The Holocaust Comic book

Last Christmas (not this past Christmas), my husband bought me Maus by Art Spiegleman.  It took me until now to read it.

For as much reading as I do about history and WWII, I need to be in a specific state of mind to read about the holocaust.  Ever since I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” when I was in middle school, I have had an interest in this part of history.  But after a high school English class spent an entire semester on holocaust literature, with a subsequent visit to D.C. to visit the museum, it can be difficult to read about the camps, the mass murders and all that goes along with it.

I knew the concept of Maus, but wasn’t sure what I would find. For those uninformed, Maus is written by a man whose parents both survived the holocaust.  The majority of the author’s extended family (both sides) were murdered in the concentration camps.  The book is basically about the author’s relationship with his father and finding out about the past.

At the time the book is written, Mr. Spiegleman’s father is aging.  He has health issues, he doesn’t get along with his second wife (his first wife, and mother of the author, committed suicide when the author was 20).  The author starts interviewing his father, hearing the detailed story of how the elder Mr. Spiegleman survived.

And it is an amazing set of books.  There are two volumes and I read through both in one day.

I do find it difficult to read comic books. I am so used to plain text, and it is hard to concentrate with a page so busy.  But the images in this book help it along, and I think that was the intent.

The entire idea of the people as animals was incredible.  Jews are the mice (maus in German).  The Germans are cats. The Poles are pigs.  The visual presentation was stunning.  I was particularly struck by the way certain concepts were presented visually i.e. when his father is out in public and pretending to be a non-Jew, he wears a mask (since it’s in Poland, its a pig mask).  Little details like that help it hit home…this person is pretending to be something he’s not.  He has to wear a mask to go out in public because it is fatal if he does not.

And the story is a thriller.  The author’s parents managed to hide in various places until March of ’44.  It becomes a page turner when they have to go from house to house to hide.

As with all literature of this sort, it is terribly heart wrenching.  Made me tear up at times.

I appreciate the way these books presented the story in a visual way.  When I heard “holocaust comic book”, I wasn’t too keen on it.  But now that I have read it, I can see the value of this mode of presentation.  Many people aren’t very willing to read about this dark chapter in human history.  Many people aren’t willing to put the time in to read some of the books of this genre, because they are too long or they feel it might be too boring.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer could double as a free weight.  I literally had difficulty holding up the book when I was reading it.  Caused arm strain.  “Maus” on the other hand, consists of two small volumes, but they are packed with emotion.

Also presenting it as a “comic book” of sorts puts the information that is vital to share in a genre where it can be read by people who don’t normally read in general.  I see the benefit of using this format.  People should learn about this time period because remembering the past is the only way to prevent it from happening again.  This format makes this history lesson more accessible.

Maus will stay with me for a long time.  I recommend it to everyone.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Indra Sena
    Jan 26, 2013 @ 21:55:15

    Thanks for the great post. I really agree with what your wrote and I also love ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. I’ve been wanting to read Maus for years and I love both comic books and graphic novels. But I was afraid of the holocaust material. I’ve read plenty of the history and I know the general details but when I read graphic stuff about the holocaust I whimp out and can’t finish. It makes me physically ill. But you’ve encouraged me: I’m going to try and read Maus.


    • Mommabel
      Jan 26, 2013 @ 23:18:50

      it’s not as graphic as Primo Levy’s “Survival in Auschwitz” or Eli Wiesel’s “Night”, but together the illustrations with the story are the perfect blend. Let me know what you think..


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