Saturday, October 25, 2014

Question Commander Rotation 3 - Alexandre

The last section of the book Maus, by Art Spiegelman really wrapped up the story in a hurried way. In under 30 pages, Vladek and Anja are found by the Gestapo, get sent to Auschwitz, Anja dies, and Vladek burns all of Anja's diaries and stories out of depression. Personally, I would have preferred it if Maus had taken more time to finish up. I really felt that more detail was needed about the concentration camp and Anja's death.

Question 1: Why did the friends of many Jews not provide any help or assistance?

I think characters, such as Janina, did not help Vladek and Anja because they were scared of being found out by the Gestapo and killed. Though their actions were justified in a lot of different situations, I still think that they could have at least provided some food or material aid before pushing the frightened refugees along. What I do not find justifiable was how some friends ratted other Jews out to the Nazis. This act may be purely selfish, but many people would do the same.

Imagine you are a non-Jewish Pole living in Poland during 1943-1944. You have a family and live in a small house in a Polish town. Food is already very hard to come by and there are days when you can only scrape together one pitiful meal of scraps. One day, at about eleven o'clock at night, there is an urgent knock at your door. You creep up to the solid wooden barrier protecting you from the outside, feeling your way around in the dark. Expecting a Gestapo patrol, you press your eye to the peephole,  only to find a frightened couple cowering on the doorstep. You cautiously open the door and immediately recognize the man as an old and close friend, Vladek Spiegelman. Your surprise turns into pure fear for your family as you remember that they are Jewish. Urgently and fiercely you shoo them away and slam the door in front of their faces, hoping that nobody saw you communicating with Jewish refugees. You spend the rest of the night waiting for the dreadful knock on the door announcing the arrival of a Gestapo arrest party, but it never comes. The sun rises and you wipe your sweaty forehead with relief.

I am not saying that the person in the hypothetical situation was morally correct, or that they should have acted the way they did. I am only trying to show why many people turned away Jewish friends for fear of being arrested and killed.

"German photo of the interior of a 'residential' Jewish bunker."

Question 2: Why did Art Spiegelman choose to illustrate disguised Jews as he did?

I believe the author decided to portray disguised Jews on the run in Poland as mice wearing pig masks as a way to show how dire the situation really was. People really reach a new level of desperation when their only protection is a thin plastic mask held together by a flimsy piece of string. The only other option for a mask would be a cat mask, but since Nazis are portrayed as cats, many readers would be confused and the story wouldn't be as historically accurate. In reality, Jews on the run almost always disguised themselves as non-Jewish Poles for practical reasons. First of all, many were not fluent in German, and had either lived in Poland for a long time or had been born there. Not only would they physically look like regular Poles, but they would also speak Polish well enough to get by. 

Main gate at the Auschwitz concentration camp, December 1994

Question 3: Did Vladek Spiegelman suffer from psychological conditions after the war?

Many Holocaust survivors and WWII soldiers did suffer from disorders such as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) after the conflict ended. PTSD has been around for centuries. According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is when a "person has experienced, witnessed or been confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to physical integrity of oneself or others, and his/her response involved intense fear, helplessness or horror" (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

It is very likely that Vladek's hoarding of money and "do-it-yourself" personality may be a result of the difficulties he faced during WWII and possible PSTD. Many of Vladek's experiences illustrated in the book show him witnessing events that involved death and serious injury, threats to physical integrity and many more horrors. During these times, all he could do was sit and watch as the world he knew fell apart before him.The money hoarding could be his mind subconsciously telling him to save jewels and currency so that he will be prepared to sell them for bread, eggs and shelter during a war. His rough personality could also be his mind telling him that he must never sit and watch a problem evolve before him. Instead, it is telling him that he must fix it. It is irrelevant if the problem is a leaking gutter or a family member in danger.

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders 
DSM-IV-TR ( Fourth ed.). Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.

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