Maus I: My Father Bleeds History (Mid 1930s to Winter 1944)
Chapter One/The Sheik
Art visits his dad, Vladek, in Rego Park, New York, after being away for about two years. Vladek has married Mala after the suicide of Art's mother. Art persuades Vladek to begin telling him the story of his life, which Art hopes to use for a book. Vladek begins at the time that he is a young man working in the textile business near Czestochowa, Poland. He has an affair with the beautiful Lucia before he is introduced to Anna Zylberberg. Anna (Anja) is from a wealthy family and is well educated but nervous and sickly. Vladek and Anja are married in 1937, and Vladek moves to the town of Sosnowiec, Anja's hometown.
Art visits his father in Rego Park several times over the next few months. Vladek is focused on the many pills he takes and on his failing health. Art is focused on trying to get the details of Vladek's story. The family prospers since Anja's father has given them money to invest in a textile factory. Vladek and Anja have a son, Richlieu, but after his birth, Anja suffers a deep depression. Vladek accompanies her to a sanitarium in Czechoslovakia, where she is to be treated. On their trip to the sanitarium they see a Nazi banner and hear of the first actions against Jewish people. Anja recovers from her depression, and they return to Poland only to find that their factory has been robbed. Anja's father helps them financially, and for a time, their life is good. But in August 1939, Vladek is drafted into the Polish army and sent to fight the Germans.
Three/Prisoner of War
During additional visits to see his father, Art hears Vladek tell about his service in the Polish army. Vladek has little training and shoots his gun only for appearances, but he manages to kill a German soldier. He is later taken prisoner by the Germans and sent to a POW camp in Germany where he cleans stables. It is cold, and the Jewish prisoners are treated worse than the other Polish prisoners are, but Vladek volunteers to work for the German soldiers and gains some additional food and warmth this way. He has a dream in which his grandfather appears to him and tells him that he will be free on a specific day in the future. The dream comes true, and Vladek is sent back to Poland where Jewish authorities are able to connect him with a friend of his family. After much difficulty, he is eventually reunited with his family. Art ends the chapter in the present with Vladek complaining about Mala and throwing away Art's coat because it is shabby.
Four/The Noose Tightens
Vladek works out on his exercise bicycle while he talks to Art. Art begins using a tape recorder to document Vladek's stories. In 1940, Vladek and Anja live a comfortable life in her father's household. Food and clothing are rationed, but they have money, so they can get things on the black market. Life for Jews in Poland is very restrictive, and the threat of being sent away is ever present. Germans round up Jews, beat them, and kill them, but Vladek and his family always manage to avoid being taken. Vladek gets a job working in a tin shop so that he can have the required work papers. Vladek and Anja talk briefly about sending Richieu to live with a Polish family but decide to keep him with them. During the winter of 1941-42, the Jews are moved to a segregated area of Sosnowiec. Vladek trades gold and jewelry for food and clothing but must be careful as those selling items without coupons are hanged. Anja's elderly grandparents are hidden from the Germans for a time but are eventually taken and sent to Auschwitz. One day all Jews in the city are required to report to the stadium for sorting; the able-bodied are allowed to remain, but those who are weak or old or who have many children are sent away. Vladek's father, sister, and sister's children are sent away. In the present, Mala tells about her own experience in Sosnowiec. She complains about Vladek's domineering ways and miserliness. Art looks for his mother's diaries, which contain her account of her life during the Holocaust.
Five/Mouse Holes (Includes "Prisoner on the Hell Planet")
Vladek wants Art to help him with some house repairs. Art is not good at this kind of thing and talks about his feelings of inferiority and competition with his father. The next time he visits his father, Art finds that Vladek has seen a copy of "Prisoner on the Hell Planet," a comic of Art's that had been published years ago. The story is about Art's time in a mental institution and his mother's suicide. The characters in this story are people, not animals. Art is depicted as a prisoner, guilt-ridden over his mother's death. The story moves back to 1943. All Jews in Sosnowiec are now moved to a ghetto in Srodula. They are marched to work each day and locked in their crowded rooms at night. A relative comes from another town and takes Anja's sister Tosha with her husband and child and Richlieu to what they hope will be a safer place. Vladek and Anja later find out that Tosha feels she and the children are going to be sent to Auschwitz, so she poisons herself and the children. Vladek draws pictures of the bunkers he devises so that his family can hide from the Germans. In spite of his efforts, they are turned in and Anja's parents are sent to Auschwitz. A scheming relative is able to get Vladek a job in a shoemaking shop. Anja and Vladek hide in a bunker behind a large pile of shoes, and when they believe the Germans are no longer in the town, they dress as Poles and leave.
Mala complains to Art that Vladek is unreasonable and that she feels like she is in prison. Art sympathizes with her and draws a parallel between Vladek and the racist caricature of the miserly old Jew. Mala and Vladek look at some of Art's work for Maus and approve because the comic strip format will draw readers who would not ordinarily read about this subject. Now it is 1944, and Vladek and Anja are walking back to Sosnwiec. There Vladek is able to trade jewelry for marks and marks for food. First they stay in a Polish woman's barn, then in the home of another Polish woman, Mrs. Motonowa. They live there for a time until Mrs. Motonowa is searched by the Gestapo. She makes Vladek and Anja leave for her own safety. They move here and there, always hiding, until they hear of some smugglers who might be able to get them to Hungary. But the smugglers take their money and then report them. Vladek and Anja are put in prison with their friends the Mandelbaums and then shipped to Auschwitz. The chapter ends with Vladek telling Art that he burned Anja's diaries. Art is furious and calls Vladek a murderer.
Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began (From Mauschwitz to the Catskills and Beyond)
It is 1979 and Vladek says he is having a heart attack to get Art and his wife, Francoise, to visit him. Mala has left him. On the way to the Catskills to see his father Art wonders how he can make sense of the Holocaust if he can't make sense of his relationship with his father. And he wonders what his "ghost-brother" Richieu would be like. Struggling with "sibling rivalry with a snapshot," he also feels guilty about leading an easier life than his parents led and about using a comic strip to tell such an important, serious story. When Art and Francoise arrive at Vladek's rental home, Vladek is his usual difficult, misery self. He picks up the Auschwitz story in 1944 as he and Anja have been separated. Vladek despairs but is given hope by a Polish priest who uses clues in Vladek's prisoner number to predict that Vladek will survive. Vladek and his friend, Mandelbaum, endure the first few weeks. Vladek is recruited by a Polish prisoner kapo (supervisor) to teach him English. This job provides him with better clothes and food, which he shares with Mandelbaum, but Mandelbaum is ultimately sent away with a work detail and never seen again. Returning to the Catskills, Vladek takes Art and Francoise to the Pines Hotel where he often sneaks in as a guest to dance and play bingo.
Two/Auschwitz (Time Flies)
Vladek Spiegelman dies in 1982. Art now talks about the process of working on Maus II starting in 1987. In these frames he is a human wearing a mouse mask as he sits at his drawing board. There is much humor in this section, but Art is clearly depressed about his mission. What is his message? Is he making money on the Holocaust? Overwhelmed by his father's memory, Art visits his psychiatrist, Pavel. They talk about Art's problems in portraying his father. As he works on the book, the story moves back to Auschwitz in 1944. Vladek talks about daily life in Auschwitz -- bartering for food, working in the tin shop. Anja is in Birkenau, another camp near Aushwitz. Vladek meets a Hungarian woman named Mancie who can bring him news of Anja. He is even able to send some food to Anja, and she sends him several letters. When Vladek is sent to work on a tin roof at Birkenau, he sees Anja briefly. Later he begins repairing shoes for German guards and is able to get food in return for his work. Vladek says that he was in Auschwitz for ten months. At the end of this time he worked on dismantling the gas chambers. Vladek wants Art to be sure to tell about this in case people don't believe they existed. He tells about the horrors of the chambers and the ovens. Art does not want the responsibility of taking care of Vladek and hopes Mala returns soon.
Three/…And Here My Troubles Began
The Germans move all the prisoners from Auschwitz, march them for two days, and then put them on a train. They are on the train for many days, and many prisoners die from the crowded, unhealthy conditions. They eventually arrive at Dachau. Vladek says it is here that his troubles began because he contracts typhus and nearly dies. He survives, however, and the prisoners are taken to the Swiss border where they are to be exchanged for German prisoners of war. Returning to the present, Art is embarrassed when Vladek returns Mala's opened food to the supermarket for a refund. Francoise chides Vladek for making racist comments when they pick up an African-American hitchhiker.
In Rego Park, Vladek is ill. He asks Art to help put up his storm windows, but Art is not very understanding and pushes Vladek to finish his story. Vladek recounts his troubles at the Swiss border as the Auschwitz prisoners are taken first by one German patrol group and then by another. They fear for their lives, and many are killed. As always, Vladek is resourceful and seems to avoid harm. Finally, they meet the American troops, and Vladek works for them doing housekeeping chores. Vladek stops his story to show Art a box of family pictures that put faces to the names in Vladek's stories.
Five/The Second Honeymoon
Vladek has gone to Florida to be with Mala but has an attack and is in the hospital. Art joins them, and they fly back to New York at Vladek's request. Vladek reminisces about flying from Poland to Sweden in 1946. There he was able to get a job as a salesman in a department store until he and Anja could get a visa to go to the United States. Vladek's story ends at the close of World War II when he returns to Sosnowiec and reunites with Anja. They had agreed to meet there if they were ever separated. Vladek ends his story confusing Art with Richieu and saying, "it's enough stories for now."