Monday, September 7, 2009

Depiction of Anti-Semitic Dehumanization (Maus)

(This was written for an English class. Despite a rather awkward writing style, I did not skew my opinion to appeal to the teacher.)

I decided to write this short paper on the Maus series of books by Art Spiegelman. Maus is the tale of Holocaust survivor Vladek Spiegelman coupled with that of a present-day depiction of Vladek and his son Art, the author of the Maus series, and the poor relationship they share together. The flashback story in Maus depicts the anti-Semitic Nazis and the more neutral Poles who to some extent end up corrupted by Nazi propaganda.

The dehumanization of Jews by the Nazis is blatant. In the beginning of the first Maus book, the Nazi Holocaust has only just begun. While their mass-murder has yet to take place, the Nazi hatred of the Jewish people is evident in their eviction of Jewish people from their property and forced relocation into ghettos. “This town is Jew Free” declares a sign posted at a town entrance, illustrating the way the Nazis dehumanize Jewish people. Though these acts pale in comparison to the horrors the Nazis would later unleash, it shows how even then Nazis treated Jewish people as less than human. Author Spiegelman further depicts this conflict through the depiction of Nazis as anthropomorphic cats and of Jews as anthropomorphic mice in a satire of Nazi division of humanity into specific ethnic groups that are considered by the Nazis to be separate species.

Throughout the course of the books the Polish people are shown evolving from a mostly decent group of people to a group of people that has mostly been corrupted by Nazi propaganda. Early in Maus I, Janina, the Polish governess hired by the Spiegelmans, expresses disdain for the Nazis and tells Anja Spiegelman that she thinks of them as part of her own family. Later on in the book, Vladek and Anja arrive at her house seeking refuge, only to have her reject them out of fear for herself, and she slams the door in their faces. This is an example of how environmental pressure can lead to moral corruption. Janina, who once considered the Jewish Spiegelman family to be part of her own family, was swayed by the influence of Nazi aggression and she came to view them as less important than herself. A far graver example is the Polish Kapo who Vladek somewhat befriended at Auschwitz. The Kapo sadistically tormented and killed the imprisoned Jews for idle play, showing how the Nazi propaganda dehumanized Jewish people in his mind. Even after Vladek befriended him and the Kapo gave him items superior to what he was initially given, the Kapo immediately thought in an anti-Semitic manner when Vladek asked for items he indented to give his friend, and the Kapo shouted, “You Jew! You’ve only been here a few days and you’re ready to do business?!”.

In conclusion, the Maus books effectively depict the anti-Semitic behavior of both Nazis and Poles. The Nazis engaged in dehumanizing practices in which Jews were treated as vermin to be expelled and destroyed. Even the relatively neutral Poles were generally corrupted by the Nazi propaganda, and would either refuse to help the Jews to protect themselves or were as bad as the Nazis themselves in being actively aggressive against the Jews. The Maus books stand as a warning of what horrific damage prejudice can wreak upon humanity. As author Art Spiegelman exclaims in Maus II, “Maybe EVERYONE has to feel guilty! EVERYONE! FOREVER!”.


Chris said...

thanks for the book recommendation...sounds very you feel that it was historically accurate?...i may link to your review in a future post to my holocaust blog at

Dragonclaws said...

My understanding is that, aside from some creative art in which characters are depicted as anthropomorphic animals, it is a real biographical account of a Holocaust survivor. I personally am not a big expert on the historical period, but I've heard a few accounts second-hand and seen a few movies, and it seems accurate. It's not an alternate history like Inglourious Basterds in any case.