Study Guide

Maus: A Survivor's Tale Book I, Chapter 5

By Art Spiegelman

Book I, Chapter 5

Mouse Holes

  • Art is woken up at 7:30 am by a call from Mala, who’s frantic about his father. Vladek has decided that he’s going to clean the drainpipes, despite his weak health. Art agrees to come out, but after he hangs up, reconsiders and calls Vladek back. But Vladek tells him that he’s found a neighbor to help out with the task.
  • A week later, Art goes to Vladek’s house, where he finds Vladek in the garage sorting nails. Vladek seems out of sorts, so Art heads into the house, where Mala tells him that Vladek had discovered the comic Art had drawn about his mother’s suicide.
  • (Spiegelman inserts the actual comic into his narrative here. In the comic, called “Prisoner on Hell Planet: A Case History,” Art is dressed in a prison outfit. Coming out of the subway, he notices a crowd in front of his house. His cousin leads him to the doctor, who informs him that his mother committed suicide. At home he finds his father completely distraught, and at the wake, his father causes a scene. Art flashes back to the last time he saw his mother. She had asked him if he loved her, and he had answered with a surly “Sure, Ma.” The comic ends with Art locked up in prison.)
  • Vladek shows up and asks Art to walk to the bank with him. Art apologizes for the comic, but Vladek seems to be more hurt by the memories brought up by the comic, rather than the comic itself. Art asks Vladek if he’s found Anja’s diaries yet, but Vladek says he hasn’t.
  • On the way to the bank, Vladek takes up his story again in the year 1943. The Jews in Sosnowiec are moved to a village called Srodula. Every day they are marched back to Sosnowiec to work in the shops and factories there. Anja and her sister Tosha work in a clothing factory, while Vladek and his nephew Lolek work in a woodwork shop.
  • Later, Wolfe’s uncle Persis shows up. Conditions are better in his town, Zawiercie, and they decide to send the children, including Anja and Vladek’s son Richieu, to live with Persis. Tosha and Wolfe accompany Persis and the children.
  • They believe the children are better off with Persis. That spring, the Germans clear a thousand Jews from Srodula, most of them young children. When the children cry, the German soldiers throw them against the wall, killing them.
  • But they find out later that Richieu is not better off with Persis. The German soldiers Persis has bribed have been replaced by other German soldiers, who arrive to take more Jews to the camps. When Tosha hears the news, she feeds herself and the children poison, preferring death to the camps.
  • But Vladek, Anja, and the Zylberbergs are safe for a little while. They build a bunker in the coal cellar to hide in whenever the Gestapo searches their home.
  • When they move to yet another small house, they build another bunker in the attic. They leave in the evenings to search for food. One evening, they are surprised to see another Jew in their house. They let him go, but the next day, the Gestapo searches them out in their bunker and takes them away. The stranger in their house had been an informant.
  • As Vladek and his family wait in a detention area in Srodula, Vladek recognizes a cousin, Jakov Spiegelman, and gestures that he is able to pay for his help. Jakov and another cousin, Haskel, are able to smuggle out Vladek, Anja, and Lolek, but they are unwilling to risk smuggling out Anja’s parents. A week later, Anja’s parents are taken away to Auschwitz.
  • Haskel is on good terms with the guards, so he’s able to arrange for Vladek and Lolek to get work in the factories. Art remembers that at one point, he uncovered a corpse to discover that it was the same stranger who had informed on them to the Gestapo – Haskel had had him killed. Haskel was never sent to the concentration camp, and survived the war, hidden by a Polish woman.
  • Suddenly, Vladek feels a pang in his chest. Art hands him a pill of Nitrostat, and that seems to help Vladek’s heart condition.
  • Back to 1943, Vladek remembers how much influence Haskel had with the German soldiers. One night, Vladek is walking when he is accosted by a German soldier, who lets him go when he realizes he is related to Haskel. Later, his cousins tell him that this particular German soldier shoots a Jew every day just for fun.
  • There’s a rumor that Persach, another cousin, is selling cake, made from flour and sugar left behind in the homes of Jews taken away to Auschwitz. But what they don’t realize is that some of the flour is actually laundry detergent, and many Jews fall ill from the cake.
  • The story returns to present day, where Vladek is recovering from his heart pains. Vladek tells Art that his cousin Miloch also survived the war and emigrated with his family to Australia. Miloch had died the past year, from a heart attack on the street. Unlike Vladek, he didn’t have his pills on him.
  • By the end of 1943, most of the Jews have been taken from Srodula to Auschwitz. Haskel has arranged for a hidden bunker in a pile of shoes, and there Vladek and Anja hide with their relatives. Lolek refuses to hide and is taken away to Auschwitz. At about the same time, they learn of Richieu’s death.
  • After some time, Pesach comes over to their bunker, and he tells them of a plan to bribe German soldiers to let them escape. Vladek is suspicious, but hides behind a corner to see what happens. He hears shooting and runs back to the bunker.
  • Finally, it seems quiet outside, so everyone leaves the bunker, careful to mix in with the other Polish workers. While others have people to hide them, Vladek and Anja have nowhere to go.
  • Back to the present day, Vladek and Art have finally arrived at the bank. Vladek shows Art a safety deposit box, where he keeps jewelry that he was able to hide in a chimney through the entire war.
  • Vladek wants Art to know where the safety deposit box is, and to hide it from Mala, who has been pestering him to change his will to provide for her.