Tag Archives: Auschwitz

Book review: Maus

Only one comic book has ever won a Pulitzer prize, that being Maus – A Survivor’s Tale. It won a Pulitzer Prize Special Award in 1992 for its author, Art Spiegelman. However, to call it a comic book does not do it service, as comic implies a level of humour involved. The term graphic novel would suit more, as the book is an artistic representation of the author’s father and his recounting of life as a Polish Jew in the 1930’s and his subsequent interment in Auschwitz. The story switches between the author’s father recounting the wartime and then his later life in New York.

The book is written in two volumes, with the first part called My Father Bleeds History which chronicles Vladek Speigelman’s time from the mid-1930’s to winter 1944. The second volume is called And Here My Troubles Began and describes time spent in Auschwitz and ends with the later life of the author and his father in 1970’s New York.

The story is very gripping, but what distinguishes it from our tales recounting the war years or Holocaust, is the understanding of how the situations experienced affected the person involved later in life. Vladek Spiegelman was a well-educated businessman in 1930’s Poland living in Częstochowa. He worked in the textiles and fabrics industry before he met his wife to be, Anja Zylberberg. Her family owned a factory in Sosnowiec, so they moved there after getting married in the mid 1930’s, having a young son shortly afterwards. As the Nazis decided to become aggressive, eventually invading Poland in 1939, life for Jews like Vladek and Anja became much more difficult. Eventually as the Nazis advanced, they sent their son to stay with a friend but as the Germans came to bring Jews to the gas chambers their friend decided to poison herself, her children and Vladek and Anja’s son to avoid death in the gas chambers.

The couple eventually were taken to Auschwitz in 1944 to labour in the work-camp. A strong work ethic, good contacts from his life as a businessman, and some good luck helped Vladek and Anja survive. However, 20 years after the war, Anja committed suicide, supposedly as a result of trying to deal with the effects of the war. Vladek remarried to another Auschwitz survivor called Mala. However, his life had also been changed for the worse by his time in Auschwitz, for exmaple mainfesting itself in a hate to waste food, to the point of returning half a box of cereal to the supermarket to get a return on the money paid as the cereal would not be eaten. The author himself, Art Spiegelman, has to deal with his mother’s suicide, his increasing frustration with his father’s behaviour and also his own guilt that he does not understand the Holocaust because he did not experience it (as he was born in 1948 in America after Anja and Vladek moved to New York).

One key part of the structure of the story of Maus is anthropomorphism – that is animals being represented with human characteristics such as walking on two feet, talking and using human gestures and expressions. In this book, Spiegelman used specific types of animals for different races , religions and nationalities. The main ones are listed below:

Jews as mice (regardless of nationality)

Germans/Nazis as cats (chasing mice)

Americans as dogs (chasing the cats)

British as fish (hunted in a way by cats by usually protected by the relative safety of water)

French as frogs (as a stereotype?)

Swedes as deer

Poles as pigs

Spiegelman said said that he tried to represent all people of a nationality as one kind of animal as a metaphor for the absurdity of dividing people based on these lines. In an interview with Comics Journal in 1991, he said “these metaphors… are meant to self-destruct in my book — and I think they do self-destruct.”The book is highly acclaimed and is very much worth reading. Because it blends the experiences of surviving Auschwitz with dealing with later life and the knock-on effect it really shows more than many other tales recounting Holocaust experiences. It should be recommended reading for anyone with an interest in this time in history. Praise for the book includes:

“An epic story told in tiny pictures” The New York Times

“A quiet triumph, moving and simple – impossible to describe accurately, and impossible for achieve in any medium but comics” Washington Post

“The most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust” Wall Street Journal

 

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Millionaire collector orders theft of neo-nazis

Late yesterday thieves broke into Britain and made off with an unknown number of neo-nazis. Early reports are that it was all of them but a government official has urged calm saying: “Let’s not get our hopes up at this early stage in the investigation. Police are even now rigorously avoiding looking for these barn pots so we just have to hope none of them turn up safe and well of their own accord.”

The daring theft apparently took place under the cover of broad daylight while security forces were suddenly busy dealing with a bit of dirt they all simultaneously found under their fingernails. Passers by report seeing nothing at all since they were all whistling nonchalantly and peering upwards at the time. “We’ve pretended to question everyone in the area,” said a Police spokesman, “and, so far, we’re confident there is absolutely no information that might lead to these oxygen-wasting pinheads being returned safely to their homes and the people who loath them.”

Speculation is growing that the neo-nazis may have been stolen to order. Sources close to everyone you know have hinted that there is a shadowy underworld of completely sane and healthy people who would give anything to get hold of prominent neo-nazis and lock them in very dark and secure rooms so they can enjoy not looking at them anytime they like. A representative of the human race said: “It’s hard to believe, but there are individuals out there with the money and power to make this kind of thing happen.”

If the neo-nazis have been taken as part of a vast and deeply comforting conspiracy where are they likely to end up? By speaking to any passing normal person we’ve uncovered a series of agreeable possibilities. Once they are securely pinioned behind thick one-way glass we can assume these objects will be subjected to intensive study so as to determine their genus and species. Huge sums are believed to have been invested in the hope of establishing that the kind of creature who might want to, say, own the Auschwitz Arbeit Macht Frei sign for their personal amusement is of an entirely different and, hopefully, short-lived species than Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

A think tank made up of every rational human being on Earth has proposed a radical solution in the unlikely event that the neo-nazis are returned to Britain: mentoring by mentally and ethically superior peers. The government is believed to be putting together a specialist team of people who slap their girlfriends on buses in the hope that these relatively advanced citizens can talk some sense into them.

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The Arbeit Macht Frei sign theft story depressed me. Seriously, these people are making the entire human race look bad; Polish, Swedish, British or whatever they turn out to be. Just in case people are watching from Alpha Centauri I’ve decided to rewrite the episode in a more sensible and heartwarming form. In other words, it’s a satire.

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Polandian on Sunday #3

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Welcome to Polandian on Sunday with a brief summary of what happened this week in Poland.

1. Eurovote? Poles couldn’t care less

This spring over 500 million Europeans will vote for 736 Members of the European Parliament. European Parliament is a legislative body which has a say (together with EU Council comprising heads of governments) on the EU legislation, which is then binding for the member states.

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Eurostat asked European Union citizens in all 27 member states whether they will take part in the upcoming elections. Results of the study show Poland, which is assigned 54 seats in the chamber, as one of the countries where people are least interested in casting a vote. 19% of the Polish respondents say they will not vote, which is the second highest score after the UK (30%). As little as 13% say they will vote  – the lowest of all EU countries.

Jarosław Zbieranek, director of The Institute of Public Affairs, told Gazeta Wyborcza daily that he thinks there are 3 main reasons for this desinterresement:
– the public doesn’t have enough information about the election and about the EU parliament;
– EU elections are treated by the media and parties rather as a barometer for the national politics, than an event with broader europan dimention;
– parties choose candidates for their popularity rather, than their competence: opera singer, several Big Brother participants, cosmonauts, sports-people, tv presenters.

Number of people who declare will take part in the PE election
Belgium: 70%
Luxembourg: 62%
Malta: 56%
Denmark: 56%
EU Average: 34%
Slovakia: 25%
Portugal: 24%
United Kingdom: 22%
Austria: 21%
Poland: 13%

2. President most insulted figure on social websites

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Social networking website Nasza-klasa.pl, helping to get back in touch with former classmates, is the most popular service of its kind in Poland. 25% of all Poles have an account there. As the Dziennik daily reports, Lech Kaczyński – the President of Poland, has over 60 fake accounts registered on his name on nasza-klasa.

All of the 60 accounts are full of vulgar insults and threats. Dziennik contacted some of authors of offensive comments. 18-year-old Adrian, who called the president a “prick”, explains that he thinks the state of Poland deteriorates because of Lech Kaczyński. He blaims the president for creating conflicts and sees him as corrupted by power. 21-year-old Mateusz wrote under one of Lech Kaczynski’s photos that if he had a gun he would kill “a duck like this one”.

Offending the head of state is a crime in Poland. A crime for which one could be sentenced to up to three years of imprisonment. However, in this case, the police and the public prossecutor are helpless. As the spokesperson for the Wrocław Police told the daily: the police have no possibility to access nasza-klasa.pl. This, and similar websites are blocked on their computers, so that officers wouldn’t spend their time chatting to friends on-line at work.

3. Should the Polish government pay compensations to former Auschwitz homeowners?

When Poland lost the September 1939 campaign, and the attacking Germany and Soviet Union divided Polish territory between themselves – the town of Oświęcim was annexed by Germany and renamed Auschwitz. And by this name it is known around the world – as the place where Germans conducted most unimaginable crimes against humanity in the history of Europe.

To build the concentration camp, Germans expelled many residents from the town suburbs. Those, who owned properties, call for compensation now – 64 years after the end of the war. Members of Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, prepared an act to satisfy those demands from the Polish Treasury. This motion gained support from all political powers.

Half of the former property owners have already received part compensations in 2001 from the Polish-German Reconcilliation Foundation powered by the money from the German government. However, as the President of the Association Of The Victims Of The Third German Reich In Relation to Expulsion From Oświęcim says, 250 families did not manage to produce a valid claim at that time. The victims – he explains – are elderly and sick people, while the foundation gave them a four-month deadline.

It is not possible to demand any more compensations from Germany now, as Poland, signing a treaty establishing the reconcilliation foundation, agreed not to file any more claims in the future. The governemt also rejects the proposal of Polish-funded compensation. Jan Borkowski, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs told journalists: ‘Germany is a perpetrator, Poland is a victim. We cannot take responsibility – this would send a wrong message’.

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GOING UP

New regulations in outdoor advertising – Advertising got out of control in many Polish cities in recent years. Huge ads cover many buildings in city centres. Billboards are being installed wherever a free space is spotted. Public complaints foreced the government to work on this matter. Expecting state regulations to arrive soon, the Chamber of Outdoor Advertising has come up with their own regulations of the market, hoping to set a standard. This is the first step in the right way.

GOING DOWN

TVP Polish public television – which terminates its subscription of the most popuar Polish broadsheet, the liberal-leftish Gazeta Wyborcza. Many governments wanted to rule the TVP in hope to rule the hearts. A strategy that never succeded. This time, the neo-fascists with which the formerly ruling Law and Justice party was in coalition – got into the top management of the firm. Wyborcza daily is campaigning against the new managment. TVP continues to deteriorate.

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