Study Guide

Maus: A Survivor's Tale Book I, Chapter 3

By Art Spiegelman

Book I, Chapter 3

Prisoner of War

  • Art arrives at Vladek’s to record more stories. At dinner, Art tells Mala about how strict Vladek was in getting Art to eat all his dinner. After dinner, Vladek begins to complain about Mala, but Art asks Vladek to describe the period in 1939 when he was drafted into the military.
  • By September, 1939, Vladek was a Polish soldier in the trenches. One night, near morning, he was waiting in a trench, with the Germans across the way.
  • Vladek backtracks a bit here, and tells Art about the time his brother dodged the draft by starving himself and pulling his teeth out. Eep. Vladek couldn’t go through with that ordeal, so he ended up being drafted into the reserves.
  • So, back to the trenches, just before dawn, September, 1939. A Polish officer commands Vladek to shoot, even though he can’t see anything. Vladek begins shooting, and before he knows it, he is also being shot at.
  • Vladek kills at least one man before the Poles lose the skirmish and they are taken prisoner by the Germans. Vladek narrowly escapes a beating when he speaks German to his German captors. As the prisoners are forced to help the German sort out the wounded and the dead, Vladek finds the soldier he killed.
  • At a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp near Nuremberg, the Jewish POWs are separated from the others and made to do hard labor.
  • As Vladek recounts one story about cleaning out the stables, he reprimands Art for flicking his cigarette ashes on the floor.
  • At the POW camp, the Jewish prisoners are treated much worse than the other prisoners. They are given unheated cabins and little food. So, six months later, when the Germans ask for volunteers for other labor projects, Vladek volunteers.
  • At the labor camp, conditions are much better, but the work is still brutal and they are still treated cruelly by the German soldiers.
  • One night, Vladek has a dream where his grandfather’s voice tells him that he will leave the camp on the day of Parshas Truma.
  • Vladek explains to Art that every week on Saturday, a section from the Torah is read; this is called a parsha. Parshas Trumaparsha, refers to the day when they read a particular parsha, but that particular day is three months ahead of Vladek’s dream.
  • One day, Vladek, among other prisoners, is released. A rabbi friend points out that the day is Parshas Truma. Vladek explains to Art that this day is significant not only because it is the day he was released, but it was also the parsha on which he married Anja, and also the week Art was born.
  • But they’re not out of the woods yet. Vladek began the war as a Polish soldier, but now he enters a Poland that’s occupied by Germany and, unfortunately, subject to German laws. His rabbi friend gets off in Warsaw, but Vladek never heard from him again.
  • When the prisoners arrive in Lublin, Vladek learns that the previous group of prisoners had been taken into the woods and shot. The Jews of Lublin work to get some prisoners released into the homes of local Jews by claiming that the prisoners are relatives.
  • Vladek is released to his uncle’s friend, Orbach. While their rations are meager, Vladek pleases the girls with a present of chocolates he saved from a Red Cross package he received on his release from war camp. When Vladek returns to Sosnowiec, he sends food packages to the Orbachs, but loses touch with them.
  • Vladek sneaks his way onto a train back to Sosnowiec by hiding his Jewishness. He poses as just a Polish soldier, trying to get home, and it works on the Polish conductor, who hides him in the train.
  • Vladek arrives home to Sosnowiec to find his family much changed. His mother is ill with cancer and will die a month later. His father’s beard has been shaved off in an incident where the Germans rounded up the Jewish men of the town and humiliated them. As Jews, they are subjected to a curfew, so Vladek’s mother hurries Vladek over to Anja.
  • Vladek has a tearful reunion with Anja and their son Richieu, who is almost two and a half years old.
  • Flash forward to present day. Vladek breaks off his story to complain once again about Mala, and Art, annoyed, gets up to leave. Art gets even more annoyed when he realizes that Vladek has thrown away his jacket. Vladek gives Art one of his own used jackets, which Art despises.