MAUS Summary and Analysis of Book I, 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.

The Noose Tightens

Art arrives again at his father's house in Queens, wearing a new coat. Vladek is upset: he had wanted his son to arrive earlier so that he could climb onto the roof and fix the drain pipe. Art has bought a new tape recorder for $75, and Vladek tells him that he could have found it elsewhere for much less. He continues his story.

It is 1940, and twelve people are living in Anja's father's house: Anja, Vladek, and Richieu; Anja's parents and one set of grandparents; Anja's sister, Tosha, her husband, Wolfe, and their daughter, Bibbi; and Lolek and Lonia, two children of Uncle Herman, who is in the United States. Food is strictly rationed by the Germans. Anja's parents had been donors to a Jewish charity organization, through which they are able to secure additional food. They buy the rest on the black market. All Jewish-owned businesses, including Vladek's factory, have been taken over by German overseers, and the family is living off of their savings. The Germans are looking for any excuse to arrest a Jew. Vladek meets an old customer of his, Mr. Ilzecki. He is still in business, making uniforms for soldiers. He tells Vladek to see him if he gets any cloth and hands him a note that will get him past the guards at his shop. Vladek visits shops that owed him money before the war and arranges to acquire some cloth, which he hides under his clothes and takes to Mr. Ilzecki in exchange for money.

Soon after, Vladek nearly escapes a German raid, in which they close off a street and take anyone without work papers. Anja's father bribes a friend of his who owns a tin shop to arrange for a priority work card for Vladek, so that he will be relatively safe during Nazi roundups. But things continue to get worse for the family. One day, Vladek is walking to see Mr. Ilzecki when he passes by a violent mob of German soldiers beating Jews to the ground with clubs and boarding them onto trains. He sees Mr. Ilzecki, who rushes him into his house, where they wait for hours for the trains to depart. The situation is so bad that Mr. Ilzecki is sending his son to hide with a Polish family until things get better. He suggests that Vladek do the same, but Anja refuses. Mr. Ilzecki's son will survive the war; Richieu will not.

In 1942, all Jews are forced to move into one quarter of town, and all twelve members of Vladek's family are assigned only two and a half small rooms. Vladek continues to conduct black market business until a friend of Anja's father is executed for selling goods without coupons and is left to hang for days as a warning to others. Vladek had often done business with the man, and he is terrified to go outside for a few days.

Art asks his father what Anja was doing during these times, and he responds that she was mostly doing housework, but that she recorded her whole story of the Holocaust in diaries after the war. Art tells his father that he wants to have those for his book.

Vladek begins dealing in gold and jewelry, which is easier to hide than clothing but still dangerous, and also does some business selling food. Business is still dangerous, though. On one occasion, Vladek is delivering a sack full of illegal sugar when he is stopped by a German patrol. Rather than run, he lies and tells them that he owns a grocery store and that he is carrying the sugar there, legally. He makes his delivery as planned, with the guards watching.

Soon, the family receives notice that all Jews over seventy years of age will be transferred to a new community specifically designed for the care of the elderly. Anja's grandparents are ninety. At the time, they have not yet heard of the concentration camps, but they do not want to be separated, so the family hides them behind a false wall in a storage shed. When police come looking for them, they are told that they left about a month ago without a word. But the police arrest Anja's father, and a few days later the family receives a note from him saying that if they don't give up the grandparents, the Germans will return to take more members of the family. The grandparents are taken away to Auschwitz.

A few months later, all Jews are ordered to report to the stadium for "registration," but people are suspicious of a Nazi plot. Vladek's father visits from a neighboring town. Vladek's mother has died of cancer, and he lives with his daughter, Fela, and her four small children. He asks his son for advice on what to do, but Vladek does not know. His cousin, Mordecai, will be at one of the registration tables, so perhaps he can help. Ultimately, almost everyone does show up at the stadium for fear of what would happen if they don't. There are perhaps 30,000 people at the stadium. Jews are told to line up and approach the tables to be registered. The elderly, families with many children, and people without work cards are sent to the left, while men of working age are being sent to the right. Vladek, Anja, and Richieu are spared. Vladek's father approaches Mordecai's table and is also sent to the right, but Fela and her four children are sent to the left. Realizing this, Vladek's father sneaks over to the left to be with his daughter, and none of them are heard from again. In all, maybe 10,000 people are sent to their deaths from the stadium.

Vladek has been on his stationary bike for some time, and he is feeling dizzy. He lies down to take a nap. Art walks into the kitchen, where Mala is smoking and playing solitaire. She tells him that her mother was also taken at the same stadium. Her mother was then taken to a complex of apartment houses that had been converted into makeshift prisons, to wait to be deported. The apartments had no food or toilets, and the cells were so crowded that people actually suffocated. Her mother survived this, and Mala's uncle, who was on the Jewish Committee, was able to hide her until all the trains had left. Both eventually died in Auschwitz.

Art walks into the living room with Mala to look for his mother's diary. His father never throws anything away, and the book shelves are crowded with old menus and useless junk. He cannot find the diaries. Art goes to leave, but Mala screams at him to put everything back the way he found it.


The Nazi noose is beginning to tighten around the Jews of Poland. Anti-Semitic violence is increasing, and the Nazis are beginning to send the Jews to the concentration camps. In this chapter, Vladek's father and Anja's grandparents are all sent to Auschwitz. At the same time, Vladek is beginning to show the resourcefulness and thrift that will help to see him safely through the war. While the rest of Anja's family is living off of their savings, Vladek immediately begins to generate income by selling cloth on the black market. He gives half of his money to Anja's family, but always keeps half for himself. He is also extremely adept at thinking on his feet, a trait that saves him on more than one occasion.

Countless times throughout the story, Vladek's resourcefulness and quick mind help him to survive and to provide for is wife. However, these traits are ultimately not enough to save his life. However intelligent and resourceful Vladek is, his survival ultimately depends a great deal on luck. This is especially true as the situation deteriorates even further, but instances of luck can also be found in these early chapters. An excellent example of this is when he is caught carrying the black market sugar. Though he thinks quickly and devises a lie that fools the German soldiers, his survival in that situation was by no means assured; it was dependent upon the mood and intelligence of the soldiers and the reaction of the person to whom he delivered the sugar. Vladek's intelligence improved the odds in his favor, but his survival was nevertheless dependent on a roll of the dice.

In the present narrative, we continue to see that the Holocaust has changed Vladek, as the traits that helped him to survive still figure prominently in his personality, to the exasperation of his family. In Chapter 3, for example, he is preoccupied with Art finishing everything on his plate. Another example occurs in Chapter 4, when Art leaves his father to look for Anja's diaries in the library. The bookshelves are packed with useless items that Vladek cannot seem to throw away. This compulsion to save developed during the Holocaust: food and other necessities were scarce, and survival often depended upon one's ability to hoard. Forty years later, Vladek continues to save every item that might be of some use, however remote the possibility.

Yet there are also differences between Vladek's past and present selves. Chief among these differences is his overall demeanor. In the past narrative, Vladek is loving and kind in his relationship with Anja, and calm and composed in his dealings with other people. But there is no love in his second marriage to Mala, and the older Vladek is quick to anger and feels constantly imposed upon by those around him. At the end of this chapter, we hear some of Mala's survival story. Given that they both survived Auschwitz, it is interesting to compare their personalities. Mala endured similar hardships to those that Vladek faced, yet she does not share the personality traits that Vladek seems to have acquired during the Holocaust. The same can be said for Anja, whose experience was nearly identical to her husband's, yet, like Mala, Anja did not leave the Holocaust filled with bitterness and afflicted with a compulsion to save even the most frivolous items. How can two people who both experienced the same horrors have been affected so differently?

This question is raised by Art a few times over the course of the story, but a satisfactory answer is never provided. One possible explanation is the fact that while Vladek, Anja and Mala's Holocaust experiences may have been similar, the three found different ways to cope. For example, Vladek's survival was contingent on very different factors than Anja's. Though there was - as with all Holocaust survivors - a certain amount of luck involved in Vladek's survival, he relied to a large extent on his intelligence, resourcefulness, and ability to think on his feet. By comparison, Anja's survival depended predominantly on the kindness and resourcefulness of others. Before Auschwitz, she was almost completely dependent upon Vladek's ability to find food and shelter, and when she was separated from her husband in the concentration camps, she survived largely due to the kindness of her supervisor, Mancie.