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Vladek agrees to tell his story to Art, for a book Art plans to write about Vladek’s life.
Vladek begins his story before the war. As a young man, he is in a relationship with a young woman named Lucia Greenberg when he meets Anja, his future wife and Art’s mother.
Vladek courts Anja. By 1936, they are engaged, and they marry on February 14, 1937.
Shortly after they marry, Vladek learns that Anja has been helping an old boyfriend translate Communist documents in German. A local seamstress takes the fall for Anja.
By October 1937, Vladek’s textile factory, financed by his in-laws, is up and running, and Richieu is born
Art asks Vladek whether Richieu was premature. Vladek replies that Art was premature, and had an arm twitch that looked like a “Heil, Hitler.” Imitating Art’s gesture, Vladek accidentally spills his pills.
Vladek goes back to his memories. By early 1938, Anja gets a severe case of postpartum depression, and Vladek accompanies her to a sanitarium in Czechoslovakia to recover.
When they return three months later, Vladek’s factory has been destroyed, but his in-laws help him set up another one.
In August, 1939, Vladek is called into active duty in the Polish army.
In September, 1939, Vladek is fighting in the trenches against the Germans. He is taken prisoner during a skirmish. He is first taken to a POW camp, then to a labor camp. Finally, several months later, he is released.
Vladek returns to Sosnowiec via Lublin, and anti-Semitic violence has grown steadily worse. His mother will die of cancer a month later.
Between stories, Vladek chides Art for not helping him with household chores.
Vladek takes up the story again. Since his in-laws’ factory has been taken over, Vladek tries to make a living selling and bartering things on the black market.
Vladek and his family are moved to a ghetto. Then they are summoned to Dienst Stadium, where Vladek’s father, sister, and his sister’s children are taken to the camps.
Vladek’s story breaks off. Some weeks later, Vladek discovers Art’s “Prisoner on Hell Planet,” and relives painful memories of the past.
Vladek continues his story as he walks to his bank with Art. It is now the year 1943. The Jews have been moved to Srodula, and they are forced to work in the shops and factories of Sosnowiec.
Vladek sends Richieu to live with relatives in Zawiercie. But when the Nazis come to Zawiercie to take the Jews to the camps, Richieu is poisoned by his aunt in order to avoid being killed at the camps.
Vladek and Anja hide with other family members in various bunkers to avoid being sent to the camps, but they are found out. In a detention area in Srodula, Vladek’s cousin Haskel helps Vladek and Anja escape, and Haskel helps Vladek get work.
Finally, when the last of the Jews are taken to the camps, Vladek, Anja, and what relatives are left hide in a bunker. When it seems the Nazis have left, everyone leaves the bunker, trying to blend in with the other Polish workers.
Vladek breaks off the story at this point to show Art where the safety deposit box is located at the bank.
Later, Vladek picks up the story in 1944. Vladek and Anja have gone into hiding in Sosnowiec, first staying with a Polish woman, Mrs. Kowka, then on the farm of Mrs. Motonowa.
When Mrs. Motonowa is searched by the Gestapo, Vladek and Anja return to Mrs. Kowka’s, who tells them of smugglers who might be able to take them into Hungary.
Vladek and Anja pay the smugglers, but on the way to Hungary, the smugglers betray them to the Nazis. They are taken to Auschwitz, where they are separated.
Part II begins with Vladek in his summer home in the Catskills. Mala has left him.
Vladek continues his story when Art arrives. At Auschwitz, Vladek sticks with his friend Mandelbaum. They are treated brutally at the camps.
At Auschwitz, Vladek meets a Catholic priest, who gives him hope when he shows Vladek how lucky his prisoner number is.
Vladek gets some favors by giving English lessons to the Polish Kapo. He also works at a tin shop.
While at Auschwitz, Vladek is able to smuggle food and messages to Anja, who is at Birkenau. Finally, he is able to visit Birkenau as part of a work detail and sees Anja.
Vladek then barters his skills as a shoemaker for more favors. He is able to save enough to bribe Anja’s transfer to Auschwitz.
Vladek is then transferred into “black work,” heavy construction work, but after three months he returns to the tin shop. As a tin worker, he is sent over to Birkenau to take apart the gas chambers.
Vladek and his friends decide to hide in an attic when the Germans take the other prisoners to camps further inside Germany. But when they hear of plans to explode the camps, Vladek and his friends join the other prisoners. They are taken to a camp in Dachau, which is even worse than Auschwitz.
Vladek and other prisoners are taken to Switzerland.
The story shifts ahead to late fall, where Vladek is now back in Rego Park. He asks Art to help put up storm windows, but Art convinces him to continue his story instead.
After escaping a couple of massacre attempts by the Germans, Vladek is finally free. He lives in a Swiss farmhouse with his friend Shivek, working for American soldiers stationed there.
At this point, Vladek shows Art a box of photographs that survived the war.
Some time later, Vladek is living in Florida with Mala, but is taken to the hospital for water in his lungs.
When Art arrives in Florida, Vladek tells Art about how he and Anja left Poland for Sweden after the war, and then finally to the United States.
Vladek flies back to Rego Park with Art in order to be checked by his doctors in New York.
A month later, in Rego Park, Vladek takes up his story again with Art.
Vladek eventually makes it back to Sosnowiec, where he reunites with Anja. At this point, Art helps Vladek to bed.