posts 1 - 15 of 16
Boston, US
Posts: 288

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:

  1. 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:

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.
Boston, Massachusetts , US
Posts: 17

Reflections on Maus

Anja and Vladek were extremely brave. They survived Hell. They survived in hiding and survived Auschwitz, and survived the death marches. It is obvious to see how Vladek resisted the Nazis. He fought them as a polish soldier and then repeatedly broke their laws to help his family and himself. He created hiding spaces to try and protect the people closest to him. He even gave up his child to try and save his life. The biggest thing that both he and Anja did to resist the Nazis however was surviving. The Nazis and Hitler had the ultimate goal of killing all of the Jews. They prevented that from happening. During times when they felt like they wouldn’t be able to go on any farther, they managed to survive because of each other. There were so many people that helped them. The two Polish women that hid them. The various Jews in positions of power that aided them in getting papers or prevented them from going to Auschwitz until there was nothing that could be done to help them. Then of course there was Manice. Because of her bravery, Anja was able to survive.

I don’t know how to judge the decisions that they made. I have never been in a situation remotely like theirs and I don’t know how I would act. Anja and Vladek did make good decisions. They tried to make sure that they did not hurt any people. He was worried about what he was doing to the Polish people that were sheltering him. That makes me think that they made ethical decisions. He was worried about how he would affect those that aided him. I think that the rules that people live by in their normal lives are inconsequential during an event such as this. The lines between right and wrong are blurred. You shouldn’t lie or put people in danger by being around them but when you are in danger is it still wrong. Vladek just wanted to survive.

Every survivor has a unique story. They all persevered and relyed on their strength or the strength of others. One of these survivors was a Jehovas Witness. Her father was killed because he refused to renounce his religion and she was forced to go into the Hitler Youth. She ressented the Nazis and wanted to hurt them in any way that she could. One of these was whenever it was her turn to hang the flag she would always drop it. Another time she put a pin on the teachers chair. Although it was a slightly different situation she still resisted using the powers that she had. There was also a woman named Gertrude Boyarski. She was a Jewish partisan fighter. Her entire family was murdered by Nazis and Nazi sympathisers in Poland. She fought against the Nazis for three years. Both of these survivors had help from their families and the people around them. Some survivors recieved more help than others but all of them were forced to go through horrible conditions and they had to rely on themselves most of all.

Boston, MA
Posts: 27
  • I think Anja and Vladek resisted in Maus through simply staying alive. Similar to what Vladka Meed said in her interview, the one of the strongest parts of resistance for Jewish people during the Holocuast was simply staying alive. I also think Anja resisted through writing down her story as it happened, and telling her truth, even though her diaries were lost to time. They were aided in their resistance by a lot of people, but one person who really stood out to me was Mancie, the Hungarian woman who Anja became friends with in Auschwitz. Even though a lot of other people did help them, like the German woman and her son, they did it for something in exchange, like money or jewelry, whereas Mancie aided them in their resistance out of her own kindness.
  • Personally, I think their resistance was good, and though it may not be as concrete as purchasing guns, it was still incredibly powerful. I also think they made good decisions for the most part, and relatively ethical decisions, but I still think that question is hard to answer since lines of ethics and right and wrong blur when your survival is at risk. Although they did consider “right and wrong” in their decisions, ultimately they did what they had to survive and to protect the lives of the people close to them. I don’t think I’m at a place to pass judgment on what they did to survive, or what any other survivors did to survive, simply because I was not there.
  • All survivors resisted the Nazis by simply surviving, but some other survivors did other things than that, like Vladka Meed, who used her “Polish features” to make connections outside the ghetto and help others. Art Spiegelman also includes a scene with his psychiatrist where the psychiatrist, a Holocaust survivor himself, tells Art he is the real survivor, since he never had to experience the Holocaust. If one views Art as a survivor, like his psychiatrist, then Art makes a powerful point of resistance through bearing witness to his father’s story and spreading it through comics. He also resists powerfully through twisting Nazi rhetoric to exemplify just how inhumane and twisted it is to reduce ethnicities and people to a stereotype of animals, like the French as frogs and Jewish people as mice. In his interview on Maus and MetaMaus, he highlights that he specifically portrayed Jewish people as mice and Germans as cats because it is offensive Nazi rhetoric, and he wants to emphasize just how dehumanizing the Nazis are. Another survivor who did recieve help from others was Rena, who we watched the testimony of and were able to send questions to, as someone who was put on Schindler’s list. Oskar Schindler saved Rena, and thousands of other Jewish people, through his lists. All these survivors of the Holocaust resisted powerfully, simply through surviving in the face of oppression, genocide, and countless other things.
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 21

“Daily struggle for life as a human being was resistant.” During a 1992 interview, Vladka Meed emphasized how surviving the Holocaust was an act of resistance in itself. So, Anja and Vladek in Maus resisted by surviving. They came out of Auschwitz alive, which is absolutely incredible. It was most definitely not easy to stay alive, as the Nazis wanted all of the Jewish population to eventually die. In order to survive, there were also many individual acts of resistance that took place. Anja wrote down her experiences and stories, which would have led to her death if she was discovered doing this. Vladek fought Nazis, which is a very visible act of resistance. They were aided by many along the way such as the Jews that stopped them from being sent to Auschwitz until there was no other possibility. Miloch is an example of someone that helped them hide. People sometimes acted to help out of pure intentions and selflessness and some helped if there was something in it for them.

Anja and Vladek were forced to make choices that they did not want to make in order to survive. Vladek, for example, has to kill a soldier in order to prevent the soldier from killing him. Although killing someone may not be considered ethical, in the context of the situation that they were in, it is not unreasonable at all. I think that the question of how I feel about their resistance, or the resistance of any Holocaust survivors for that matter, is irrelevant. Whether decisions were right or wrong is not the place of anyone who did not live through that experience to say. This was a topic discussed in the conversation about Schindler’s List. Where should the line be drawn when it comes to protecting your own life? There is not a right answer to that and when in situations where it truly comes down to life or death, people act out of desperation. I don’t think it’s totally fair to judge anyone on that.

Just like Anja and Vladek, the survivors I encountered resisted the Nazi onslaught by simply surviving. Rena, for example, survived because she managed to get onto Schindler’s list. Today, so many years later, she continues to share her story with anyone she can and that is resistance. Vladka Meed is a survivor and she very clearly resisted by using her Polish features in order to live outside of the wall that enclosed the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. She smuggled weapons, dynamite, etc. to the Jews that were ultimately used in an uprising against the Nazis. She even smuggled children out, where they were taken in by Christian families. She then helped Jews in hiding after the uprising.

Holocaust survivors are so important to listen to because their life is resistance. Maus is a book that everyone should read and listing to testimonies of survivors is a treasure that we should take advantage of while survivors are still living.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 22

Resistance through Survival

As activist Audre Lorde once wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Vladka Meed echoes this sentiment as she describes the Warsaw Ghetto, saying that the “life of the ghetto was an act of resistance.” In the world of Nazi-occupied Poland and even more so in Auschwitz and Dachau, Vladek and Anya’s struggles for self-preservation were in themselves revolutionary. Throughout Maus, Vladek tells of his actions to try to save him and others he knew: from hiding his son Richieu in Zawiercie or building a bunker for his and Anja’s family in Srodula, to disguising himself as a Polish gentile and attempting to escape to Hungary, to sneaking food to Anja within Auschwitz, Vladek consistently struggles to help himself and his own. Resistance need not be violent to be worthy; in fact, as Spiegelman depicts in an exchange with Vladek where he poses this question, some did resist, which might result in hundreds more Jews being killed in response. Should only this type of resistance, which caused more suffering for countless others, be praised? It would be essentially impossible for the Jews of Auschwitz, starving and utterly destitute, to overcome the guards of Auschwitz and liberate themselves through violence. Something that fascinated me from the book was the question that Art’s psychiatrist, Pavel, posed to him: “Then you think it’s admirable to survive. Does that mean it’s NOT admirable to NOT survive?”

This is what renders problematic to me any sort of analysis that delves too deeply into the question of resistance. Vladek encountered many others who made their own attempts to resist or to escape (for example, the group who tried to bribe the SS guards near the end of the war to let them escape the march) and were killed. Often, he himself escaped death only out of pure luck. To lionize survivors as uniquely capable people who through their quick thinking, cleverness, and courage managed to stay alive is implicitly to suggest that those who died did so out of some lack in personal character. Surely, those who managed to survive the horror of the camps and the Holocaust were courageous and quick-thinking. However, the many who died and who cannot tell their own stories were equally so.

I don’t believe, as Pavel contemplates, that “it’s better not to have any more stories.” Art Spiegelman, having created Maus, clearly doesn’t agree entirely, but I think he expresses his own doubts and insecurities about his work through this scene (as in several others). Nonetheless, these stories must be told in a way (as, I personally believe, Maus is) that makes them conscious of themselves and acknowledges the powerful effect that such stories can have. In a world of neoliberal, capitalist ideas about individual “hard work” and success, painting Holocaust survivors as success stories of resistance not only trivializes their own experience, but also that of those millions who cannot tell their own stories.

As humans, we have an innate desire to evaluate the individual’s choices, actions, and morals. Art (like Maus) is inherently an individual exercise: no good story can have six million characters, as we saw in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, wherein he focused on a group of several Jews whom the audience sees recur throughout the film. It’s simply impossible for the human mind to comprehend numbers of such magnitude; there’s no way that we can understand the story told in its real numbers. However, while art may be an individual process, history generally is not. The nineteenth-century Great Man theories of history have been academically discarded, but similar concepts still hold our imagination. For example, viewing Hitler as the sole evil that caused the Nazi terror absolves the many others who preceded, accompanied, and followed him.

This same phenomenon is what I believe compels us to focus on individual ethics. In many cases, Anja and Vladek’s resistance was at the price of others’ suffering and lives. For example, when Vladek bribes the tinman Ilya in Auschwitz to allow him to work, the more qualified tin workers are sent off the job to other work (presumably, to be killed later). The Polish Kapo gives Vladek special treatment because of his English skills (meaning that others are abused and killed in his place). Are these any different from his nephew Abraham sending him and Anja a false letter when held at gunpoint? Facing the immediate risk of death, most people acknowledge that this is a non-choice, that it is not right to say Abraham should have chosen death rather than risk harm to Vladek and Anja. However, when the risk becomes any less remote, it can be easier to fall into the pit in making these judgments. However, any choices made in this situation (at least, by the Jews and other persecuted people) are equally non-choices. Deciding whether or not some decision or another was an unethical one is easy to do from today’s world, but entirely disregards the situation of a person at the ultimate level of desperation. Assigning blame, to, say, the Jewish police who collaborated with the Nazis and exacted much cruelty while they had power might be appropriate, but it also falls in with the entire Nazi goal of using them. Let it not be forgotten that these Jewish police were eventually also murdered or deported to the camps. Dividing blame among the persecuted only serves to acquit the oppressor. The reason that Vladek, or Abraham, or Anja, or any of the other Jews in Maus had to make non-choices like those was because they were forced into the situation. The illusion of choice is a tool used to divert culpability, and we must be more discerning than to fall for this ruse.

The choices that are not non-choices are those in which people go out of their way, at immense risk to their own personal safety, to help others, in large and small ways. Vladek, as he secured a shoe and a belt for Mandelbaum in Auschwitz, and even the Polish women who, though begrudgingly, gave him a place to live and hide, were not forced to make this decision. Many people who helped Vladek and Anja throughout the story did so only with payment, but judging them for this again falls into the trap. An overemphasis on individual moral purity (the idea that doing it for payment negates the good value of the act), no matter what the actual consequences are in the real world, only serves to discourage actual, physical action. Kindness, especially in such trying situations, should always be praised, and while it is important to be wary of presenting “savior narratives” (as some would consider Schindler’s List) these people were undoubtedly a force for good and deserve some acknowledgement.

Resistance manifested itself through many ways, like the illegal libraries and schools that Vladka Meed described, the escape attempts made by Vladek and others in Maus, and the very act of survival that the unnamed and often lost-to-history people did every day. It is foolish to ask "Why didn't the Jews resist?" when the very act of their existence was resistance. Maus, Vladka's story, Schindler's List, and the other stories we have encountered so far each tell a valuable thing about this resistance, and they show us the immense impact that one who chooses to help others can have.
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 22

The more I read and listen to things about the Holocaust, the more I understand the depth of just how much it effected people then and still does today. Maus was able to give me an even further look into the atrocities of the Holocaust, and it is through this book that I was able to see just how things in camps operated and how many Jews put everything into attempts at escaping. I (as someone who generally doesn’t read something unless it’s required) sat down and read the entire book in one day, I didn’t want to put it down. Spiegelman was able to capture and show his father’s story extremely well, and I’m sure everyone who reads the book will be able to see the many different aspects that the Jews had to go through, not only the experiences in the camps but the attempts at keeping family together, trying to find places to hide, finding people they believed they were able to help and trust, and just all the ways they resisted.

Anja and Vladek resisted by hiding away as much as they could and by staying alive. They hid in multple different places with multiple different people, sometimes in cold barns, sometimes in rat infested cellars, and they did this knowing if the Nazis were able to find out they would probably hit the end of the line. They hid during the liquidation of the ghetto, they hustled their way into having slightly better circumstances than others, they survived. This sheer willpower and being able to survive something that was intended to kill all Jewish people shows just how they were able to resist, and this goes for all Jewish people, whether they survived or not. Going through an experience that horrific shows just how brave they are and it’s truly something that I believe many don’t take their time to sit down and try and understand it the way it should be. The Spiegelmans were aided by many, whether they be relatives or friends, or strangers they met in towns, Anja and Vladek managed to find at least one person that would help them wherever they were.

Their resistance was brave to say the least, I don’t think many of us today would be able to handle what they went through. If I had to, I would say that their decisions were ethical. They tried not to scapegoat others while also trying to make sure that they would be safe, and considering just what they went through I don’t know if ethics matters as much in this scenario as much as justification when their lives were at stake. The decisions they made were to save themselves (which is extremely justifiable), and many people tried their best to keep themselves safe and limit the amount of others who got hurt.

Whether it be through protection of others like how Vladek and Anja were helped or how Schindler saved hundreds, or through persistence and fate of surviving the horrid concentration and death camps, the simple act of surviving serves as resistance. The disobeying of laws and deliberately hiding Jewish people in their homes served as potential danger both for those hiding others and the ones being hidden. It was incredibly brave on both parts for doing this, even with the constant fear and threat surrounding them. Not only was hiding people and protecting them from harm resistance, but so was the simple aspect of living while in the Jewish ghettos. Vladka Meed mentions how “Life of the ghetto was an act of resistance. It was at this time, a resistance for life.” She also says that “The philosophy in ghetto at that time was to survive and to live true, and in my estimation, this was resistance.” She's able to put into words exactly what many of us are able to understand and admire deeply.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 22
  • Anja and Vladek resisted by staying alive and remaining hopeful. They actively resisted the Nazis, and the cats, and attempted to systematically destroy them and kill them so that their culture and their place in Europe would be destroyed. Every day that they will able to survive and keep on living, they actively fought back and resisted the Nazi’s laws and programs to eradicate them. They were aided by a number of different people, most notable polish allies and other Jewish survivors. During the story, a number of Polish civilians help Anja and Vladek by hiding them in their houses and helping them get into touch with other groups that could help them, such as smugglers. In addition, they received aid from a number of Jewish survivors, including Vladek’s cousin, who was able to bribe the guards and get Vladek on a good work assignment. I personally believed they made the decisions that they believed would give them and their family the best chance of surviving the holocaust. Every decision they made was to ensure that they, their son, and the remaining family that they had would be able to survive the war alive. In order to ensure that they would survive and save their family, they had to make decisions that may be considered morally wrong and bad, but at the time were the best opportunity for them. For example, the decision to send Richieu away at the time was the best decision that they could possibly make, even though they partly knew that they may never be able to see their son again. For them, the bad decision to separate their son from their family unit was worth the chance to save their son and protect him from the horrors of the holocaust. For the right and wrong in their decision-making is nonexistent. While they can try to live their lives as best as they possibly can, they only make the decisions that are the best chance they have at living. Many other survivors that we have encountered have resisted the Nazi onslaught in similar ways that Anja and Vladek survived. The other survivors that we have heard in class and read about during our homework readings have resisted the Nazis by simply surviving and continuing their lives. Their will and hope for salvation and survival allowed them to continue to survive and actively went against the Nazi attempts to wipe them out. They also found help in ordinary citizens across the country. While many across the country worked to help the Nazis and work with them for their own personal gain, some worked to save their fellow countrymen. The Schindler Jews received help from Schindler, who protected them and spent his fortune to transport them to safety. Survivors across Europe actively resisted the Nazi onslaught by surviving and receiving help from others across the world.
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 25

The story of Maus is unlike any other media about the holocaust that we have seen, not just because of its art form as a grpahic novel, but also that it depicts the long terms affects that Auschwitz had on survivors. Artie and Vladek’s relationship is rocky, not unlike many other father-son pairs, however, Vladek's life story, which is so carefully told through his perspective, consumes the remainder of both him and his family’s life.

The beginning of the book, when Art sits down with his father, was oddly familiar and relatable. Vladek’s constant berating and worrying does seem too far off from my own Jewish grandparents and parents. The novel, because of this, seems so much more human and real than just reading historical accounts. Art talks about in his interview trying to configure his fathers random dates and ideas into topic sentences and images, and you can really tell, reading the text, how much effort he put into this. The characters are, of course, mice, but the expressions and bodies that Spiegelmann is able to capture still feel realistic.

Vladek and Anja certainly fought back. Otherwise, Vladek would not be alive, telling his haphazard story to his son today. Even from the beginning (ie the Ghetto), many survivors recall their push for life, which hopefully, after the war ended, would mean freedom. Vladka gave a great example of this when she said, ““Life in the ghetto was an active resistance.” I don't really think she meant that just by existing in the Ghetto, Jews were resisting, at least not in the early stages of the war. What she means instead is that to truly live in the Ghetto, to get more food, and clothes, and shelter, and care for children, and try to find more room, was to resist. Nazis wanted the Jews out of sight, powerless, and later, dead. Trading goods, like when Vladek sells his furniture and works selling clothing on the black market, was resistance.

Later in the book and in the war, living itself was resistance. In terms of my own views, much like my post about Schindler’s List, anything is ethical for saving one’s life, unless it puts others in danger. For example, Vladek attempting to leave in a smuggler’s train car is ethical, since the train car driver consented to taking him. He may be put in harm's way if he is found attempting to help Jew’s but he knows the risks. Obviously, in the end, these apparent risks outweigh his benefit, and he betrays the innocent family. Death and power, as we see time and time again in this class, control people’s minds in unpredictable ways, and Maus is a great representation of this.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 25

Anja and Vladek resisted in many ways throughout Maus, most notably in their savvy decisions about who to trust, how to “blend in” as Poles (putting their pig masks on), and when to make sacrifices. However, at the end of the day by simply surviving the Holocaust Anja and Vladek were living monuments to resistance. Their survival was proof of their resilience and bravery and proved that the Germans’ evilness was no match for the strength and courage of their people. Anja’s story arc in particular was an incredible one to follow because she struggled with severe mental health issues even before the brunt of the Holocaust began, yet she still persevered. They were not alone in their resistance, however, and found help and support among friends, family, and the kindness of strangers willing to hide them. Hiding in plain sight as Poles, sending their son away in hopes of preserving his life if not theirs, finding clever ways to be resourceful, leveraging their connections, finding food, barter for what they needed, and using their skills (like boot mending and tin making) all were acts of resistance against the Nazi’s campaign to rob them of their dignity and humanity before ultimately their lives. They are aided by Vladek’s cousin Haskel to escape while in the detention camps, they then find refuge with Mrs. Kowka then later Mrs. Motonowa, Polish women who allow them to stay with them. They find friends along their way in the camps and call on family members to their aid, and most likely would never had made it if they had not done so.

I thought that their resistance was extremely brave and what was most incredible to me was how Anja and Vladek made such an effort to keep in contact even when they were separated. Vladek, though we see him as a cranky old man who seems dissatisfied with his life in the parts of the book where he is talking to Art, was a fiercely loyal and devoted husband whose love for his wife never wavered through the entirety of what they went through. Even when they were separated he did absolutely everything in his power to still take care of his wife as a loving husband even when death and violence enveloped their lives. He bribed people with material goods and food to be able to stay in contact with her, and made sure someone he trusted was taking care of her (like the Hungarian woman, Mancie, while they were in Birkenau).

I think judging whether or not they made good decisions is an assessment that can only be made in hindsight when we look at the results of their decisions, which is precisely why they were so difficult to make at the time: there was really no way to know what any one difficult decision would lead to. For example, one “bad” decision they made was not sending Richieu off early enough, and Tosha winds up poisoning the children and herself to prevent being taken by the Nazis (which I thought was another brave and difficult act of resistance as well).I think they always tried to make ethical decisions but in life or death situations that is very hard to do. Knowing what is truly right is often impossible to know and balancing ethics and self-preservation can be a horrible task. Another “bad” choice that they made was when a Jewish man came to their hiding place asking for food for his family (Vladek remained skeptical), and they eventually obliged only to be ratted out to the Gestapo. This is again a question of deciding between morals and self-preservation: if they hadn’t let the man in, he may have starved, but still potentially gone to the police, but by letting him in they unknowingly sacrificed their safety. Yet another “bad” choice was trusting the smugglers to get them and their family into Hungary and then being betrayed. Deciding whether or not to trust people, whether or not to share hiding spaces, food, and other resources because one wrong decision could have resulted in their death. “Right” and “wrong” tend to lose a lot of their meaning in such terrifying and desperate times as described in Maus, so decisions were made on a case by case basis in conjunction with their ever-changing situation. But again, these so called “bad” decisions were not made thoughtlessly or with malice intent, but rather the realities of the situation made it extremely difficult to determine what the right course of action was at any given time. At the end of the day, their “good” decisions must have outweighed their “bad” ones because they made it through a mass extermination with their lives.

I think one overarching theme in the stories of survivors that I have heard is that they did not, and likely could not have, done it alone. There are often friendships forged in the most hopeless circumstances and support from others was often what compelled people to keep going. In Maus, one such friendship was when Vladek met the Frenchman (the frog) with whom he shared a friendship and was able to get good food. Vladek was also able to work for the Pole who oversaw their group and work indoors, eat good food, and have a good job. Anja was comforted by Mancie and hearing news from her husband was what kept her going, and winning the favor of her overseer with repaired books made her work life infinitely less strenuous. Vladka gives her account of the German takeover and life in the ghetto and I found it really interesting how she not only said life in the ghetto was an act of resistance for life, but for a “dignified way of life”. One uncommonly cruel aspect of the Nazis’ campaign was not only to rid Europe of its Jewish population, but to steal their humanity and dignity first. Vladka’s account proves that people are willing to sacrifice their lives to protect their dignity and humanity and refusing to let the Nazis diminish them down to nothing. As we saw in Schindler’s list, survivors often got through based on luck, as those who happened to know and work for Schindler were known by a man who ultimately saved them from a horrific fate. But I think even more important than help from others, the bonds the victims of the Holocaust formed with one another, fighting for their lives alongside one another, gave them a reason to keep going, and their unbreakable spirit, regardless of whether or not they did ultimately survive, was a courageous act of resistance against people hell-bent on destroying their bodies, minds, and souls in and of itself.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 22

In the context of the modern day, resistance is often regarded by the public as a means of harnessing protest and activism to incite change among systems of oppression or other various crises. However, in the time of Nazi Germany, where innocent people were routinely shot in the streets, what constituted as resistance, and how was it displayed among those who suffered at the hands of Hitler and the SS? Vladek Meed, another survivor of the Holocaust, said it best in an interview from 1992, saying, ““Daily struggle for life…was resistance.” This rings especially true in Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus. Anja and Vladek’s resistance rested in their perseverance and ultimate survival through the ghetto and the camps. Each day that the pair survived, they were resisting- not in a sense where they were any more intelligent, clever, or deserving of life than anyone else- but rather in a sense that they continued to live on, day after day, standing solid ground against the systematic horrors and the brutality of the Third Reich, and fighting tooth and nail to keep their lives, astonishingly coming out as victors. Even in instances where there didn’t seem to be an ounce of hope present, somehow Anja and Vladek resisted, finding loopholes and workarounds that kept them alive. The two of them had been trapped in a place where there was supposedly no way out, and yet through all of the torment and the death and destruction, they had escaped the inevitable, and had come out the other side. Not only this, but they did so without compromising the love that they had for one another, as even in Auschwitz and Birkenau, they still managed to maintain contact with one another. Of course, the pair’s resistance didn’t stand in its lonesome, as they encountered a wide range of people who assisted them in survival. Motonowa, a German woman who sold Vladek food on the black market, gave both him and Anja a place to hide when they had escaped from Srodula. She could’ve easily ratted them out to save herself any trouble, and yet she opened her home to them anyway, and later on to Vladek’s cousin Miloch. The couple also received help in the concentration camps through Mancie, a Jewish woman who passed on notes between the two of them while they were separated. The acts of courage and bravery that Anja, Vladek, and their companions displayed over the course of the novel were the most in-depth examples of resistance and fighting against a horrific system of oppression.

I think that the biggest argument over Vladek and Anja’s resistance would be that the slight privilege they obtained from being a previously wealthy family gave them an upper hand in their greatest moments of hardship, which consequently led to other Jews suffering in their replacement. For example, Vladek obtained many connections with various Jewish policemen or officers, which benefited him in terms of a) avoiding being caught and taken to Auschwitz (Or prolonging it at least) and b) helping him during his time in Auschwitz. In order to obtain food, bribe guards, or find shelter, Vladek made deals and traded valuables that he possessed prior to the war, a luxury that most didn’t have. Additionally he was fluent and educated in a variety of languages, making him a greater asset to military officials. But while all of these factors might’ve provided some aid to him, the final say of his survival came down to sheer luck. Vladek’s father-in-law had been a millionaire prior to the war, and yet in spite of all his money, he didn’t survive Auschwitz. When looking at a case such as Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, the ethics of “right” and “wrong,” or “privileged” and “unprivileged” are so blatantly nonsensical, it’s not even remotely possible to try to assess people’s actions as one or the other. Nobody was given the option of morality, there was just living or dying, and the only thing that anybody could do was try to survive, in any and all ways that were possible. In my opinion, Anja and Vladek made good decisions. In addition to luck, of course- their resourcefulness, adaptiveness, and charms impacted whether they’d suffer different fates. In fact, in some moments, the pair were under no obligation to help or provide aid to others, and yet there were moments where they showed kindness to those around them. An example of this is shown when, after arriving at Auschwitz and landing in the good graces of a Kapo, Vladek risks his life to ask the Nazi for shoes, a belt and a toothbrush so that he could give them to his friend, Mandelbaum, whose attire was far too big for him. Self preservation had to be the highest priority for the pair, but they did also have some mutual sense of unity among others.

When looking at survivors of the Holocaust, there seems to be a trend of people coming together to maintain a ground of survival. Every survivor who recounts their experiences always recalls having a form of aid by friends, family members, or maybe even strangers. There is also always an element of people making sacrifices in order to try to best secure the well being of their loved ones. Vladka speaks on this during her interview, when she describes the puffiness in her mother’s cheeks from starvation, but yet still finding the strength to pass on her bread rations to a rabbi so that he could train her brother for his bar mitzvah. These forms of strength were key factors towards others’ survival, and they were also an active and astonishing example of resistance in its purest form. Along with aid and sacrifice, survivors of the Holocaust also displayed resistance through the resistance of their fear. Throughout the dictatorship of Hitler and the instigation of the Nazi Party, Jews and other marginalized communities had little to no knowledge as to what was in store for them in the future, and yet despite that confusion and terror, they were able to continue to fight for their lives and often for the lives of those that they cared about.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 18

A large part of Anja and Vladek’s resistance was just staying alive. Their survival alone though was not the only resistance- later on, Vladek was involved in the black market, getting food to Anja and his family, and finding places for them to hide. He continued to do so in Auschwitz- sneaking Anja food, and getting his friend a belt, and a pair of shoes that fit him. In todays’s context, where we are familiar with large protests, and now especially the brave resistance of the Ukrainian people, these could be called small acts of resistance, but its hard to quantify resistance in a situation like the Holocaust, when absolutely anything done against the Nazis was a valuable act.

Given that none of us have been in a situation even remotely like the horrors that Vladek and Anja went through, I don’t think its exactly fair to pass judgment on their actions. Vladek earns the favor of a guard in Auschwitz because of his knowledge of English. When Auschwitz got a new shipment of prisoners the guard told Vladek to go on the left of the line, so that he would not be selected to be killed- meaning another would be killed instead of him. We as humans like to think of ourselves as selfless, and many would probably say that they wouldn’t do what Vladek did. But here Vladek had to make a choice- refuse the help, and die with the others, or accept it and live to see another day, but doom another to death. Both choices clearly have different consequences, neither necessarily better than the other. I think it’s important to remember here that this situation was not an everyday occurrence, it happened because of the decisions of the Nazis. Vladek would not have had to make this choice if Hitler never created the opportunity for the choice to be made, so debating wether or not Vladek, and others like him, was right or wrong only shifts the blame away from the real perpetrators. Vladek was not ‘wrong’ for surviving.

As Vladka Meed said in her interview, “To live, to survive as human… was a resistance.”

Bold and violent opposition is often the only kind that is hailed as resistance, but survivors did not owe the world a certain kind of resistance. Especially not in the Holocaust, when every action was taken to deprive the Jews of any semblance of hope. Had Vladek done nothing other than survive with Anja, that still would have been an incredible act of resistance, because it means the Nazis failed. They could not eradicate very single Jew, they could not squash them out of existence. Helen Rozensweig survived the psychopathic killer that was Amon Goeth. Is it fair of us to expect her to have killed him, or acted against his wishes? We couldn’t have expected more of her, not when Goeth’s inclination to kill at random was as high as it was, but the fact that she survived is in itself, a miracle, and an act of incredible resistance.

I do want to clarify though, that while surviving was an act of resistance, that doesn’t mean that those who did not survive did not resist in their own way, or are any less deserving of our respect or praise. It is immensely inspiring, what survivors were able to accomplish, but those accomplishments are not what gave their lives value, that value is inherent.

Reading Maus, watching Schindler’s List, and hearing accounts from survivors has been such a valuable part of my learning this year. Gaining different perspectives is always important, but especially for something so large scale, hearing these perspectives added so much dimension to what I already knew. I already believed this before, but absolutely everyone should learn about the Holocaust, and now I think it is especially important to read stories like Maus, and hear accounts from survivors so that discussions like these can be had, and the lives of both survivors and victims alike can be properly remembered.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

Post: Reflections on Maus and Issues of Resistance and Rescue

Anja and Vladek resisted by first and foremost living. Even when Anja had lost everyone and felt that she could no longer go on, she did. At the beginning of the war, Vladek resisted by buying goods without coupons on the black market. They did what they could to survive and along the way, were lucky many times. Other Jewish people helped Anja and Vladek, such as Mr. Ilzecki, who offers to hide Richieu with his son. Mancie helped deliver packages between Anja and Vladek at Auschwitz. Some non-Jewish people helped them survive, such as the French man whom Vladek was friendly with and they helped each other stay alive. Some helped Anja and Vladek in exchange for something, like the Polish kapo whom Vladek taught English at Auschwitz. The kapo gave Vladek food, clean clothes, and preferential treatment. Before that, Javok Spiegelman helped sneak Anja and Vladek out of the detention center in Srodula, but he only helped when he was promised valuables. When Vladek was working as a shoe repairman, nazi soldiers gave him extra food when they made him fix their shoes. People helped Anja and Vladek for a multitude of reasons, but each of these people aided in their survival and resistance.

I cannot judge or quantify the ethical righteousness of Anja and Vladek’s decisions; they were placed in impossible situations. They were forced to consider their own lives ahead of others’ because if they didn’t, they would’ve been killed. When Anja ran from the kapo after having received the package from Vladek. She hid and she was able to escape the kapo at that moment, however later on she has to choose to save herself or to save the other women who would die as a consequence of her not stepping forward. It’s human nature to save yourself; I think that most people would choose their own life in this situation. Self-preservation is instinctive, and I can't judge how right or wrong her actions were. I suppose in the most objective way the “right” thing to do would be to turn yourself in and suffer the consequence, which means death, but I think that choosing to do so is nearly impossible. Choosing to surrender yourself to death to save someone else sounds like something everyone would do if given, the chance, but the reality is never that simple.

Other survivors also resisted by surviving. Each person resisted in different ways, none of which were easy. Rena and her mother made it onto Schindler’s list, and by working for him and staying alive every day, they resisted. Rena and her mother were aided by the man who helped them get onto the list and by Schindler himself who helped them stay employed with him. Vladka Meed resisted by surviving in another way. She smuggled weapons out of the Warsaw ghetto to the Jewish Fighting Organization. She was able to use her “Aryan” appearance to pass as Christian to help the cause. What Vladka did was brave, there's no questioning it, but not everyone did such things to resist because not everyone is a hero, and nor should they have to be.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 16

I think Maus was one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It was easy to understand, and seemed incredibly accurate. The emotion woven into the story was so moving and I really valued reading it. Vladek and Anja, I believe, resisted the Nazis their entire lives. As Vladka Meed stated in her interview, “...Daily struggle for life as a human being was resistance.” The Nazis wanted to eradicate Jewish people from the Earth, and to survive and live was resisting their wishes. Vladek himself eventually indirectly led to this book being created and having a lasting impact on all those who read it. The fact that his story was recorded and shared defined what the Nazis were afraid of. They didn't want Jewish history or records written down, they were to be the ones who shared the “truth” of the Holocaust. If people like Art Spiegelman were not aware of their history, of their parents’ history, we would not know what really happened. I think the way Vladek resisted was simply surviving. They got help from kind people and luck, as well as having each other. Gathering strength from numbers is a way to survive and share your story, this is what Anja and Vladek did.

I believe that their version of resistance is a good way to carry it out. Although it may not have been secret Nazi killing groups or people who were fighting on the front lines, it made an astonishing impact. To survive was resistance, we already established that, but a problem with that was figuring out how to survive. Hiding was an option sometimes, but understandably petrifying. Waiting around in the dark, cold, disgusting conditions for days without end takes incredible willpower. In the camps themselves, working to survive, keeping track of your bowl and spoon was life. Vladek also kind of befriended a Polish guard, which helped him get an upper hand for a short period of time in the camp. This may have been seen as being friends with the enemy, which it kind of was, but it allowed Vladek to survive a little easier. Vladek also used his friendship to help gather things for other prisoners, like the belt for the man who had lost his. I think its understandable to try and help yourself, I think Vladek made the right choice. He was able to benefit from his situation but also helped others, which proved he was not purely trying to save himself. He got help directly from the officer, but also I think the guard wasn’t aware of how much he assisted Vladek. I don't think he could comprehend how something like a belt was seemingly meaningless to him but life to one of the Jews in the camp. If he realized how life saving he was, I wonder if he would have continued to be friends with Vladek.

I think living was a common form of resistance, especially in camps themselves. However, so was personal sacrifice for others. In the testimony from Vladka, she states how her mother had kept a piece of bread that she was going to give to the Rabbi. This showed incredible strength because she herself was starving to death, and yet she handed it over to another person. Her ability to do this seemingly small act of courage highlights the resistance to the Nazi’s goals of starving the Jews in the camps. Although many died of starvation, obviously, those who had the strength to go on were remembered through interviews and books like Maus. I think most of the survivors gathered their strength from each other, they were all going through Hell together and they had to be there for each other.
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 20

In the book Maus, Anja and Vladek resist, both by surviving the Nazis’ attempts to kill them, and by trying to save others they knew as well. Vladek talks about trying to hide his son with some relatives, and about sneaking food to Anja in Auschwitz— all of these are actions of resistance. In addition, Vladka Meed repeats the same idea when she says that “the life of the ghetto was an act of resistance.” Both Anja and Vladek continue to live— and resist— even afterwards, as they, in the eyes of the Nazis, should not have survived. Although this may not be what we commonly think of when we speak about resistance, their survival alone speaks to their resistance.

As no-one says in their post, Art’s psychiatrist asks him a question, saying “Then you think it’s admirable to survive. Does that mean it’s NOT admirable to NOT survive?” I believe this quote itself speaks to this issue between our perception of resistance, and their resistance in the book. We only know about those who survived, and their accounts of their experience. The many who try to resist, and fail, like the group who try to bribe the SS guards in order to escape the march, are often forgotten. As Anja says, “Life in the ghetto was an active resistance.” I believe this means that their very survival in spite of the attempts to murder them is survuival.

Often, their survival was due purely chance. And those, like Aunt Tosha who poisoned Richieu to prevent him from being captured by Nazi soldiers, made their own attempts to survive. However, in the end, giving herself and the children poison was still an act of resistance. The same goes for the doctor that we see in Schindler’s list during the “liquidation” of the Warsaw ghetto, who poisoned all the patients in an attempt to give them a more peaceful end. Resistance takes on many different forms, and under such conditions, we have no rights to judge and morality other decisions. They made the best possible choice, within the choiceless choices that they had.

In so many cases, luck alone allowed survivors to continue on. It is important, in documenting the atrocities that occurred, to remember survivors and their stories, but also, not to forget about those who did not. Although the human mind has a tendency to place those who survived over those who do not on the scale of ability, many people’s survival was due largely to chance. Under such circumstances where everyone is persecuted, some skills may have made inmates more likely to survive, but even that only made it more likely, not guaranteed. We cannot judge them. In addition, remembering that some groups are more persecuted than others, and that luck and circumstance played a large role in their survival, as well as the death of others. Again, in Schindler's list, the man who climbs into the sewers and tries to escape with some other men, survives simply by being near the end of the group.

The term choiceless choices is a very accurate one, at that point, everyone would have to choose whether to attempt to save someone and get caught and punished, or whether to keep themselves safe. This is seen when the people in the bunker, including Vladek, help out another person and get punished themselves, as the person was an informer.

It is more important to learn the history of the common people, over the history that focuses on leaders, often white men. It is almost impossible to get to know every single story, whether because we simply do not know enough, we have too little time, or we are simply not able to comprehend that many people and their stories. Thinking about the evils of the Holocaust as being perpetuated by Hitler, or a faceless entity titled the Nazi party, and about victims as numbers and possibly some individual stories, is not enough. Evaluating moral decisions, especially of a group under similar, but not identical pressures, is inherently wrong. And by judging them, we take on a superior moral stance— we are not in their shoes, and empathy can only do so much. They are more the numbers on a page, and ultimately, all we can do is try to understand them individually.

Each of them makes the best decision possible for themselves, and if possible, those they know and care about. In an ideal situation, I'm sure none of them would have been the same, and likely instead I've been good people, ordinary people under ordinary circumstances. However, due to the circumstances, people make decisions that harm others. For example, although the letter from Abraham, Vladek’s nephew, dooms some, ultimately, that decision, made with a gun to his head, saves him. People are not innately immoral, or evil —under the circumstances at the time, they simply make choices that have consequences unfortunately. Benefits they receive, like Vladek receiving special treatment at Auschwitz, may end up harming others— however these are choiceless choices that they make in order to survive themselves. We cannot judge them for it.

On the other hand, although we have not seen much of the viewpoints of those who actively enacted harm, like the SS officers or the capos. There must logically be an explanation. As a general rule, I don’t believe that people can be evil simply for the sake of being evil, and so, as such, there should be a reason for why this happened. I suppose one of the true horrors of the situation is that there is no simple resolution to the situation.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 22
  • I think that Anja and Vladek’s main act of resistance was staying alive, similar to what we have talked about before. The end goal of the Nazis was to eliminate the Jewish population and the way to combat that is to be alive. And that seems like a simple thing to do, but it was in fact incredibly challenging. Along the way, the two took many steps to resist the Nazi regime. Vladek’s pretending to be a Polish soldier saved not only his own life, but also possibly the lives of his family as well. This was a big risk for him to take because if he had gotten caught, he would have been either sent to a camp or killed on the spot. Anja and Vladek’s decision to hide the grandparents was another act of resistance. By not blindly following each order that the Nazis gave, it was a way to resist and stand up for themselves.
  • I think that Anja and Vladek’s decisions of how they would resist were the best decisions that they could have made for themselves and their family. They set good boundaries when it comes to the actions that they would take. They tried to maintain their safety, while also disobeying the law. I think that this helped them a great deal because they knew where to draw the line. This was also very difficult for them because they had to make countless sacrifices, ones that we could never even imagine having to make.
  • Something that many people did to resist was writing down their stories. They kept archives of everything that happened in the ghettos so that people would never forget what happened. This is significant because it is exactly what the Nazis feared would happen. They wanted to silence the voices of Jewish people, and any way that silence was broken was resistance. Anyone that was able to survive the Holocaust received help in one way or another. Whether that be with a place to stay, food, keeping things secret, or more, the targeted populations of the Nazi regime were supported, albeit minimally for the most part, by their own community and others.
posts 1 - 15 of 16