May 7, 2014

MAUS is propagandist memoir says Canadian Polish Congress Part 3

The Problems with Spiegelman’s MAUS:
Why MAUS Should Not Be Taught in High Schools
or Elementary Schools

Part # 3  Why is the depiction of Poles in MAUS objectionable from a historical perspective?

MAUS promotes negative stereotypes in portraying Poles and contains serious historical misrepresentations regarding their role in the context of the Second World War. These two phenomena go hand in hand, one buttressing the other. They are ubiquitous. Among the many misrepresentations regarding Poles (which are addressed in more depth later) the following stand out:

            Ordinary Poles are portrayed as Nazi sympathizers.

            Poles are shown as occupying virtually all positions of brutal kapos in Nazi

            There is no mention that Poles faced the death penalty for helping Jews in
            any way. Instead, Polish helpers are portrayed as greedy and deceitful.

            There is no mention that the Germans also relied on Jewish policemen and
            agents to hunt down Jews who escaped from the ghetto. That role is
            assigned exclusively to the Poles.

Anyone who has carried out any serious research on Auschwitz and the German occupation of this part of Poland, as Spiegelman purports to have done, could not have failed to come across the existence of many Jewish kapos, the fact that there was a death penalty for aiding Jews, and the role of the Jewish police outside the ghettos. The treatment of these matters can be contrasted with Spiegelman’s decision to challenge his father’s recollection about far less significant matters such as the existence of a prisoner orchestra in Auschwitz. However, he does not challenge his father’s recollection on the make-up of the kapos and the risks Poles faced for helping Jews. The failure to include such important information is a deliberate narrative choice that seriously compromises the status of MAUS as non-fiction, which is how the book is essentially passed off and wherein lies its supposed didactic value for students.

NB.  Nazi Germans posted warnings of death penalty (printed in German and Polish)
Please click on this link to see photo.

MAUS relies on negative stereotypes to portray the Poles in an unfavourable light. Depicting Poles as disgusting and brutal animals is eerily reminiscent of the Nazi propaganda newspaper, Der Stürmer.Significantly, this point is usually omitted by reviewers of MAUS, even though the image of fat, fascist pigs permeates MAUS and is all too glaring to overlook. The fact that MAUS employs the same imagery of the Poles as found in Nazi propaganda, where Poles were often referred to as “pigs,” could perhaps be explained, provided teachers and teaching materials addressed this matter squarely. The fact is they almost never do. (The handout, Ian Johnston’s “On Spiegelman’s Maus I and II,” provided students in a Toronto high school, does not mention this. Rather, it refers to the animals’ unexplained “symbolic quality.”) But even pointing out such facts would not expose the depth of prejudice and misinformation that the pig metaphor represents.

There is certainly nothing sympathetic or cute about the pigs in MAUS. The predominant portrayal of the Poles is undeniably negative. Except for the odd Pole who is shown in a light that is not entirely unfavourable, Spiegelman does not humanize the Polish “pigs.” He humanizes only his Jewish mice characters, while depicting his Polish pigs essentially as racist stereotypes. By focusing on negative characters like the camp kapos, Spiegelman implies that the Poles, who were also victims of the Nazi regime, collaborated with their fascist enemies. Unfortunately, these crude stereotypes are, for the most part, simply perverse history and would be unacceptable in any other context. 

NB.  The Polish Underground was the largest Resistance movement of any Nazi-occupied European nation.  Poles were not Nazi collaborators, since their mission was to sabotage Nazi German supply routes, trains, etc  In fact,  Polish insurgents managed to assassinate several high ranking Nazi German officers.  I invite you to read one of my blog posts regarding Secret Polish Forces of WW2  Please click on this link 

Let us consider the frames showing Poles, drawn as fat pigs, who greet each other with a Nazi hand salute and say the words “Heil Hitler”. It would have been almost impossible to find any Pole saluting Hitler to another Pole during the war. Yet these frames strongly suggest that that is how ordinary Poles tried to convince one another that they were genuine Poles. Polish pigs are also shown wearing uniforms with Nazi insignia, even though the Poles did not and could not join collaborationist formations like the SS. (This was unlike any other occupied European countries, which did in fact produce large, voluntary, national SS formations in the service of the Nazis. (11)  

NB.  Polish insurgents often wore a red-and-white armband, symbol of the Polish Flag, and the underground army, Armia Krajowa.   Please click here to visit this important website

Throughout, the pigs are also shown as fat, whereas the mice are emaciated, even though the Germans imposed near-starvation food rations on the Polish population. (In 1941, the food allotment for a Jew amounted to 253 calories, 669 calories for a Pole, and 2,613 for a German.) Quite simply, this is a perversion of the historical record. No amount of literary deconstruction of the animal metaphor will erase this falsified portrayal of the Poles as alleged sympathizers and beneficiaries of the Nazi regime.

The depiction of Poles in Auschwitz is overwhelmingly that of cruel, greedy and brutal kapos. All of the kapos in Auschwitz are drawn as pigs, from the moment Vladek arrives at Auschwitz. (Polish kapos are shown as German “partners” standing at the entrance to Auschwitz.) The Polish kapos are ubiquitous. They appear in frame after frame after frame – dozens of them spread over 40 pages of the book. There is a seemingly endless stream of pigs who are kapos. There is even a brutal female pig kapo in Birkenau, even though the prisoners in that camp were almost exclusively Jewish. There is just one exception to the kapo profile in Auschwitz-Birkenau, namely, a female mouse kapo in Birkenau. But she is actually kind to Vladek’s wife, Anja. It is not surprising, therefore, that GradeSaver, a popular online student study guide provider, states a conclusion that becomes rather apparent from Spiegelman’s portrayal of Poles: “A ‘kapo’ is a Polish supervisor at a concentration camp.” (12) 

NB.  A kapo is not a Polish supervisor at a concentration camp. The majority of kapos were German thugs and criminals, as well as Lithuanians, Ukrainians, quite a number of Jews; and among the Poles, most were Volksdeutscher.  

The impression MAUS seeks to convey is rather clear: Poles helped to run Auschwitz for the Germans. They occupied strategic positions of power between the lowly Jews and the Nazi overlords, and collaborated with the Germans in oppressing the Jewish prisoners. This is patently false history. The kapos (prisoner functionaries who were assigned various supervisory tasks) did not run the camp, even on a day-to-day basis. There were plenty of “cat” personnel for that purpose. Some 8,000 to 8,200 SS men and some 200 female guards – consisting of Germans and Austrians – served in the garrison during the camp’s existence. (13)

NB.  The fact is that there were not enough SS Nazi Germans to run the concentrations camps on a daily basis. They had to appoint Germans thugs and other nationalities to inflict their brand of sadism and torture on the prisoners.

MAUS’s Polish kapos excel at mistreating Jews. Otherwise, Polish prisoners (pigs) are almost invisible in MAUS, even though the Auschwitz concentration camp was originally built for Poles and held mostly Polish (Christian) prisoners until 1943. In total, some 150,000 Christian Poles were imprisoned in Auschwitz. (14) 

NB.   Many Jewish prisoners were appointed as kapos and inflicted the most brutal treatment on their fellow Jews, in many cases murdering them.  The New York Times printed an article in 1987 about a Jewish man who was accused by Federal authorities of wartime atrocities against the Jewish people. Please click on the following link.

Although half of the Polish prisoners perished, mostly from malnutrition and disease, the Polish pigs in MAUS are drawn as fat as ever, while the mice are shown as emaciated. Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp in Germany, was originally intended for political prisoners. Later it held “asocials” (Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals) and prisoners of various nationalities including Jews. In 1940, Dachau became filled with Polish prisoners, who constituted the majority of the prisoner population until the camp was liberated in 1945. Dachau was also the principal camp for imprisoned Christian clergy from all over Europe. Of a total of 2,720 clergy imprisoned at Dachau, the overwhelming majority, 95%, were Catholic and 65% were Poles. About 90% of the clergymen put to death in Dachau were Poles. A large number of Polish priests were chosen for Nazi medical experiments.

 Against this background alone, the association of Poles with kapos is a travesty. This is no mere coincidence or accident, because all of the kapos in Gross-Rosen and Dachau are also drawn as pigs. Spiegelman carried out extensive research for MAUS, which he clearly makes known so as to enhance the authenticity of his account. Therefore, he could not have been unaware of the hundreds of Jewish testimonies that describe the activities of Jewish kapos in Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps. Thus, it is fair to conclude that there is a deliberate cover-up of the existence, and brutality, of Jewish kapos at the expense of Poles. This is racist. As the historical record clearly shows, kapos cannot be associated with any one nationality. Although there were some Polish kapos in Auschwitz and other camps,
the suggestion that the kapo function was almost exclusively a Polish domain –repeatedly reinforced in MAUS – is simply untrue. There were also many Jewish kapos, as well as German kapos.

When Vladek arrived in Auschwitz in 1944, the vast majority of new arrivals were Jews from Hungary (MAUS alludes to this fact). There was, therefore, little use for Polish kapos as they would be unable to communicate with the Hungarian Jews.  Most East European Jews, on the other hand, had a common language, Yiddish, so – as Jewish testimonies show – Jews became prominent and invaluable in the kapo function. Interestingly, Marysia Winogron, a cousin of Vladek’s wife, who was in Auschwitz-Birkenau at the same time as Vladek’s wife, recalls her physical tormentors as Czech Jews, both kapos and block commanders, and adds, “I never got beaten by the Germans.” (15) 

The compilation, in Appendix 1, of representative Jewish accounts fully substantiates these assertions. Numerous Jewish survivors attest to the cruelty of many of the Jewish kapos they encountered in the camps featured in MAUS: Auschwitz, Birkenau and Gross-Rosen. One Jewish testimony compares a Polish kapo favourably to a Jewish kapo. Another accuses a Jewish kapo of targeting Poles for abuse and sparing Jews. The accuracy of this historical analysis is beyond question. However, it is a complex reality that Spiegelman’s MAUS deliberately  eschews and that its student readers will never learn about. The book’s malicious portrayal of Poles in Auschwitz is taken at face value by educators. There is no evidence that this aspect of the book has ever been challenged in the instructional materials or by any teacher in the classroom.

In this context, one must ask the question whether any school board would approve the use of a book, written from the perspective of a Polish prisoner of Auschwitz, that suggested that all of the kapos were Jews, even if that was based on the prisoner’s actual experiences. We believe that the answer to that question is apparent. Such a book would be discredited. Even if Spiegelman’s father had claimed that all of the kapos in Auschwitz were Poles, which we doubt (this was likely the author’s own embellishment), he could have confronted his father on this point in MAUS, if he had wanted to, in order to set the record straight. Spiegelman  chose to do just that with regard to the prisoner orchestra that played in Auschwitz.  (Vladek was unaware of it, but Art had read about it in his research.) So Erin Einhorn, cited earlier, read Art Spiegelman quite accurately when she points out that his treatment of the Poles is from a skewed, ethno-nationalist perspective. Not only does MAUS fail to expose this bias, the author perpetuates it. Yet the book is touted by educators as breaking down stereotypes, thereby giving further legitimacy to those negative stereotypes.

Again, no amount of deconstruction of the text will expose, or erase from the students’ minds, this inaccurate and defamatory portrayal of ordinary Poles as Nazi sympathizers or as kapos in Auschwitz. Moreover, none of the study materials we have been directed to or have found address or correct these false impressions. None of the students we have spoken to recall their teachers dealing with the perverse portrayal of the Poles we have described. The limitations of literary analysis are all too apparent when one is faced with a text that plays fast and loose with the historical record. Those literary “tools” are no substitute for hard knowledge of the facts when one is dealing with a book that is treated as non-fiction. 

The overwhelmingly negative portrayal of the Poles in Auschwitz pushed by MAUS is
an affront to the memory of the camp’s 150,000 Polish Christian prisoners. One such prisoner was Witold Pilecki, a member of the Polish underground, who volunteered for an operation to get imprisoned at Auschwitz in order to gather intelligence. Pilecki escaped from the camp in 1943, after nearly three years of imprisonment, and filed detailed reports about conditions in the camp. How many students have heard of Witold Pilecki?

NB.   The story of Witold Pilecki is one of amazing courage and self-sacrifice and cannot be explained in short words.  Please click on the following link to visit a special website in English for a detailed biography, documents and photos about Witold Pilecki.,Rotamaster-Witold-Pilecki.html

Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest, performed the unheard of deed of offering his life up for a fellow prisoner, a Polish family man who was part of a group of prisoners that were to be executed after a prisoner escaped. Sigmund Gerson, then a 13-year-old Jewish boy, recollected that Father Kolbe was “like an angel to me. Like a mother hen, he took me in his arms. He used to wipe away my tears. ... he gave away so much of his meager rations that to me it was a miracle he could live.” Another Jewish survivor, Eddie Gastfriend, recalled warmly the scores of Polish prisoner priests, who were subjected to particular forms of degradation in the camp: “They wore no collars, but you knew they were priests by
their manner and their attitude, especially toward Jews. They were so gentle, so
loving.” Father Kolbe is rightly called the Saint of Auschwitz. (16)

NB.  To read the biography of Father Kolbe, please click on the following link

We are not aware of any teaching materials or teachers that have directed students
studying MAUS to books like Witold Pilecki’s report, The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery (Los Angeles: Aquila Polonica, 2012) or Patricia Treece’s moving biography
A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe, Saint of Auschwitz (New York:Harper and Row, 1982). Moreover, students are rarely , if ever, directed to the website of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum (Internet:, which is the premier website and most authoritative source of information on Auschwitz. Thus, the chances of the students actually learning about the true narrative of the Poles in Auschwitz, other than their alleged prominent role as kapos, is rather unlikely.

Furthermore, given the level of the audience (ages 12 to 17), it is even more unlikely that the teachers would be able to adequately explain all of these complex matters, or had the time to do so, even if they were aware of them. After all, MAUS is not being taught, from a critical perspective, in history classes. It is highly unlikely that the vast majority of English teachers would themselves be aware of these facts, as they are not specialists in history and the instructional aides do not adequately address these matters. 

NB.  There are many UK schools which invite Holocaust survivors into the classroom to tell their story to the students, and answer their questions.  At Big Valley School in Alberta, they  chose an alternative method, ie to use video conferencing as a way to bring the world "into the classroom". Through this medium the students were able to "visit" the Holocaust Memorial Center as well as speak with a Holocaust survivor (on video)  This is an excellent idea that should be incorporated in all Canadian schools.  (Source: )

There is no reason to believe that the students would come to appreciate that the Poles as pigs metaphor breaks down in any meaningful way. With few exceptions, the pig people are simply not sympathetic characters. They are greedy and brutal beasts. Literary analysis tools are of no assistance here. They would not expose the serious historical misrepresentations we have described, just as they would not expose the religious and cultural biases inherent in the pig metaphor. Dr. Linda Kornasky, a professor of literature at Angelo StateUniversity, makes this very point when she states: 

Maus does not actually achieve the deconstructive purposes that Spiegelman has claimed for it. In fact, Spiegelman’s admissions, cited in petition, that he did actually intend to represent inaccurate and hateful stereotypes are entirely true. He then simply has employed the cloak of “postmodernism” to hide the true import of his destructive portrayal of Poles. 

We will limit ourselves to two additional examples of Spiegelman’s treatment of the
historical record. As noted earlier, MAUS makes no mention that the German invaders imposed the death penalty on Poles for helping Jews in any way. This was not the case in most other occupied countries, and was unheard of in Western Europe. In occupied Poland, often entire families including grandparents, teenagers (like the students), young children and infants in arms were killed for this “crime.” More than 1,000 Christian Poles were executed when discovered sheltering or helping Jews. Poles – 6,400 as of January 1, 2013 –also constitute the largest group of rescuers of Jews recognized by Yad Vashem,The Holocaust Martyrs’ an Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem. A selection of rescue stories describing the sacrifices and bravery of many Poles in the Sosnowiec area (where Vladek resided) is found in Appendix 2. Portraying these Poles as pigs is, by the standards of democratic values, simply unacceptable under any circumstances. 

NB.  The Polish Underground, and many Polish citizens risked their lives to save Jewish people.  Unfortunately,  many thousands of Polish people were executed along with the Jewish families they were hiding when the Gestapo discovered them.  There is a very important website that you must visit, starting with this page,
please click here

Most Polish helpers, however, have not been recognized by Yad Vashem. According
to historian Gunnar Paulsson,

The 27,000 Jews in hiding in Warsaw relied on about 50–60,000 people who provided hiding-places and another 20–30,000 who provided other forms of help;  on the other hand, blackmailers, police agents, and other actively anti-Jewish elements numbered perhaps 2–3,000, each striking at two or three victims a month. In other words, helpers outnumbered hunters by about 20 or 30 to one. The active helpers of Jews thus made up seven to nine per cent of the population of Warsaw; the Jews themselves, 2.7 per cent; the hunters, perhaps 0.3 per cent; and the whole network—Jews, helpers and hunters—constituted a secret city of at least 100,000: one tenth of the people of Warsaw. (17)

The Germans imposed near-starvation food rations on the Polish population. In 1941, the food allotment for a Jew amounted to 253 calories, 669 calories for a Pole, and 2,613 for a German. The typical Polish family occupied one or two rooms in a tenement house or cottage, without running water or a toilet. Thus, the vast majority of Poles were in no position to provide long-term shelter to anyone.

István Deák, a noted Columbia University historian, has eloquently made the following compelling argument:

The penalty for assisting or even trading with a Jew in German-occupied Poland was death, a fact that makes all comparisons between wartime Polish-Jewish relations and, say, Danish-Jewish relations blatantly unfair. Yet such comparisons are made again and again in Western histories—and virtually always to the detriment of the Poles, with scarce notice taken of the 50,000 to 100,000 Jews said to have been saved by the efforts of Poles to hide or otherwise help them ... one must not ignore the crucial differences between wartime conditions in Eastern and Western Europe. (18)

NB.  The Polish Underground was highly organized and had a Directorate for Civil Action, courts and an elaborate code of ethics. Collaboration with the Nazis was punishable by death

Instead of pointing out the lethal risks for Poles associated with the rescue of Jews,
MAUS portrays Polish rescuers as greedy and deceitful. The truth is that they were
poor and frightened. None of the three Poles (drawn as pigs) who assisted the
Spiegelman family, namely, Mr. Łukowski, Mrs. Kawka, and Mrs. Motonowa
(actually Mrs. Matoń) of Szopienice, betrayed them. They were just afraid to shelter
them any longer. Similarly, the claim that the Polish smugglers who were to take
Vladek and Anja to Hungary simply betrayed them does not stand up to closer
scrutiny, though this is nowhere disclosed in MAUS.(19)

In his incisive critique of MAUS (The Comics Journal,no. 135, April 1990), Harvey
Pekar exposes this problem by the providing following illustration:

Fiore asks why, if Art meant to portray Poles negatively, he shows them aiding his parents to hide from the Germans. I answered that Art had to do this because it was an integral part of his father’s story. So get this: Fiore asks why, if Art can distort the account of his relationship with his father, he can’t ignore or distort the fact that some Poles risked their lives for Jews during the Second World War. Here’s the answer: Art quotes his father as saying he’d met a Polish woman, Mrs. Motonowa, selling food in the black market. Vladek pays her for a loaf of bread. She tells him she doesn’t have change. He says, “It’s OK ... keep it for your little boy.” Art’s implication is that Mrs. Motonowa lied here about not having change so she could keep it.

Then Mrs. Motonowa offers to let Vladek stay at her farmhouse. So Vladek and his wife move there. At this point Art interrupts his father’s narrative to cynically remark, “You had to pay Mrs. Motonowa to keep you, right?” Vladek answers with some irritation, “Of course I paid ... and well I paid ... what do you think? Someone will risk their life for nothing ... I also paid for the food what she gave to us from her smuggling business. But one time I missed a few coins to the bread.” When Vladek does this Mrs.Motonowa comes back in the evening without bread. Vladek comments, “Always she got bread, so I didn’t believe ... But still, she was a good woman.”

What’s happening here is that Art is showing a poor Polish woman hiding his parents, but he’s strongly implying that she’s doing it for money alone, which is consistent with her pig image. To kill two birds with one stone, he pictures his father accepting her “mercenary” values. (“Of course I paid... Someone will risk their life for nothing?”) Maybe Art expects Mrs. Motonowa to turn down Vladek’s money, to support him and his wife for free, even though Vladek can pay for his expenses. Vladek justifies paying Mrs. Motonowa for risking her life to save his, but Art implies she’s taking unreasonable advantage of his father. This may illustrate that Art is even cheaper and more selfish than Vladek, maybe almost as cheap as I am!

Actually, there were Poles of high moral character who saved Jews without expecting to be paid for it. But Artie portrays all Poles as pigs.

Given the approach validated by the author, there is no room for students to become aware – and this is something that should be impressed on them, had MAUS not missed yet another opportunity to rise above its biases – that sacrificing one’s life is not a simple act of kindness. No one has the right to demand of others that they should help someone if it means laying down their lives. Many honest Jewish survivors who were rescued by Poles have stated that they do not know if they would have been able to rescue Poles under such circumstances. Some have said emphatically that they would not have undertaken such a risk. 

“I do not accuse anyone that did not hide or help a Jew. We cannot demand from others to sacrifice their lives. One has no right to demand such risks.”(20)

“Everyone who states the view that helping Jews was during those times a reality, a duty and nothing more should think long and hard how he himself would behave in that situation. I admit that that I am not sure that I could summon up enough courage in the conditions of raging Nazi terror.” (21)

One Polish Jew who often asked this question of Jewish survivors recalled: “The answer was always the same and it is mine too. I do not know if I would have endangered my life to save a Christian.” (22)

“I am not at all sure that I would give a bowl of food to a Pole if it could mean death for me and my daughter,” a Jewish woman admitted candidly.(23)

“Today, with the perspective of time, I am full of admiration for the courage and dedication ... of all those Poles who in those times, day in, day out, put their lives on the line. I do not know if we Jews, in the face of the tragedy of another nation, would be equally capable of this kind of sacrifice.” (24)

“And what right did I have to condemn them? Why should they risk themselves and their families for a Jewish boy they didn’t know? Would I have behaved any differently? I knew the answer to that, too. I wouldn’t have lifted a finger. Everyone was equally intimidated.”  (25)

“I say this without needless comments, because I’ve been asked before: If I had a family I would not shelter a Jew during the occupation.” (26)

“I’m not surprised people didn’t want to hide Jews. Everyone was afraid, who would risk his family’s lives? ... But you absolutely can’t blame an average Pole, I don’t know if anyone would be more decent,  if any Jew would be more decent.” (27)

“When I later traveled in the world and Jews would talk to me about how badly Poles behaved with respect to Jews, that they didn’t hide them, I always had this answer: ‘All right, they could have done more. But I wonder how many could one find among you, the Jews, who would hide a Polish family knowing that not only you, but your children your whole family, would get shot were you found out?’ After that there was always silence and nobody said anything more.” (28)

“To tell the truth, I don’t know whether today ... there are many Jews who would do the same for another nation. We were another nation ...” (29)

“As for the Poles: I do not bear a grudge because many of them did not want to incur danger for us [Jews]; I do not know how we would have behaved  [towards them].” (30)

“When we come to Poland with Israeli youth and I tell them about what happened during the war, I say to them: ‘I know that if I had to risk my own life, and my family’s, for a stranger, I probably wouldn’t have the courage to do so.’” (31)

“One must pay tribute to those Poles who lost their lives rescuing Jews. Moreover, one cannot blame those who did not rescue Jews. We should not forget that one cannot demand heroism from ordinary, average people. True there are times and causes that demand heroism, but only certain individuals can aspire to that. One cannot harbour ill-feelings towards or have grounds for complaining about someone for not attaining that level.” (32)

“I always protest when I hear that Poles did “too little.” How can one judge people who found themselves in such a difficult situation? Human nature is such that one is concerned foremost about one’s own life and the lives of close ones. It is their safety that is the most important thing. One has to have great courage to risk death – one’s own and one’s children – in order to rescue a stranger. To require this of ordinary people terrorized by the occupiers is to ask too much. The Jewish people themselves didn’t pass that test either. Who knows how many heroes like the Polish Righteous would be found among the Jews.” (33)

“Would Roman risk his own life now to save others? ‘It’s funny that you should ask that question,’ he said, ‘because when I teach the children, sixth graders, and I tell them how Maria saved my life, I say to the children, ‘How many of you would be willing to risk your life to save someone else, knowing that if you’re caught you’ll be put to death?’ And, of course, after hearing my story, many of them say, ‘Oh, we would, Mr. Frayman, we would.’ But I say, ‘Put your hands down. Let me tell you honestly, if someone asked me if I’d do it, my honest answer is, ‘I don’t know.’ Would I be willing to sacrifice my children, my grandchildren, I don’t know. You don’t know that until you are in that circumstance. I don’t know how gutsy I am.” (34)

No religious code, including Jewish, imposes a demand or condemns those who are not willing to put their lives on the line for others. Otherwise, except for a handful of people, we would all fail this test. At a recent screening of The Labyrinth: The Testimony of Marian Kolodziej , an award-winning film made by Ron Schmidt, SJ, at Regis College, University of Toronto, Dr. David Novak of the Centre for Jewish Studies commented that sacrificing one’s life is not even condoned in Jewish teaching. The Torah teaches that a person is obliged to help, and to share, but at a point when helping endangers one’s own life nothing in the Torah permits that. We believe your students deserve a better grounding in fundamental ethics than MAUS.(35)

Moreover, there was nothing morally reprehensible –despite Spiegelman’s indignant assertion to the contrary – in rescuers asking their charges to contribute to their own upkeep. The much praised Danish rescue operation required enormous monetary payments on the part of the rescued Jews themselves. (36)  Nothing in MAUS addresses these important issues. What teacher’s guides or student resource materials point any of these important matters out to the students, who cannot but be left with a negative impression of Polish rescuers? 

The lack of fulsome disclosure in MAUS of the role of Jewish ghetto policemen and agents in this part of occupied Poland impacts adversely on the image of Poles, who are portrayed as the only denouncers of Jews outside the ghettos. This is a historical perversion. Many Jewish survivors describe the Jewish council and police in a far darker light than MAUS does. As the Jewish testimonies in Appendix 3 show, the Germans relied on the Jewish police from Sosnowiec to hunt down Jews who escaped from the ghetto and to help liquidate nearby ghettos. While the Germans used local police forces throughout occupied Europe to round up Jews, the Zagłębie Dąbrowskie (which was incorporated into the Reich as part of Eastern Upper Silesia), the part of occupied Poland shown in Maus, the Polish police force was disbanded. The Germans set up a Jewish police to maintain order and to perform other tasks, including the liquidation of ghettos and searches for escaped Jews.


Virtually every European national group – with the exception of the Poles – volunteered in large numbers to serve in the ranks of the SS. Members of the national SS formations
included the following: Dutch – 50,000, Belgians – 40,000, Hungarians – 40,000, Croatians – 40,000, Ukrainians – 30,000, Cossacks – 30,000, Latvians – 30,000, French – 20,000, Albanians – 19,000, Russians – 18,000, Estonians – 15,000, Belorussians – 10,000, Italians – 10,000, Tatars – 10,000, Norwegians – 8,000, Dane
s – 6,000, Slovaks – 6,000, Czechs – 5,000, Romanians – 5,000, Finns – 4,000, Serbs – 4,000, Bulgarians – 3,000, Armenians – 3,000, Georgians – 3,000, Uzbeks – 2,000, Greeks – 1,000, Swiss – 1,000, Swedes – 300, English – 100. See George H. Stein,
The Waffen SS: Hitler’s Elite Guard at War, 1939–1945 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1966); Kurt Georg Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS: Eine Dokumentation
(Osnabrück: Der Freiwillige, 1965), 499–515. 

Internet: Internet:


See Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, Internet:
Spiegelman, MetaMaus,285. 

Patricia Treece,
A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe, Saint of Auschwitz (New York:Harper and Row, 1982), 138, 152–53

Gunnar S. Paulsson, “The Rescue of Jews by Non-Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland,”
The Journal of Holocaust Education, volume 7, nos. 1 & 2 (summer/autumn 1998):

István Deák, “Memories of Hell,” The New York Review of Books, June 26, 1997. 

The Germans did not set up smuggling rings to lure Jews out of hiding. Smuggling of
people out of Poland, especially Jews, was an extremely dangerous undertaking. It was
usually carried out by professional smugglers, who, understandably, charged money. MAUS implies that the Polish smugglers were simply German collaborators who turned over to the Germans Jews whom they purported to smuggle, and that the smugglers ended up in Auschwitz because they were no longer useful to the Germans. Abraham, who had sent the note with the message that he had been safely smuggled into Hungary, is exonerated as having been forced to write the note by the Polish smugglers. However, the historical record is quite different. As Mieczysław Kobylec, who has been recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile, explains, one of the Polish smugglers, who had previously acted honestly and conscientiously, was caught by the Germans and, in order to save himself, agreed to cooperate with them. In other words, he was in no different position than Abraham, except that in Abraham’s case, cooperating with the Germans was futile from the outset. See Władysław Bartoszewski and Zofia Lewin, eds., From Władysław Bartoszewski and Zofia Lewin, eds., Righteous Among Nations: Righteous Among Nations: How Poles Helped the Jews, 1939–1945
(London: Earlscourt Publications, 1969), 153–58, which is reproduced in Appendix 2. 

Pola Stein cited in Nechama Tec, When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue
of  Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 198
6), 29. 

Hanna Wehr, Ze wspomnień (Montreal: Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation of
Canada, 2001).

Cited in Marc Hillel, Le massacre des survivants: En Pologne après l’holocauste
 (1945–1947) (Paris: Plon, 1985), 99. 

Cited in Małgorzata Niezabitowska, Remnants: The Last Jews of Poland
(New York: Friendly Press, 1986), 249. 

Janka Altman, cited in Marek Arczyński and Wiesław Balcerak,
Kryptonim “Żegota”: Z dziejów pomocy Żydom w Polsce 1939–1945,
2nd edition (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1983), 264

Roman Frister,  The Cap, or the Price of a Life 
(London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999), 194. 

Testimony of Marek Oren (Orenstein), in Piotr Głuchowski and Marcin Kowalski, “Żyd miły z bliska,” Wyborcza–Duży Format,September 11, 2007.

Henryk Prajs, January 2005, Internet: (Biographies). 

Ewa S. (Stapp), September 2005, Internet: (Biographies). 

Testimony of Bencjon Drutin, in Marzena Baum-Gruszowska and Dominika Majuk, eds.,
Światła w ciemności: Sprawiedliwi wśród narodów świata: Relacje historii mówionej w
działaniach edukacyjnych (Lublin: Ośrodek “Brama Grodzka–Teatr NN,” 2009), 58.

Testimony of Emilka Rozencwajg (Shoshana Kossower Rosenzweig), a Home Army and Jewish underground liaison officer in Warsaw, interviewed by Anka Grupińska, “Ja
myślałam, że wszyscy są razem,” Tygodnik Powszechny,May 6, 2001.

Testimony of Ada Lubelczyk Willenberg, Interview with Samuel and Ada Willenberg, “To, o czym pisze Gross jest prawdą,” Polskla Agencja Prasowa (PAP), January 10, 2011. 

Henryk Bryskier,
Żydzi pod swastyką czyli getto w Warszawie w XX wieku (Warsaw: Aspra-Jr, 2006), 31. 

Szewach Weiss, “Polacy pozostali niezłomni,” Rzeczpospolita, January 26, 2011. 

Cited in Bill Tammeus and Jacques Cukierkorn, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust (Columbia, Missouri and London: University of Missouri Press, 2009), 69. Roman Frayman also admits: “But the thing I feel guilty about today is that we never maintained a relationship [with his rescuer, Maria Bałagowa], while she was living.” Ibid., 70. 

The Labyrinth is regarded as one of the most compelling and evocative artistic portrayals of the fate of prisoners in Auschwitz and well worth viewing by students in a variety of courses including English, history and religion or ethics.

During the initial stages of the rescue operation, only well-to-do Danish Jews could afford the short passage to Sweden. Private boatmen set their own price and the costs were prohibitive, ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 kroner per person ($160 to $1600 U.S. in the currency of that period). Afterwards, when organized Danish rescue groups stepped in to coordinate the flight and to collect funds, the average price per person fell to 2,000 and then 500 kroner. The total cost of the rescue operation was about 12 million kroner, of which the Jews paid about 7 million kroner, including a 750,000 kroner loan which the Jews had to repay after the war. See Leni Yahil, The Rescue of Danish Jewry: Test of a Democracy (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), 261–65, 269.

NB.  Sections which are formatted in purple italics are the comments and suggestions offerred by Polish


The Problems with Spiegelman’s MAUS:
Why MAUS Should Not Be Taught in High Schools

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