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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.
Two - The Honeymoon
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 of 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.
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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. It is now 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 working papers. Vladek and Anja talk briefly about sending Richlieu 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. In the present, Mala tells about her own experiences of 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
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 the 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. But 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.
Six - Mouse Trap
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 Sosnowiec. 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 the Gestapo searches Mrs. Motonowa. 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.