Maus and the Psychological Effects of the Holocaust
The Maus books are award-winning comics written by Art Spiegelman. They are the non-fictional stories of Art and his father, Vladek. In the book, Art Spiegelman is a writer, planning to portray Vladek’s life as a Jewish man during WWII Europe in comic book form. While Art gathers information for his story through visits to his father’s house, much is learned about their relationship and individual personalities. Through this analysis, Maus becomes an example of how the Holocaust has effected the lives of survivors and their children for decades.
Survivors suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which impairs their ability to live normal lives and raise their children. By understanding the causes and symptoms of PTSD, it can be properly diagnosed and treated, stopping this cycle of dysfunction. During the Holocaust, Nazi Germany attempted to exterminate the entire Jewish population from Europe. Nazis effectively gathered and murdered almost six million Jews, making it the worst genocide in history. Vladek and his wife, Anja, were sent to Auschwitz, a concentration camp where at least at least one-third of all the deaths occurred (“Holocaust”).
In the story, many characters describe the horrors they went through during the capture. When Art goes to see his psychiatrist, a survivor himself, he asks him what Auschwitz felt like. The psychiatrist replies, “How can I explain? BOO! It felt like that. But always! From the moment you got to the gate, until the very end,” (Maus II 46). The victims suffered humiliation, starvation, tremendous physical strain, displacement, and lost all of their freedom. All of these things lead to the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a disease that affects them for the rest of their lives.
PTSD is caused from severe trauma or stress that an individual is put through that has lasting consequences. According to the National Center for PTSD, “most people who are exposed to a traumatic, stressful event experience some of the symptoms of PTSD in the days and weeks following exposure [… ] Roughly 30% of these individuals develop a chromic form that persists throughout their lifetimes,” (“What”). Some of these symptoms include, major depression, conduct disorders, drug abuse and dependency, simple phobias, and social phobias.
The family of the survivor can also be affected by the disorder, (“What”). As, Dr. Yael Danieli states in his article, entitled “As Survivors Age”, what happened in the parents’ generation must affect the next, even if the child was born years after the Holocaust (Danieli). Art, his father and his mother all exhibit some of these characteristics. The characters have unnecessary anxiety, fears, obsessions, depression, and relationship problems that are shown throughout Art’s narration. Vladek has many anxiety issues that directly relate to him surviving the Holocaust.
He obsesses over money, making sure he never buys anything he does not have to and balances his checkbook until it is completely even (Maus II 23). One time while walking with Art, Vladek takes some phone wire he finds in a trash can. When Art asks him why he can’t buy phone wire, Vladek remarks, “Pssh. Why always you want to buy when you can find!? ” (Maus I 118). This is an example of Vladek’s thriftiness that can be seen throughout the story. According to the Trauma Recovery Program, “trauma itself triggers the anxiety disorder of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” (“Causes”).
The traits expressed through Art’s character are not unique to him, but can be found repeatedly in the Holocaust survivor population. Vladek’s anxiety can also be shown through his dreams. Vladek has had nightmares ever since he had been in the concentration camps, another common symptom of survivors (“What”). One evening Art and his wife Francois hear Vladek moaning in his sleep. When she asks what the noise is, he explains, “he’s moaning in his sleep again. When I was a kid I thought that was the noise all grown-ups made while they slept,” (Maus II 74). Vladek’s dreams are common among trauma victims.
Research has shown that, “people who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience trough nightmares and flashbacks,” (“What”). Survivors’ dreams are most often related to a specific traumatic image or situation the individual was put in, that continues to haunt them years later. Art shows many signs of anxiety as well. There is barely any frames in the entire story that don’t portray him with a cigarette, a common habit practice for relaxation. The meticulous attention he gives to his work, such as decided which animal to draw Francois (his wife) as, also shows this (Maus II 11).
Much his anxiety has developed by living with parents who suffer from PTSD. Living with someone who has PTSD can cause symptoms very similar to the disorder itself, and the anxieties of someone, such as a parent, can lead their significant others to feel just as anxious (“Post”). Vladek shows signs of obsessive-compulsive disorders too. He counts all his pills, money, and even the nails in his shed. He keeps his house completely clean and organized. One time, when Art spills ashes on the carpet, Vladek becomes extremely upset saying, “but look what you do Artie! You are dropping on the carpet cigarette ashes.
You want it should be like a stable in here? ” (Maus I 52). Vladek is also very controlling of his son. He likes him to be nearby and even throws out Art’s jacket one time to give him a new “nicer” one without telling him (Maus I 68-69). This need to control is part of Art’s anxiety issues and results from PTSD. Depression is present in 51. 9% of men and 48% of women who suffer from PTSD (“What”). Vladek’s depression is expressed in many ways. He does not like talking about his experiences in the Holocaust. Though Art has heard pieces of his father’s story, it is apparent through his commentary that he has never heard the whole thing.
Vladek also does not like to be reminded of Anja. While Vladek tells Art he has burned all of Anja’s things, he says, “these notebooks, and other really nice things of mother… one time I had a very bad day… and all of these things I destroyed. After Anja died I had to make an order with everything… these papers had too many memories. So I burned them,” (Maus I 158-159). Many people who have PTSD avoid reliving the traumatic experiences and memories (“Post”). They also tend to migrate away from Europe after the war. Despite the success Vladek has in Poland before and after the war, he decides to move with Anja to America.
Dan Savin M. D. and Shalom Robinson M. D. report that, “after the Holocaust, many survivors moved to new surroundings… where there were not so many constant reminders of the trauma,” (Robinson). People lost their entire lives, including their family and possessions. By leaving Poland, they hope to be able to forget by not having so many physical reminders. Anja shows signs of depression as well. She had depression and anxiety disorders before the war, which left her more susceptible to PTSD afterwards. Vladek describes her before they were married as always being “anxious”, (Maus I 19).
Anja was unable to cope with the loss of her son and almost her entire family. Years afterward she committed suicide. Suicide rates have become increasingly high among people who have suffered severe stress and trauma. Many people feel guilty for having survived the Holocaust when they were unable to help their loved ones survive (Robinson). According to Yael Danieli PhD, “the recent suicides of several highly successful and socially prominent Holocaust survivors highlights the potential risks of failing to appreciate the internal istress among survivors in the face of apparent success,” (Danieli). Survivors, like Anja, feel like they did not do all they could have to help their family and feel guilty for moving on with their life. Art suffers from depression as a result of his parents struggle with it. He has been in a mental institution (Maus I 100) and sees a psychiatrist to help him deal with the issues in his life (Maus II 43). He confesses to his psychiatrist that all he remembers about his father is arguing with him and never feeling good enough.
The psychiatrist explains to him that Vladek probably inflicted these feelings on him, out of his own need to feel like he survived because he was better, to ease his guilt. On the other hand, Art also feels guilty for surviving. He feels as though he will never live up to the memory of his brother, Richieu, who died in the war, and feels guilty for not having been trough what they did (Maus II 43-46). Art was also greatly affected by Anja’s suicide as well. This is shown in a very emotional comic Art wrote soon after his mother’s death. In it he tells his mother, “you murdered me! ” (Maus I 103).
Art also calls his father a murderer when he finds out Vladek burned Anja’s journals (Maus I 159). This is an example of how Art’s parents’ struggle with PTSD have greatly affected him. The National Center for PTSD says that when someone suffers from PTSD their family often feels, “hurt, alienated, or discourage, and then becomes angry or distant at the survivor,” (“Post”). This behavior is very obvious in Art and Vladek’s relationship, in their consistent bickering throughout the story. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects the lives of everyone involved, not just the victim of the trauma.
The survivors of the Holocaust experienced such torture that they obviously could never recover. Maus shows that the symptoms of PTSD and the problems it imposes upon the family of a survivor make it a disorder that must be identified in people. There are many ways to treat PTSD, for the survivor and his family, which include medication, group, individual, cognitive-behavioral, and exposure therapy (“What”). Though none of these are a cure, by being aware of the disorder, people will be able to lead normal lives and have healthy relationships with their family.