"The Second Generation"
The Effects of the Holocaust on the Children of Survivors
The children of Holocaust survivors may be considered "the second generation of survivors." They carry the burden of trying to understand and to pass on the stories of their parents. These men and women have to deal with the horror of the Holocaust more intimately than anyone else in the world who was not directly involoved in it. In the frame of MAUS above, Art tries to sort through the tangled memory of his father so that he might record his story that bears witness to the events of the Holocaust. In other frames throughout the book, Art addresses the difficulty he has with recording his father's story. The difficulty stems further than the mere problems of sifting through the web of memory that his father relays; he has to take on the responsibility of coping with his father's difficult idiosynchracies that stem from his experiences in the Nazi camps. Art has to come to grips with his feelings toward his father as well as his mother and her suicide.
Art displays the complexities of being a child of a Holocaust survivor throughout the book, but perhaps most strikingly in his underground comic "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" in which he addresses his feelings of guilt and his anger toward his parents. In the comic, he blames his mother for killing him with her suicide and resents his father for his traditions. Art, instead of praying for his mother in Hebrew, "recite[s] to [her] from the Tibetan Book of the Dead." At the point in his life that these events took place, and even as he writes this comic (which is much earlier than MAUS), he can not deal with his feelings and does not know how to respond to his parents and their complicated personalities.
Art's frustration with his parents extends throughout the book. At the end of the first book, the final frame is Art walking away calling his father a "murderer" because he destroyed Anja's diaries. Much like the earlier scene from "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" in which he calls his mother a murderer, Art at this point is unable to understand and deal with the effects the Holocaust had on his parents. Even throughout the second book, Art refuses to take his father in and make him a huge part of his day to day life; however, by the end of the novel Art has found some understanding of what his parents endured and, like the reader, can see where the misery and the compulsions are rooted.
Art is not the only member of the "second generation of survivors" that seeks to understand the events that have indirectly affected his life. Several of the Web sites dedicated to memorializing the Holocaust were established by or contain the narratives of the children of survivors. One such site, established by the child of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust as a starting point for those seeking Web sites on the Holocaust is "Remembering the Holocaust." The founder of the site dedicated it to preserving the memory of those who survived and to creating a community dedicated to preventing the horror from happening again.
On the "Cybrary of the Holocaust" site, there is a section dedicated to the children of survivors. The main goal of this site is to help the children of survivors get in touch with and discuss their issues with other children of survivors. The site also provides ways for the children of survivors to read stories of others' parents and post their stories of their own parents. It gives them information on tracing their family history and finding local support groups. This site is dedicated to helping the children of survivors deal with the pain that their parents passed on to them and helping them share their stories so that they might continue to be passed on.
MAUS is as much a story about Art coming to terms with his father and his father's history as it is about his father's experiences in the camps. Every chapter in the book begins and ends in the present, with Art dealing with hearing all that his father has to say and dealing with his own guilt and frustrations. The book opens with a prelude--Art telling the story of what seems to be one of the few times he eluded to the Holocaust during Art's childhood. This serves not only to introduce the young Art to his father's story, but the reader as well. Art does not portray Vladek as the kind, loving father figure that we see in fifties television, but rather as a man concerned with what is before him--his sawing. The image of Vladek as niether good nor bad but rather as a survivor stands out from these first pages and continues through the novel.As the book progresses, however, so does Art's understanding of his father and his father's experience. Though the picture of Vladek does not actually soften, the reader's image of Vladek transforms with Art's. As his story unfolds, the reader begins to understand how a man could become what Vladek is; the reader is unable to ignore the severity of the events that he experienced. Though his problems become even more pronounced as the book progresses, the severity with which we judge them diminishes as Art's does.
The final page ofthe book revolves around Vladek's reunion with Anja and the joy that this moment was filled with. Since he began the books with his parent's meeting, Art chooses to end his father's tale here. Art has heard the story of his parents and their experiences, and has found out a great deal about his heritage. In the last scene with his father, Vladek says, "So...Let's stop, please, your tape recorder...I'm tired of talking, Richieu, and it's enough stories for now..." He forgets that he is in the present, calling Art, who was born after the war, by the name of his brother who was killed during the liquidation of the ghettos. Earlier in the book, this comment would have annoyed Art; however, at this point he has come to terms with his father and his ways and simply stands by the bed--silent. What he might be thinking in this frame is not revealed, but the progression of the novel seems to suggest that the expression is one of compassion--if not love.
The final image of the book is a gravestone bearing the names and dates of birth and death for Vladek and Anja. This act of reverence and dedication for his parents suggests that Art is no longer the irate and frustrated man filled with anguish and guilt that he was early in the book. Rather he has matured into a "second generation survivor"--a man ready to share his father's story and help the world remember an acknowledge the horror of the Holocaust.
Art Spiegelman is only one of hundreds of thousands of the children of Holocaust survivors searching for ways to deal with the complex emotional situation placed before them. The children of Holocaust survivors bear the greatest burden of insuring that the world never forgets the trauma their parents suffered through and the tragedy that claimed the lives of six million Jews as well as millions of others. Coming to terms with their feelings toward their parents, realizing the importance of learning and understanding their parents' histories, and helping pass on these stories to the coming generations are the hurdles that this "second generation of survivors" must overcome so that the morld never forgets. Art Spiegelman, as one of these children, displays his maturation through these steps in his highly original and individual way with MAUS: A Survivor's Tale.
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