Guilt-the anger directed at ourselves

By: Deisy Flores

external image history_of_the_holocaust_3.jpgIn life there are direct and indirect victims that suffered through life-changing horrific events. For instance, memories of the Holocaust haunt those who had the dire luck to live through it; they are one of the most difficult experiences to get rid of. The survivors weren’t the only ones to suffer the consequences since family members go through an incredible amount of mixed feelings for what the victims had to go through. They feel accountable for having such a simple life, while their relative’s life had been horrid. Artie’s father, Vladek, was a Holocaust survivor who had to endure hardships in order to keep himself alive. Artiewas so fascinated by his story that he decided to “draw” and write books about his story, Maus I, and Maus 2, so that people could live through someone’s perspective on this moment in history. After hearing about the Holocaust through his father, Artie was surrounded by feelings of guilt for not going through the same hardships his parents had, blamed himself for the death of his mother and the publication of the book made him feel even worse.

As the son of a Holocaust survivor who was lucky enough to get out of the war, Artie felt awful that his life had always been so easy. After he learned about the type of life his parents went through, Artie told his wife,
“I know this is insane, but I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz WITH my parents so I could really know what they lived through! I guess it’s SOME kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did.” (Maus 2, 16) He realized that he had been lucky enough to be spared of his parents hardships and it didn’t make him feel right. Artie knew that he should have felt happy he did not go through this horrible disaster but the presence of his father and his detailed stories were too hard to ignore. Artie’s older brother did not make it through the war and Vladek still wore the permanent number tattoo on his arm that served as his identity during the Holocaust. Artie is alive and healthy; he had never gone through a gas chamber or felt the anxiety one would have when death was always around the corner. Even when Artie was younger he had dreams about the Holocaust that substituted the experiences his parents went through “…I did have nightmares about S.S. men coming into my class and dragging all us Jews away…It’s just that sometimes I’d fantasize Zyklon B coming out of our shower instead of water.”(16) These nightmares were the cause of the constant pressure Artie felt for being born a survivor.

external image maus2_p41_time_flies.jpgArtie not only felt blamable for his trouble-free life but also felt it was somehow his fault for having such a poor relationship with his father. Despite being father and son and living in the same borough, Vladek and Artie were never close. Artie started to visit his father when he wanted to hear more about his life during the Holocaust, “I went out to see my father inRego Park. I hadn’t seen him in a long time. We weren’t that close.”(11) Even though Vladek had been close to dying so many times during the Holocaust and was able to survive out of it, Artie could still not appreciate his father like other people would. They were always arguing about everything and Artie’s patience did not last long when he was with his father. Vladek argued about every insignificant detail and was a stubborn old man who could not see his own faults. Vladek blamed Artie for dropping his pills even though it was his own hand gesture that caused this to happen. When Artie's offered to recount them but Vladek in his always-cranky mood responded, "NO! You don't know counting pills. I'll do it after...I'm an EXPERT for this." (30) They never had a deep father-son relationship and Artie knew that the reason that this relationship could not happen was because of him. Artie was not able to get over all the times that Vladek had treated him like he was nothing. It was almost as if re-telling this story to his son, was just like rubbing it in Artie’s face to show that he would not have survived if he had lived through it. Artie wanted to get closer to his father by asking to re-tell his story during the Holocaust, where they would sit together and talk for hours. In the long-run this would not help stop the guilt Artie was always feeling.

"NO! You don't know counting pills. I'll do it after...I'm an EXPERT for this." (30)


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Artie was always worried about how “real” the book sounded and did not want to make his father’s story sound like any other average boring tale. Artie was afraid that he would ruin the story with just one careless move. While having a conversation with his wife, Artie explained that there was so much to the story and much of it was very hard to grasp without making it sound fictional, “There’s so much I’ll never be able to understand or visualize. I mean reality is too COMPLEX for a comic…so much has to be left out or distorted.”( Maus2, 16) Artie was always competing with his father and he felt that the only area he was “safe” in was art. This was the main reason as to why he became an artist; it was an area where Artie would not have to hear his father’s nagging voice behind him. Artie’s therapist, Pavel, listened to him talk about the type of relationship they had and recognized that part of the guilt was on behalf of the publication of the book, “It sounds like you’re feeling remorse-maybe you believe you exposed your father to ridicule…and now that you’re becoming successful you feel bad about proving your father wrong...”(Maus 2,44) For a very long time Artie had to hear his father tell him that he was better than him and it was difficult for Artie to accept this. He had been living with one type of mentality for so long, that when it was proven wrong, it made him feel that he did something wrong.

external image document.php?id=jaa.027.0625.fig001.jpg Artie knew that the Holocaust had brought a lot of damage to the family as it had a deep effect on his mother Anja; she had always been very sensitive and nervous. Artie’s mother had committed suicide and Artie believed it had something to do with him and thought that he could have stopped it. The reality was that she was already depressed after going through so much in the Holocaust. Still, Artie could not help feeling accountable for her actions. She had dropped hints that she was depressed and he turned away without making her feel better, “She came into my room, it was late at night…I turned away, resentful of the way she tightened the umbilical cord...she walked out and closed the door!” (103) Anja had come in to his room and asked Artie if he still loved her, he told her he did, but in a rude manner. After her death, he created a comic strip to relieve himself of the feelings he had; his father had found it and he knew that the feelings of anxiety would not help his health conditions. Artie felt responsible for anything bad that happened to his father and that is why he was so worried when Vladek read the comic after many years. Anja’s suicide had completely destroyed Artie’s life, “You MURDERED me Mommy and you left me here to take the rap!!!”(103). For a very long time Artie did not know what to do and could not live with himself. He had a sense of paranoia and felt that everything around him was evil and everyone had bad intentions. The world around him was depicted as a nightmare since he was the criminal of this story. He was being charged for the suicide of his mother and everyone knew about it. Artie couldn’t even depend on his dad for support; Vladek was in much more agony and pain than anyone else.

“You MURDERED me Mommy and you left me here to take the rap!!!”(103).


Vladek always appeared to be heartless and very dominating whenever he spoke to his family members, but deep inside he felt guilty because his maus_extract.jpgluck had let him survive the Holocaust while many of his friends and family members were not able to. Vladek is considered very lucky; he had been able to escape many obstacles that other Jews were not able to avoid. Pavel told Artie that his father was not able to get along with him because of the things he went though during the Holocaust, “Maybe your father needed to show that he was always right-that he could always survive because he felt guilty about surviving.” (Maus 2, 44) When Vladek told Artie the stories of his life during the Holocaust, he seemed to be composed but deep inside he felt like a monster when he spoke of how he survived. Vladek had an incredible amount of luck, and in his tone of voice we could see that he felt self-hatred since he was the only one who was able to get the benefits out the luck. Vladek told Artie that many of his friends who had been in the black market were hung when they were found, Vladek had managed to always escape and get out of sticky situations when he was found doing something illegal, “I was frightened to go outside for a few days…I didn’t want to pass where they were hanging. And maybe one of them could have talked to me to the Germans to try and save himself.” (84) Vladek felt especially culpable because he knew that if it were not for his “luck” he would have been hung in the court square himself. He also felt accountable for their deaths because he could have saved at least one of them from that horrific death.

"I was frightened to go outside for a few days…I didn’t want to pass where they were hanging. And maybe one of them could have talked to me to the Germans to try and save himself." (84)


Maus2.jpgEverything Artie wrote and illustrated was based on the feeling of guilt. The Holocaust provided feelings of guilt for both Artie and Vladek. Artie could not let go of the considerable amount of guilt he had for not going through the Holocaust like his father had, for the publication of these books, for the death of his mother and Vladek even felt bad for surviving. Guilt is always hidden in the pictures and words of the book. The reader could always feel the presence of it. Artie speaks of his own feelings in the book and writes down his concerns as well. Vladek could not forget the memory of his beloved wife and felt horrible that after surviving such terrible monstrosities in the camp, she killed herself in times of peace. Artie could not get along with his father even after Vladek’s death, “My father’s ghost still hangs over me (Maus 2, 43). Vladek’s ghost will continue to hang over Artie until he can get over the guilt of what he feels. Artie still continues to write and draw in these comic strips with the presence of his father over him.

Spiegelman speaks about RAW's Past, Present and future with J. Stephen Bolhafner in 1991. In this interview Bolhafner speaks about his Spiegelman's dads role in the book:

BOLHAFNER: Your father died some years ago. How did that affect your writing of Maus?
SPIEGELMAN: Well, he died in 1982. My father was ill when I started the book. In fact, that was one of the things . . . I knew if I didn't get it started then, I might never be able to do it.
BOLHAFNER: So, essentially, you've carried out a year or two of dialogue with your father over the 13 years you've been working on Maus?
SPIEGELMAN: Yes. Maybe this is a way of maintaining the relationship with him. In fact, in many ways I have a better relationship with him now that I did when he was alive... It took me a long time, when I was starting Maus, to develop a visual style that would be easy to look at and wouldn't intrude and would keep the flow going and allow me to do what I wanted to do. "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" was something that happened to me, something that affected me in a certain way that the style, heavily affected by German Expressionism, was appropriate. The Expressionists weren't trying to put things on canvas, they were trying to put emotions on canvas, and these emotions were very powerful and personal and that style fit. For me to appropriate my father's emotions and portray them in that style would have been very dishonest...

This is one of the ending pages of the Maus book where you can see how bad the relationship is with Artie and Vladek. In Both Maus 1 and Maus2, Artie always ends the book siwht something dreadful. In this page Artie calls his father a murderer and in the next book, Artie ends it with his tombstone.


Artie Spiegelman speaks of the different themes he uses in the book and the reasons as to why he wrote them. He speaks about feelings of guilt and how they connect with the publication of this book.

More information on Artie Spieglman and his books:

An interview with Artie Spiegelman
Artie Spiegelman and his opinion on comic books.
Artie Spiegelman