Spiegelman’s Maus gives us a detailed look at the ways Jews were systematically persecuted in German-occupied territories during World War II. Seen as an inferior race, Jews were deprived of the most basic human rights. The Nazi government infiltrated every aspect of their lives, controlling their movements, taking their wealth and property, and sanctioning violence against them. Jews were sent to concentration camps, where they were forced to do hard labor or face the gas chambers. It may seem as if individuals have no power in the face of such persecution, but Maus offers examples of individual resourcefulness that indicate pockets of hope in an otherwise desperate situation.
Questions About Power
Name some of the ways that the Jews suffered under the Nazi regime. How did the regime abuse its power? What role does violence and terror play in its practices?
Take a look at the way Vladek and other Jewish characters dealt with their circumstances. What avenues of escape or survival were available to them?
What were the effects of violence on the Jewish characters? How were they physically and psychologically affected by the racial policies of the Nazis?
Some characters, even Jewish ones, bribe or talk their way into favor with the German soldiers; other characters refuse to help the Jews and even help the German soldiers find the places where Jews were hiding. Pick some of these characters: do you think they share any of the responsibility with the Germans? What would you have done in their situation?
Chew on This
In Maus, violence dehumanizes both the perpetrators and the victims.
Despite the fact that every aspect of their lives had been destroyed, Vladek and other Jewish characters empower themselves by using their ingenuity to find ways to survive.