“It was many, many such stories – synagogues burned, Jews beaten with no reason, whole towns pushing out all Jews – each story worse than the other.” (I.2.35)
In this quote, Vladek hears about the treatment of Jews in Germany. No longer regarded as full citizens, they are the victims of state-sanctioned violence.
Book I, Chapter 3
“International laws protected us a little as Polish war prisoners. But a Jew of the Reich, anyone could kill in the streets!” (I.3.63)
Ironically, Vladek is safer as a Polish war prisoner than as a Jew in Germany. In matters of war, international convention prevails: war prisoners are entitled to certain basic rights. A Jew within the Reich, on the other hand, is subject to German laws, not international ones.
Book I, Chapter 4
“Don’t you know? ALL Jewish businesses have been taken over by ‘Aryan managers’…” (I.4.78)
The Nazis’ persecution of the Jews extended to all areas of life. The Jews’ property and wealth were taken away, and they were left with few options for making a living. Vladek loses his factory and must make do with what he can earn on the black market.
“She was taken with everybody else who was going to be deported to four apartment houses that were emptied to make a sort of prison….They put thousands of people there … it was so crowded that some of them actually suffocated … no food … no toilets. It was terrible.” (I.4.94)
This is just one of the many descriptions of the horrible conditions Jews had to suffer when they were incarcerated.
“One time I was going to see Ilzecki. This was late in 1941, I think. His house was very near to a train station … And it was going on there something TERRIBLE.” (I.4.82)
Vladek narrowly escapes the anti-Semitic violence sweeping through Sosnowiec. In this particular episode, Jews have been rounded up at random and beaten for no reason.
“The note told that I worked with him. Such a paper could be useful to have.” (I.4.79)
The Nazis’ mania for documentation is evident here. Identification papers, stamps, and permits helped the Nazis identify and manage the Jewish population.
“ORDER: All Jews of Sosnowiec must be relocated into the Stara Sosnowiec quarter by January 1, 1942. Non-Jews will be moved into vacated premises.” (I.4.84)
The Nazis continue their oppression of the Jews by taking away their homes and moving them into ghettoes, small, cramped neighborhoods isolated from the rest of the town.
Book I, Chapter 5
“We walked in the direction of Sosnowiec – but where to go?” (I.5.127)
The Nazis had so effectively infiltrated all aspects of life in Sosnowiec that Vladek and Anja had nowhere to go, even though they had escaped being shipped off to Auschwitz.
Book I, Chapter 6
“They marched us through the city of Bielsko. We passed by the factory what once I owned … We passed the market where always we bought to eat, and passed even the street where we used to live, and we came ‘til the prison, and there they put us.” (I.6.157)
This is a particularly tragic scene where Vladek reflects on the radical changes his life went through,
Book II, Chapter 1
“I speak German as well as Polish – That’s why I’m a Kapo. Otherwise I’d be a nothing like you … Now the Allies are bombing the Reich. If they win this war, it will be worth something to know English.” (II.1.22)
Despite the horrible conditions, both the prisoners and the Kapos (guards who were often Polish) struggle to figure out ways to survive. Any skill can be an edge. Like this particular Kapo, Vladek also speaks multiple languages. Vladek is able to barter better conditions for the English lessons he gives the Kapo.
Book II, Chapter 2
“And the fat from the burning bodies they scooped and poured again so everyone could burn better.” (II.2.62)
Just one of the many nightmarish images of brutality in the book. The human body is stripped of everything that makes it recognizably human, reduced to bones and fat. Even dead, the captive Jews are not allowed the smallest dignity.
Book II, Chapter 3
“We lay on top of the other, like matches, like herrings. I pushed to a corner not to get crushed … High up I saw a few hooks to chain up maybe the animals.” (II.3.75)
Considered racially inferior, the Jews are treated like animals. This is one of many scenes where Jews are held in structures or cars that were initially built for animals.