Memory of the Holocaust in Maus It is considered a sacred Jewish practice for kids to listen to and conserve their parents’ stories because it is a way to understand and relate to their history. But what happens when most of your family and relatives are suddenly marked for death? What happens when they are confronted with the horrific reality of the massive structured and organized extermination of countless numbers of Jews known as the Holocaust?
For the second generation survivors, how can one even find any means to relate to their parent’s miraculous experience of surviving in a place that could be called hell on earth? Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale confronts this issue, by revealing the psychological and physical damage which one Holocaust survivor, Vladek went through as he fought his way to live and to tell his story to his son. Vladek’s experience in Auschwitz renders him almost as a ghost, devoid of any emotion which puts a strain on his relationship with his son, Art, who in turn is living his parents’ shadows of their survival.
In Maus, the narrative of the tragedy and tribulation the Holocaust survivors experienced reveals how memories can have a negative and damaging impact on the present for the survivors and later generations, suggesting that it is best to avoid the recollection of the traumatic past. Vladek Spiegelman appears a brave, valiant figure in his account of the time he endured in Auschwitz. From his interpretation, the reader gets this perception of him as an indestructible hero, similar to the Superman.
We see him as a clever, bright, and determined man as he negotiates and barters his way in the camp to win a better chance of surviving. Although he constantly asserts it was due to good fortune, the majority of it came through his personal undertaking. However, in contrast to the fearless Vladek we are told about, the aged one who shares his memories is only a white ghost. The severe physical torture he has undergone has weakened his body and mind to the point where he becomes a neurotic who’s obsessed with the littlest details, such as counting pills and money.
When Art asks him if everything is okay as he’s sorting his nails, Vladek replies “Nu? with my life now, you know It can’t be everything okay. ” (I. 5. 98) All the massive strength he used to endure the pain has turned him into an paranoid and temperamental old man. His strange obsession to keep everything fine stems from the constant need to continue fighting for his life after the events of Auschwitz. It reveals how difficult it is for a survivor to let go and move on from the past since his obsessive sorting of his things in a way represents his sorting of his painful memories.
As Vladek narrates his story to Art, he always stressed the importance of surviving, such as the time where he persuades a depressed Anja to not commit suicide once she learns the death of their son, Richieu. Vladek tells her “No, darling! To die, it’s easy… But you have to struggle for life! ” (I. 5. 122). This hopeful young Vladek seems false since the reader and Art never get to know what his feelings were at that time. Vladek’s difficulty with communicating his emotions to his son demonstrate the damaging psychological effect that Auschwitz has left on him.
Therefore it is best to only tell the facts since doing so brings back all the sorrow and grief. Maus is told from two first person narrative and so as an audience, we are allowed to see both Vladek and Art’s personal viewpoint. Spiegleman does this for the audience to form a rather deep connection with both characters. Arts’ relationship with his father, Vladek is volatile and there is a rift between the Holocaust survivor and his son. Vladek’s narration of his story is not in chronological order at all because he jumps from place to place and even forgets to mention other possibilities with what might occur in Auschwitz.
Vladek’s memory fits in James Young definition of “deep” memory in “The Holocaust as Vicarious Past. ” In it, Young describes it “as that which remains essentially inarticulable and unrepresentable, that which continues to exist as unresolved trauma just beyond the reach of meaning” (667). It is memory that can not be recalled at will, and for some people such as Vladek who suffered a traumatic event like Auschwitz, can’t be integrated into a storyline. His recollection of his experience in the camps is unreliable at most times so Art has the responsibility of keeping it true according to historical sources.
The reader also sees Arts’ failed attempt to put it in a logical order in order to create some meaning out of it. Art’s recording of his father’s history and drawings of the events assists him in connecting to Vladek’s mind and behavior, but only to an extent. At the end of the story, Vladek’s fading from consciousness is a type of closure and is “deep” memory in the sense that it does not offer reconciliation of the narrative. Instead, the narrative turns into anti-redemptive and more wounds open up as after Art’s father mistakes him for his first dead son.
Art Spiegelman is the second generation of the Holocaust survivor and tries to represent this event by recording his father’s history. In Maus, he is seen as the observer and is sort of removed from his parent’s history. Since he is unable to access their experience or identify with them, he lives under their shadow and also his unborn brother, Richieu. Vladek transfers his survivor’s guilt onto his son and places desires on Art that he would never can achieve. Therefore Art will always feel remorse over his failure and a certain responsibility to please his dad.
As a result, Art resorts to his therapist, Pavel, who also is a survivor of the Holocaust, as a father figure. “Somehow my arguments with my father have lost a little of their urgency… and Auschwitz just seems too scary to think about… so I just lie there… No matter what I accomplish, it doesn’t seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz” (II. 2. 44). Art was the son who survived but because he wasn’t an actual witness, he can’t empathize with his parents’ scars.
All he can do is only acknowledge and attempt to understand it, but at times he also resents managing with their trauma. This is shown when he accuses his mother of her suicide and not letting him take the blame for their grief and heartache. Art can’t stand his dad’s overwhelming grief and in turn writes another comic, “Prisoner on Hell Planet” to express his frustration and shame. Vladek soon discovers this comic and all the emotions and grief comes back as he relives the traumatic memories of the Holocaust.
This demonstrates how influential the Holocaust survivor’s history is on the second generation, leading to a mixture of compassion and resentment regarding their relationship with the event. Art’s vexation over his inability to relate personally to his parent’s tragedy and his tenacious attempt to record his father’s past reveals the personal difficulties and stress one goes through to represent accurately the painful memories of the Holocaust. Continuing the conversation with the therapist, Pavel tells Art “Anyway, the victims who died can never tell their side of the story, so maybe it’s etter not to have any more stories. ” Art replies “Uh-huh. Samuel Beckett once said: “Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness” (II. 2. 45). This is an example of Peter Weiss’ My Place, where he discusses fearful anticipation of the attempt to form an authentic connection with the suffering the victims experienced during the Holocaust. Weiss talks about how being in Auschwitz and touching the rooms to try to reconnect his body to the space, including the concrete blocks, the Black Wall, the washroom, etc.
Weiss comments “Thoughts, none. No impressions, except that I am alone here, that it is cold… ” (22). Despite reading about this place in books before, there is a lack of knowledge of what actually occurred since being there almost destroys all his preconceived notion of the event. Weiss’ visit to the camps to try to place himself in the minds of both the victims and perpetrators only leaves him with an overwhelming feeling of survivor’s guilt. Everything he learned about this place, he can’t learn more even when he’s here.
The more he tries to confront the reality of Auschwitz by walking around from place to place, the more disconnected he feels. Likewise, the more Art tries to describe and narrate his dad’s story to express this catastrophic event, the less the words mean because it is insufficient to address it this way. Weiss learns this lesson when he mentions that “yet after a while everything is silent and unmoving even here. A living man has come and what happened here hides itself from him” (28). He realizes that “he is only standing in a vanished world.
Here there is nothing more for him to do… Then he knows that it has not ended yet” (28). There is a questioning on the entire relationship between father and son, revealing the complexities attached with the lessons one learns and tries to understand involving a survivor’s memory of the Holocaust. The kids of Holocaust survivors can’t truly relate to the horrors their parents were subjected to. The past can’t be retrieved because of Pierre Nora’s identification of the third type of memory in the modern era, “distance-memory,” which are distorted versions of the past memory.
It is “no longer a retrospective continuity but the illumination of discontinuity” (16). It is a past that that’s a world apart from us due to the “births” of new ideas and events rather than speaking of “origins. ” There’s a discontinuity with distance memory because what happened was lost in remnants of the person’s mind. It changes every time they try to recollect it. All one can do is be a witness to their testimony and the answer lies in the attempt to learn from it.