Art’s mother, Anja, survived the Holocaust, but committed suicide in May, 1968. While most of the story evolves in the interaction between Art and Vladek, Anja’s death is always part of their relationship.
Or maybe the reason why they can’t have a relationship.
Their ideas of Anja are so different. For Vladek, Anja is the image of the perfect wife. Unlike his earlier girlfriend, Lucia Greenberg, Anja was neat, wealthy, intelligent, and fluent in multiple languages – a key for Vladek, whose own linguistic fluency saves him in many situations. Like Lucia and Vladek's second wife Mala, Anja needs Vladek and relies on him for emotional and financial support, but unlike the other women, Anja seems to bring out what is most generous and heroic in Vladek, as he puts himself into danger countless times to save her. When she commits suicide in 1968, however, Vladek inexplicably burns her diaries, as if unable to tolerate any other image of Anja than the one closest to his heart.
For Art, Anja is the mother who is needy and emotionally draining, but at the same time, the parent who is most sympathetic to him. In “Prisoner on Hell Planet,” he even accuses her of murder, as if to suggest that there is something suffocating in her love. As her postpartum depression after giving birth to Richieu suggests, Anja seems to have unresolved feelings about motherhood, only aggravated by Richieu’s death, which almost push her to suicide. Could her guilt over Richieu explain her intense need to be loved by Art?
Anja’s death is also highly significant for Art in his own artistic development. Vladek remarks on Art’s similarity to Anja’s brother, who was also an artist, as well as on how both Art and Anja were quite sensitive. Anja’s death came at a key moment in the history of comic art, when the superhero comic was being challenged by the underground comic art scene, in which Art participated.
Anja’s ghost-like quality is only intensified by the fact that we never get her story in her own voice. Her diaries destroyed, she only appears to us through Vladek and Art’s memories. She remains one of the unanswered questions haunting the book.