The Message of Religious Discrimination and Genocide in Art Spiegelman’s Maus I and II
When people hear the word Holocaust, they generally think of mass murder and unimaginable torture. In Art Spiegelman’s Maus I and II, the dehumanization of the Jewish population by the Nazis is depicted from the very beginning, confirming what people already know: that the Holocaust was in fact filled with terrible hate-crimes that the Nazis committed against the Jews. Something that is often overlooked, however, is the countless bystanders who were indirectly involved and did nothing to stop the Nazis from committing these hate crimes, sending the message that religious discrimination and genocide were acceptable, allowing the Nazis to commit the worst crime in modern history.
Despite the gains that have been made and anti-discrimination laws have been passed to eliminate such hate crimes, religious discrimination and genocide are still prevalent today and many civilians are turning their backs on the victims just as the witnesses did during the Holocaust.
Genocide is “a term used to describe violence against members of a national, ethnical, racial or religious group with the intent to destroy the entire group” (“What is Genocide?”). Genocide was not a term that was regularly used until after World War II, when the full extent of the crimes committed by the Nazis was revealed. Genocide was declared an “international crime” in 1948 by the United Nations and eventually resulted in an International Treaty being signed by 120 countries, allowing jurisdiction to prosecute crimes of genocide (“What is Genocide?”). Maus I and II tells the story of a survivor’s experiences during the Holocaust.
Religious discrimination and genocide are present in both books through the dehumanization and murder of the Jewish population. Something different about this memoir is the way the story is written. Spiegelman uses anthropomorphic animals to illustrate his father’s story, “in particular the antagonism between cats and mice, to express the nature of predatory perpetrators, victims and bystanders” (Kolar 229). The Jews were targeted because they were of a different religious background and treated in ways no human should be treated. They were evicted from their homes, and forced to live in Ghettos. They were torn away from their families, which is torture all by itself, but they were also physically tortured and maltreated. The Nazis treated the Jews as if they were nothing, and committed unimaginable acts against the Jews simply because they were of a different religious background.
This raises the question, how can someone treat another person this way? Moreover, how can someone stand by and watch? This was the case during the Holocaust as many bystanders such as the Poles, railroad employees and Red Cross workers did nothing to help, despite the horror and genocide they witnessed, in a sense suggesting this discrimination and genocide were acceptable. Reading Maus I and II can evoke a very emotional response to the crimes that were committed, leaving the reader feeling disheartened and wondering how this could have even happened. Today, when we look back at this event, people know and understand that these crimes were and still are very wrong, but still so many Jewish people perished.
Many bystanders claim that they were unaware of the horrific atrocities committed by the Nazis (Strom 256). This claim is hard to believe considering an estimated six million Jewish citizens were murdered under the noses of these bystanders. Furthermore, organizing the transportation of the victims involved countless railroad employees, not to mention the railroads were an “independent corporation which was fully aware of the consequences of its decisions” (Strom 256).
These employees knew full well what was going on, yet they did nothing to stop it. In fact, they aided the Nazis in their mission by continuing to transport these helpless victims to their death. Perhaps these bystanders were fearful to intervene or maybe they felt like if they didn’t ask questions, they didn’t know what was going on and they could pretend everything was ok. This doesn’t make it right, but it was in a sense their means to survive the war themselves. Eventually the genocide became too large to keep secret, and the concentration camps were exposed, shedding light on the atrocities that had taken place.
Since the Holocaust, there have been many gains legally to protect people from such violent crimes; however, this type of religious discrimination and genocide is still taking place in present day. There is still discrimination against religion and many hate-crimes that take place daily, some less severe than others. Perhaps the most obvious example of genocide today is ISIS. Some are calling ISIS the modern day Holocaust, except on Christianity. ISIS is unlike anything the world has seen since the Nazis, consider the similarities between ISIS and the Nazis, Holocaust survivor Leslie Schwartz believes that both groups have murdered the innocent and persecuted people because of their faith (Fox News Insider). Schwartz also feels believes that the philosophy between the two groups is “very much the same” in that both the Nazis and ISIS want to send a “frightening message” with their actions (Fox News Insider).
Some would argue that the Holocaust is nothing like ISIS and should not be compared. People may argue that the scale of the crimes committed by the Nazis was much larger than ISIS and will never reach such a level. This might be the case for the time being, and yes the Nazis did murder more people than ISIS, but the longer this group continues to rampage through villages and murdering innocent people, they get closer and closer in comparison to the Holocaust.
Additionally, just because these crimes aren’t exactly like the ones committed in the concentration camps, the members if ISIS are still evacuating Christians from their homes, selling them as slaves, torturing and raping women and children and brutally murdering people every day because they are of a different faith. This is exactly what the Nazis did to the Jews, and terms of their mercilessness and sheer pride in the butchering of innocent men women and children is outdoing the Nazis.
In conclusion, the Maus books effectively depict religious genocide. The Nazis engaged in dehumanizing practices in which Jewish people were treated as vermin to be expelled and destroyed. Even the Polish population were generally corrupted by the Nazi propaganda, and would either refuse to help the Jewish people to protect themselves or were as bad as the Nazis themselves in being actively aggressive against the Jewish population. Additionally, many other people stood by and watched these crimes take place, but did nothing to help. This is considered to be the worst crime on history.
Most people cannot even begin to comprehend the amount of pain and suffering these individuals endured, and would say they would do anything to help. Yet today, we have a major epidemic taking place in the Middle East and it seems to be going virtually unnoticed just as the Holocaust did. What is it going to take for someone to stand up for these poor innocent people? If something isn’t done soon, we may have a crime bigger than the Holocaust to write in the history books, and that would be very unfortunate, because History should never repeat itself when it comes to genocide.