them that they can hide in a hole behind his house. They lie there for a day, until a Nazi officer drives by and asks the civilian for directions. He provides them, but then also informs the officer that Vladek and Shivek are hiding out back. The officers, in too much of a hurry to bother, continue on their course, but Vladek wisely decides that it is best to leave.

They come upon an empty house and climb up into a hay loft in the barn. From the loft, they see that many of the town's citizens are running away, and they suddenly hear a loud explosion as the Nazis blow up a bridge to aid their escape. In the house, they find milk, chickens, and clothes. They stay there for days, dressed as civilians and killing a chicken each day for food. Eventually the Americans arrive, and they are safe. The house will be part of the American's base camp, but Vladek and Shivek are allowed to stay if they keep the place clean and make the soldiers' beds. The Americans are friendly: they call Vladek "Willie" and give him and Shivek gifts of food. One day the former owner of the house returns and accuses them of stealing her husband's clothes. Vladek and Shivek are made to return the clothes that they are wearing, but they do not worry, since they have filled three suitcases with more.

Back at Rego Park, Vladek shows his son a box of old photographs that he obtained from Richieu's governess after the war. They sit on the couch and Vladek tells his son about the people in the photos. On Vladek's side of the family, out of his mother, father, and six siblings, only his brother, Pinek, survived. Lolek, Vladek's nephew who was with him the Srodula ghetto, survived Auschwitz and later became an engineer and college professor.

Just then, Vladek has a pain in his chest. He takes a nitrostat pill, and the pain goes away. He is tired, though, and lies down on the couch to rest, leaving the storm windows for another time.


Throughout Maus, Art has been feeling guilty at what he perceives to be his neglect of his father. Chapter 4 opens and closes with scenes that would appear to support this perception. Vladek's health is clearly deteriorating, and when Art first arrives, Vladek, concerned about how he will get by with Mala gone, asks his son to move in with him for awhile. Art almost shouts his negative response to his father, a scene that has been repeated in other chapters (e.g. Book II, Chapter 3). Living in such close quarters with his father is clearly not an option for Art, and he would prefer that his father spend the money to hire a nurse to look after him. Though he has his reasons, if faced with a choice Art would rather inconvenience his father than inconvenience himself.

The same can be said regarding the storm window insulation, for which Vladek requires the help of his son. Rather than help his father, Art instead asks Vladek to tell him more about his and his wife's experiences during the Holocaust. After speaking for some time, Vladek experiences severe chest pains and must stop his story and rest. The storm windows must wait for another day, but Art refuses to return until the following week, preferring for his father to "pay a bit more for heat for a few days longer" than for himself to be inconvenienced. Similarly, though Vladek often wishes to discuss his relationship with Mala and his deteriorating health - issues critical to him in the present - his son often forces the conversation back to the past - issues that are more critical to the completion of Art's book. Sensing this, Art lamely apologizes to his father at the end of the chapter for asking him to "talk so much." He does not, however, apologize for his other displays of selfish behavior.

When Art first asks his father to continue his Holocaust story in this chapter, he urges Vladek to "tell me more about Anja," referring to his mother's experiences in surviving Auschwitz. Vladek, however, interprets the question differently: "What is there to tell?" he asks. "Everywhere I look I'm seeing Anja." Here we can see that the Holocaust is not the only event in Vladek's life that has deeply affected him. The death of his wife also continues to affect Vladek on a daily basis. This has been seen in other sections of the book as well; for example, during Vladek and Art's walk to the bank Vladek breaks down in tears over the memory of his wife. Though it would be unfair to say that Vladek's personality has been entirely shaped by these two events, they have been by far the dominant forces in his life. The extent to which each of these forces has shaped Vladek's personality is an interesting and complex question that is not satisfactorily answered in the text. Indeed, these two forces are in many ways related, and a clear answer to the question may not even be possible. Nevertheless, it is useful to discuss this issue in a little more detail.

Anja had a long history of depression. After Richieu was born, she sunk into a deep depression and was forced to leave home for three months to recover in a sanitarium. She also expressed despair after her nephew, Lolek, decided that he was tired of hiding and allowed himself to be taken to Auschwitz. Her despair focused on the fact that much of her family had been taken from her in one way or another by the Holocaust. She repeatedly told Vladek that she no longer wanted to live. A third instance of Anja's depression occurred at Birkenau, where she told her husband that she often thought about killing herself by running into the electric fence. Viewed in this light, Anja's eventual suicide should have come as no surprise.

In all of the above cases, however, Vladek was there for Anja to give her strength and see her through these difficult times, each time drawing her away from her self-destructive thoughts. After the Holocaust, however, Vladek changed: he no longer displayed the loving warmth that characterized his pre-Holocaust relationship with Anja. Perhaps a variable that distinguishes Anja's previous suicidal thoughts from her actual suicide was the support of her husband. With much of her family dead, she was left with only Vladek and Art for support. As seen in the "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" comic in Chapter 5 of Book I, Art was not much support at all. Perhaps this colder Vladek was equally unsupportive of his wife. If this was the case, then it is likely that Anja's suicide left Vladek with a considerable amount of guilt, in addition to the guilt that he already feels for having survived the Holocaust while so many other people died.

Chapter 4 closes with a powerful scene in which Vladek shows his son photos of his and Anja's family. Most of their relatives died in the Holocaust. Out of Vladek's six siblings, only his brother Pinek survived, and Vladek visibly sags under the weight of so much death. The Holocaust destroyed nearly his entire family, and all that he has left are these photos. Pinek survived by deserting the Polish army and taking shelter with a family of peasant Jews. He had been traveling with their brother, Leon, but Leon eventually died of typhus. That Leon died from the same disease that Vladek contracted at Dachau once again underscores the critical role that luck played in determining who survived and who died during the Holocaust. Both brothers caught typhus; only one survived.