1. Does it surprise you that Vladek shows little concern for all those who died in his train car? (He says “They closed us again. We were very happy, we had now room where to stand.”) Why or Why not?
During the period when the prisoners were continuously forced to work, they were suddenly taken into a train that filled hundreds of people and animals. Just like matches and herrings, the prisoners were crowded so tightly that nobody could even take a small step forward. When the train stopped every moment, innocent people were treated with no more resources and food; they gradually began to die and faint. Some prisoners also showed the natural human tendency to express aggression and hatred if they were provided with the lack of fundamental resources: “so he jabbed to their legs with a knife, but usually he anyway died.” When Vladek barely survived with little snow from the train roof, a German finally unlocked the door and demanded prisoners to throw out the dead. It wasn’t surprising to see Vladek showing little concern for the dead because everyone that survived were too exhausted and vulnerable to suggest assistance for others. I believe that this situation can be portrayed as a game of tug of war; while one side of the mind pulls you over and reminds you to support others in any difficult situations, the other side demands you to think about yourself first. In this case, the side that demanded priority of self won the game; If I were also presented in that situation, I would’ve revealed the sense of slight happiness because relief and safety increase as more and more people leave the train.
2. On page 89, Francoise says, “I’ll bet you that Anja’s notebooks were written on both sides of the page…” -What does her comment tell you about how she views Vladek?
The fact that Francoise says “If there were any blank pages Vladek would never have burned them” emphasizes Vladek’s frugal and thrifty characteristics. In other words, she means that if any of the pages inside Anja’s notebook was left blank, then he must’ve kept it for other uses in the future. Prior to the quote, Francoise was looking at Vladek, who was trying to angrily negotiate with the grocery manager about the food. Even though Art and Francoise both wanted to block him from taking such action, Vladek couldn’t stop his temper; therefore, the comment has shown the slight frustration inside Francoise’s voice – the tone reveals a slight annoyance on the fact that Vladek is continuously taking things aggressively. In the previous chapters, we could also see that Vladek hfad a frugal characteristic, as he was upset about the salt and wooden match Mala had opened up. Not only that, Vladek had always reminded Francoise and Art to think about the left-overs carefully: “I cannot forget it…ever since Hitler I don’t like to throw out even a crumb.” From these evidences, we can infer that Vladek’s experiences in the holocaust remained a big effect on his psychological thoughts.
3. Where do Vladek’s troubles begin? (hint: not in Auschwitz)
Vladek’s trouble erupted when he was unfortunately sent to another camp, Dachau. When prisoners were hopelessly closed in barracks, waiting to die sitting on straws, they saw lice everywhere. Whenever Germans saw that prisoners had lice on any of their shirts, they immediately stopped providing soup. It was impossible for the prisoners to get soup since everywhere had lice. If someone spilled a drop of soup on any of the hungry prisoners, then they fought until there came blood. During the camp, Vladek also got an infection in his hand; fortunately, he liked the way he was being sent to the infirmary. Everyday was like a paradise because he had food, bed to sleep, and most of all, the freedom to act with relief. When Vladek was caught of staying to long, though, a German came and harshly poked his hand that needed more recovery. The hurt remained too strong that he still has a scar on his hand.
4. What is the number one killer in Dachau? (hint: it is what almost kills Vladek).
After Vladek’s short arrival in Dachau, he immediately got sick due to typhus, a disease spread by lice or harmful bacterium. While most of the people suffered from this killer, Vladek was also one of the victims. At night when he had to go to the toilet, he saw the room filled with full of people lying down restlessly. Dead people were piled in one corner, and space didn’t allow him to take a small step forwards. He always had to go on top of peoples’ heads; it was terrifying because the texture of the skin was slippery and uncomfortable. When Vladek got infected by typhus, he thought “Now it’s my time. Now I will be laying like this ones and somebody will step on me!”
5. How does Vladek “organize” so that he and his French friend were always able to get soup? (91-94)
When Vladek returned from the infirmary and hopelessly stood around, a young French man came to Vladek and asked about the languages he could speak. When Vladek responded by saying that he could speak German, Yiddish, Polish and English, the man was surprised to discover that he has finally found a friend to speak with. The French man came to Vladek almost everyday; the man was always happy to share the box of sardines, biscuits, and chocolates. Luckily, Vladek was clever enough to come up with an intelligent idea: to trade chocolates with clean shirts. Even though the t-shirt didn’t equal to the original value of the chocolate, the piece of cloth was important in Auschwitz. When Vladek received a new shirt, he rinsed the shirt very carefully and made sure it was dried. Therefore, when the Germans came back to provide food, he immediately unwrapped the dried t-shirt and showed the new one. Finally, Vladek had the chance to taste the soup.
6. How is Vladek able to get on the train which carries him away from Dachau? (97-98)
When Vladek was continuously suffering from typhus, a German soldier appeared and demanded all prisoners who were strong enough to line up outside. He declared that these prisoners were to be exchanged as war prisoners in the Swiss border. Even though Vladek felt extremely weak and vulnerable, he urged himself to head front immediately. With his remaining bread, Vladek was able to receive support from his two friends; when he came outside the gate, he immediately saw the “train” – it was not the train for hundreds of animals and humans, but it was a train for passengers. The train took the prisoners into Switzerland, and there, Vladek was finally able to release himself from Dachau.
7. Francoise picks up a friendly hitch-hiker; but Vladek is outraged. Why does Vladek object so strongly to the hitch-hiker? What characteristic of the hitch-hiker does he particularly object to? What does Vladek think the hitch-hiker will do? Does this incident surprise you, considering how well Vladek usually gets along with strangers? (98-100)
Vladek is absolutely outraged with the hitch-hiker because he recalls the man as “Shvartser,” an unfavorable way of portraying Blacks. He was trembling in fear and nervousness because he argued that the shvartser might’ve stolen the groceries from the back seat. Recalling the early experience with the Germans, Art and Francoise both argued that Vladek shouldn’t be racist towards the Black. However, he strongly opposed and showed that the man was distrustful and deceitful. Vladek clarified his point by saying that he witnessed black people stealing his valuables when he first came to New York. This incident surprised me on the fact that Vladek wasn’t opened to different races when he actually had the experience of being with Germans a long time ago. Many of the prisoners from the holocaust were misleading because they stole others’ food without even claiming whose it was. The main reason that the hitch-hiker could’ve seen untrustworthy was because of the broken faith from the camps.
8. On page 105 we learn that the war is over; yet Vladek does not immediately gain his freedom. Why not? Why didn’t the German soldiers put down their weapons and surrender?
When the prisoners finally got off the long train ride and stood in front of the frontier for hours, people suddenly shouted “The war is over!” Even though the claim that war had ended was announced, the prisoners weren’t freed immediately; the German soldiers insisted that Americans needed to come and save them free. When the prisoners came out from the train and gradually walked around, the Germans came and declared “HALT or we’ll shoot!” The Germans didn’t put down weapons immediately because they weren’t sure whether or not the war had completely ended; therefore, the soldiers forced all prisoners to gather in front of a big lake, and had guarded so tightly that nobody could run away. The prisoners had to wait nervously for days; each time they cried and prayed for the situation to end immediately. It could’ve also been that the Germans wanted to portray their last moment of power vividly, to show that they are higher in rank.
9. The German soldiers had planned to kill Vladek and his comrades at the lake. Why didn’t they? (107-108)
The German soldiers were originally planning to kill Vladek and his comrades at the lake, but they only wrapped around the prisoners and made sure nobody had escaped. For the whole night, the prisoners had to tremble from fear and terror because they could get killed in that last moment of war. Some prisoners mentioned “We overheard. They intend to murder every one of us tonight, right on this spot!” – the next day when they woke up though, they were surprised to find that German soldiers had abandoned the place.
10. After their reprieve, why didn’t Vladek and his comrades keep the abandoned Nazi machine guns? (108)
After spending a horrifying night trying to pray for the war to have ended, the prisoners discovered that all of the German soldiers ran away and left their guns. The whole situation was seen as a miracle because no more Germans could be found in any of the places by now. The reason why Vladek and his comrades abandoned the Nazi machine guns was because people were absolutely sure that war had been resolved by now. Last night, one of the prisoners lied near the officer’s tent and heard the conversation between a German soldier and his girlfriend; the girlfriend pleaded and begged to leave in order to avoid punishments. As soon as the prisoners heard this story, everybody had been extremely overjoyed; they called out “Let’s run away! She saved us!” I think I also would’ve been overly content if I were in that situation because the end of the four horrible years are finally marking an end. I would’ve shed my tears in the form of both satisfaction and depression; happy because the war is finally over, or sad trying to reflect back on the horrible treatments I’ve received.
11. What treasure does Vladek find for Artie? What does Vladek’s treasure teach Artie about his family’s history? (113-114)
Vladek gave a special treasure to Artie, which turned out to be valuable snapshots of Anja’s families in Poland. Uncle Herman was Anja’s oldest brother, and he entered war in 1939 when he ran the Family Hosiery Factory. Unfortunately, Herman died during war in 1964, and Anja’s life had gradually turned miserable. Josef was another brother of Anja, and he was a great painter that had always been a role model for herself. When the Germans took away the factory from Anja’s family and the brother couldn’t stand from the lack of profit, he has committed suicide. The middle brother was Levek, and he never returned after escaping to Russia during the war. With Anja being the only survivor of the family, Vladek has learned that prisoners and innocent people were led to death by different causes in different situations. Vladek has reflected on the fact that the holocaust was a terrible incident that killed blameless people all over the world.
12. These items are priceless, yet Vladek wants to keep the cigar box where he has been storing them. Why does this seem so odd to us? Why would this seem like perfectly acceptable behavior to Vladek?
The fact that Vladek urged to keep the cigar box was odd because nobody usually keeps items that might be priceless and useless. Even though this may seem incomprehensible to us, it still makes sense for Vladek because it reflects his lifestyle from the holocaust. The quote “I cannot forget it…ever since Hitler I don’t like to throw out even a crumb” illustrates that it has become usual for him to collect small objects. Even though the object may be small as a battery, Vladek learned to value objects with extreme care and purpose. Also, because hoarding objects increased the chance of exchanging things on a daily basis, Vladek might’ve kept this in note and have repeated the lifestyle of the ancient times.