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The Complete Maus

The Complete Maus was painful to read and see. The screaming faces of the Jewish mice as they are crying for their lives, the nooses tied around their necks for chapter headers, the images of children being flung against walls. It is very graphic and horribly unsettling.

As it should be.

Every time I pick up a piece to read, understanding the violence, I cannot fight the pit that forms in my stomach, the unease, the disgust. This story calls to the reader to understand what is being said and what has been purposefully unsaid (the terrible times in the ghetto, the terribleness of the camps, the fear).

Art as their child after the war doesn’t understand his parents’ suffering, their seemingly confusing ways of being and hoarding. And on both sides, they must feel guilt. Guilt for surviving. Guilt for feeling like they abandoned their family and home. Guilt for being imprisoned in the trauma, in the camps, in pain. Guilt for not understanding. Guilt for not saying ‘I love you’.

I mean I can’t even make any sense out of my relationship with my father…how am I supposed to many any sense out of Auschwitz? Of the Holocaust? (174)……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 an easier life than they did. (176)

This guilt is passed down through generations of survivors. Of not knowing what their predecessors felt or experienced, feeling like they didn’t earn their right to the luxury of their life. Present day children of refugees feel this. Children of immigrants feel this. The need to do and be better so the sacrifices make sense. To go through hardship to understand what their parents must have. He, too, feels this need with his father. Feels this guilt. Feels the pain.

In Maus II the difficultness of the trauma and war is explained while he searches from meaning in his therapy session. And the meaning is just as unnerving as the rest. Life, survival, all of it, is just random.

Yes. Life always takes the side of life, and somehow the victims are blamed. But it wasn’t the BEST people who survived, nor did the best ones die. It was RANDOM! (205)

And while that seems to give Art something to think about and helps him, it only angers me. How is it possible that everything that is done, everything people pray for, can make so little a difference at the very end? I agree that the best didn’t all survive, or all die. I agree that we shouldn’t even look at death in the view of admiring those for their sacrifice. It wasn’t a martyr-system. It was murder. But to give it all to luck? To say, “I tried. And I don’t even know why I survived.” This ‘why-me’ question is exactly what divides people. People either say that it is in the hands of God and He has made the choice. Or, there is no God and we have been abandoned. Where does randomness fall within those statements?

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