Source and activity 2
'Maus: A survivor's tale', by Art Spiegelman
[NLS shelfmark: HP2.204.2142]
'Maus' tells the story of Art Speigelman's father Vladek's experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Spiegelman used animals as metaphors for the Nazi hierarchical view of the world: Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, etc., tying in with Hitler's statements about the Jewish race.
Ironically, objections have been raised to this literary device, calling the book 'anti-ethnic'.
In 'Maus II', Spiegelman portrays his own anguish at the impossibility of doing justice to the subject of his book. There are pages that show him sitting atop a pile of mouse (Jewish) corpses, pondering his creation and fielding questions about his animal metaphors. He and his psychiatrist are shown wearing mouse masks, the doctor has a framed picture of his pet cat.
Speigelman has said this about his animal metaphors: 'The mouse metaphor allowed me to universalise, to depict something that was too profane to depict in a more realistic way'.
Finding a publisher
'Maus' was finally published by Pantheon in the US and was a 'New York Times' bestseller, but before then Spiegelman found it difficult to find a publisher. 'I've met a number of editors over the years,' he says, 'And all of them claim to have discovered "Maus", when all they really have the right to claim is that they rejected it'.
It has since been translated into 18 languages and won numerous prizes including the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in the US.
Suggested discussion questions
Art Spiegelman's books about Auschwitz and anti-semitism were themselves accused of being anti-ethnic. Adolf Hitler said:
'The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human'.
Spiegelman says he used animals for the characters to subvert the racial theories of the Nazis. Was he successful?
Can you understand why, for instance, a Polish person may feel uncomfortable being portrayed as a pig?
Spiegelman also said 'What the book is about is the commonality of human beings'. Do you agree?
Censorship related material at NLS
Browse a selection of NLS material relating to all aspects of censorship by typing the term 'censorship' in the search box above.
Visit the 'Banned books' web pages that accompanied our blockbuster 2011 exhibition.