Maus: A Survivor's Tale Book II, Chapter 2 Summary
Auschwitz (Time Flies)
Art is at his drafting board, thinking about some important events that have happened since the publication of Maus I:
Vladek died of heart failure on August 18, 1982.
The scene from the Catskills described in Chapter 1 takes place in August, 1979.
Vladek was a tinsmith in Auschwitz in the spring of 1944.
Art started the page we’re reading now in February, 1987.
In May, 1987, Art and Françoise are expecting a baby.
Between May 16, 1944 and May 24, 1944, over 100,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed in Auschwitz.
In September, 1986, Maus I was published, and was phenomenally successful.
In May, 1968, his mother committed suicide.
The scene cuts to Art, surrounded by agents and journalists clamoring for his attention.
The next scene shifts abruptly to Art walking over to his therapist, who was himself a Czech Jew who survived the camps. They discuss Art’s complicated feelings for his father, and Art seems to feel better after these therapy sessions.
Art gets back to his drafting board and turns on a tape. He hears himself asking Vladek to stop complaining about Mala and to get back to his days at Auschwitz. Vladek gets back on track with his memories, and he recalls the days when he was a tinsmith in Auschwitz.
In order to get on his supervisor’s good side, Vladek is able to barter his way to some extra food. Meanwhile, Anja is being held at Birkenau. Vladek is able to get a message to her through a Hungarian prisoner, Mancie, who was also at Birkenau but brought workers over to Auschwitz. Through messages smuggled in by Mancie, Vladek learns that Anja, because of her frailty, isn’t able to keep up with the work and is often treated cruelly by her kapo.
In summer, 1944, Vladek is able to get into Birkenau on a work detail from Auschwitz. He chats with Anja, and even sneaks her in some extra food. Unfortunately, a guard catches one of their conversations, and beats Vladek.
Even though he’s hurting, Vladek tries to appear as healthy as possible. Periodically, there are “Selektions,” where the prisoners have to line up in front of Dr. Mengele, who decides whether the prisoner is healthy enough to keep working, or is ill and has to be sent to die in the gas chambers.
Vladek gets another opportunity for a better job when he volunteers as a shoemaker. As a shoemaker, he’s popular with the German soldiers and receives better treatment than the other prisoners.
Vladek is able to save enough to bribe the Germans to let Anja come over to Auschwitz with a work detail of women from Birkenau. Anja is almost caught when she tries to pick up a food package from Vladek. The kapo makes everyone in Anja’s block exercise until they fall from exhaustion, but nobody gives up Anja.
Vladek loses his shoe-making job and is sent to do “black work,” which consists of heavy construction work like clearing large stones. Sometimes he gets a better job as someone who straightens out bed sheets. After three months, Vladek returns to the tin workshop.
At this point, Vladek’s narrative is interrupted as Vladek and Art return back to the cottage, where Françoise has finished sorting Vladek’s bank papers. Over breakfast, Vladek explains to Art how, as a tinsmith, he had to take apart the gas chambers. The Russians were nearing Auschwitz, and the Germans wanted to take all the prisoners and the gas chambers back to Germany. Vladek notices a huge pit outside, and one of the other prisoners explains that that’s where they burn and bury all of the corpses.
That evening, Vladek goes to bed while Art and Françoise spend some time out on the porch. But they can still hear him moaning in his sleep.