Reading: Art Spiegelman, The Complete Maus (first published [Maus I] in 1980.
After you’ve completed Maus, I would ask you to do two things:
- Listen to this brief interview with Vladka Meed, a Jewish woman who lost her entire family after they were deported from the Warsaw ghetto (11:18). Vladka was the person with whom I first went to Poland in July 2000 and who convinced me to bring BLS students to Poland annually thereafter.
(If you find Vladka’s interview of particular interest, you can listen to her full interview with the Shoah Foundation [run time: 2:19:46]. In my opinion, she is one of the most fascinating and, regrettably, not well-known women in history. Vladka died in 2012 and her funeral was one of the most moving events I’ve ever attended. It was beyond a privilege to have known her.)
(2) And then listen to ONE of the following:
- Art Spiegelman on Maus and Meta Maus (7:42)
- Art Spiegelman, an interview about Maus, in 1991 (27:10). Begin at :46.
- An excerpt of an interview with Vladek Spiegelman, introduced by Art Spiegelman (3:10)
Several years ago, a former student, when he took Facing History here at BLS, asked a question that has always haunted me. It’s not an unusual question but I realized when he asked this that somehow I must have failed to make sure that we addressed the topic adequately in class. (And as a result, I bring it up often now.). It’s been some time now but essentially he asked: “Why didn’t they [and the “they” he is referring to could be Jews or Roma/Sinti or the disabled or any targeted victim of the Nazis] fight back? Why didn’t they resist? If they knew they were going to be killed, why didn’t they do something?”
As you know, resistance takes many forms. The Nazis wanted their victims dead. If you think about it, to survive was resistance. Resistance, to be sure, can mean fighting back in very concrete ways but resistance can also be defeating or delaying a goal. I passionately believe that this is true.
It’s tough to resist all by yourself. Sometimes you can do it in numbers, sometimes simply as a pair. Clearly Anja and Vladek, through their enormous efforts and courage—and their ultimate survival—resisted the Nazi imperative that they were to (eventually) perish. We have seen/heard other survivors who have done the same, whether they are the survivors, the clip from resistance fighter Vladka Meed that you are looking at as part of this assignment, possibly the Bielski brothers who are the focus of the film Defiance.
Sometimes you need help to survive. There are significant examples (though clearly not enough, alas) of non-targeted people helping to save or assist targeted people. This help was often not without limits, however. Certainly we see this in Maus and no doubt you heard stories related to this from other survivors whose accounts you have read/heard/seen.
My feeling is that we can’t talk about the Holocaust without significantly acknowledging the extraordinary courage (and luck) in survivors being able to resist and or to find ways to be assisted in resistance through rescue. Vladka Meed, the survivor who took me for my first trip to Poland, made me promise that I would always tell students about resistance. It’s for this reason I am asking you to reflect on this with me.
I would like you to write your most thoughtful post of the year (in a year of already thoughtful posts) on the following:
- How did Anja and Vladek (in Maus) resist? How were they aided in resistance?
- What’s your view of their resistance? Do you think they made good decisions? Ethical decisions? What’s the role of “right and wrong” in their decision making?
- How did other survivors you have encountered resist the Nazi onslaught and the challenges they faced? And did they receive help from others as well?
I would like you to write a fairly detailed post, consisting of several paragraphs, that incorporates what you have learned about these topics from (a) the survivors in Maus, (b) Vladka Meed, and (c) the survivors you have seen in films you have perhaps watched. In other words, focus (in some detail) on at least a few different voices. And take advantage of and use the recording of Art Spiegelman (and Vladek, if you listened to that) as you write your post.
Finally, really think about this issue before you write your post. It’s an important and, I think, very meaningful post. It gets to the heart of what human beings are willing/able to do in order to survive. Please do justice to those courageous voices that you’ve heard in writing the most thoughtful post you can.