Artie goes to his father after one of his roller skates breaks, upset because his friends have skated off without him. His father replies that if Artie and the other boys were locked up together for a week with no food, then he would find out which of them were truly his friends.
The characters in this story are depicted as anthropomorphic animals (animals that talk, dress, and behave like humans). The Jewish characters, like Artie, his father, and their families, appear as mice.
The story begins around 1978, with Artie visiting his father Vladek in Rego Park, New York. Vladek looks frail and unhealthy; he’s had two heart attacks, and the suicide of his wife Anja (Artie’s mother) a decade earlier has taken a serious toll on him. Vladek is remarried to a woman named Mala with whom he constantly argues. While Vladek rides a stationary bike, Artie asks him to tell some stories about life during World War II so that Artie can create a comic book about them. Vladek resists at first, but then agrees.
Vladek’s story begins around 1935, when he is a handsome young man living in Czestochowa. (Vladek tells Artie that many people thought he looked like the actor Rudolph Valentino; Valentino starred in a movie called The Sheik, which is where this chapter gets its name.) A friend introduces Vladek to a young woman named Lucia Greenberg, and they date for a while, despite the fact that Vladek doesn’t have strong feelings for her. In 1935, while visiting his family in Sosnowiec, Vladek meets and is charmed by Anja Zylberberg, a smart, wealthy young woman. After Vladek returns to Czestochowa, he and Anja exchange letters and talk on the phone regularly. Vladek decides to end his relationship with Lucia, then moves to Sosnowiec and marries Anja in 1937.
The book shifts back to the present day. Vladek asks Artie not to include the private details about Lucia in his comic book, and Artie agrees, even though he thinks it’s great material.
Artie visits his father regularly over the next few months to hear more stories. One day, he asks Vladek about Anja’s old boyfriends. The story shifts to Vladek’s memories.
As Vladek heads home one day, he hears that the police have arrested a local seamstress. Anja’s parents tell Vladek that Anja has been translating secret communist messages for her ex-boyfriend, and that to avoid being arrested, Anja gave the documents to a seamstress. The Polish police (depicted as pigs) found the documents and arrested the seamstress (she is freed three months later). Vladek tells Anja that he’ll end their marriage if she continues working with communists.
Anja’s father helps Vladek buy a textile factory in Bielsko, and a few months later in October 1937, Vladek’s first son, Richieu, is born. Vladek runs the factory during the week and comes back to visit Anja and Richieu on the weekends. One day while at the factory, he receives a call that Anja is suffering from severe postpartum depression. Vladek takes Anja to a sanitarium in Czechoslovakia, and Anja’s family looks after Richieu and the factory. The sanitarium is much like a resort; Vladek and Anja have their own room and go dancing every night. While riding on the train to the sanitarium, Vladek sees a Nazi flag for the first time. Other Jews on the train tell Vladek that the Nazis (depicted as cats) are arresting Jewish people and taking over Jewish businesses. In August of 1939, Vladek receives a letter notifying him that he’s been drafted by the Polish army. While he goes to the frontline to fight the Nazis, Anja’s parents take her and Richieu to Sosnowiec.
The story shifts back to the present, and Vladek tells Artie about his vision problems; his left eye hemorrhaged at one point and had to be replaced with a glass eye. Artie has heard the story before.
The next time Artie visits, Vladek and Mala hassle him for not finishing his dinner, and he remembers that his father did the same thing to him growing up. After the meal, Vladek starts to complain about Mala, but Artie cuts him off and asks him to pick up the story where he left off.
Vladek says that his own father spent many years in the Russian army, so when he suspected that Vladek and his brothers were going to be drafted, he starved them so that they wouldn’t pass the physical. A year later, Vladek decides that he would rather be drafted than face starvation again, so he’s drafted into the reserves and trained for eighteen months. When Vladek is called up for World War II in 1939, he’s only given a few days of training, then he marches out with the Polish army to fight the Nazis.
In September 1939, Vladek is shooting at Germans troops from a trench, and he kills a German soldier who is camouflaged as a tree. Soon after, Vladek and the other Polish soldiers are taken captive by Nazi soldiers and forced to carry wounded Nazis. Vladek sees the ID tag of the man he killed and discovers that his name was Jan.
Jewish soldiers are separated from the other Polish prisoners of war, and they endure harsher conditions; they’re forced to live in tents and are given fewer rations. Vladek keeps himself healthy by doing gymnastics and trying to bathe often. The Nazis post a sign stating that any prisoner of war can get better housing by volunteering to work in Germany, and though many of the Jewish prisoners think it’s a trick, Vladek signs up. He’s transported to Germany with other prisoners, and though the living conditions are better, they’re forced to dig all day. Vladek has a dream in which his grandfather tells him that he will be set free on Parshas Truma (a specific Saturday named for the section of the Torah that is read that day).
Several months later on Parshas Truma, Vladek and the other Jewish prisoners are sent back to Poland, but the train bypasses Sosnowiec and travels 300 miles farther to Lublin. Vladek finds out that their status as Polish prisoners of war temporarily affords them some protection; once they’re released in Lublin, they’re no longer soldiers, and as “Jews of the Reich” they can be summarily executed. After some men bribe the guards, Vladek is released and travels back to Sosnowiec. He visits his parents and reunites with Anja; by now, Richieu is two and half years old.
Back in the present, Artie is getting ready to leave his father’s house but can’t find his coat. His father admits that he threw Artie’s coat away because it was too shabby, and he gives Artie another coat that doesn’t fit. Confused and incredulous, Artie leaves.
Artie returns to his father’s house, and Vladek picks up his story in 1940, when he, Anja, Richeu, and nine other family members are living with Anja’s parents. The Nazis have seized almost all Jewish-owned businesses including Vladek’s factory, and they steal some of Anja’s parents’ expensive furniture as well. Jews are given ration books with which to purchase food, but the limited number of coupons barely provide enough food for one person, so Vladek starts buying and bartering goods on the black market. He obtains a work permit from a tin shop, where he learns skills that will later help him at Auschwitz.
A year later, in 1941, the Nazis start rounding up Jews and sending them away on trains even if they have proper papers. Vladek thinks about hiding Richieu until the war is over, but Anja talks him out of it. A notice is posted and all of the Jews are moved into a ghetto. Several of Vladek’s friends are caught selling goods to people without ration books and are hanged in the public square. Vladek cries as he tells Artie this, saying that he was similarly involved in the black market, and they could have turned him in to save themselves.
When the Nazis order all Jews over the age of seventy to relocate to Czechoslovakia, Vladek helps Anja’s family hide her grandparents in a secret room in their shed. Since Anja’s grandparents never turn up in Czechoslovakia, Anja’s father is arrested, and the rest of the family is threatened. The grandparents eventually turn themselves in to protect their family from recrimination, and they’re taken to Auschwitz. Later, all of the Jews in Sosnowiec are told to report to the nearby Dienst stadium to have their papers verified.
At the stadium, Vladek, Anja, and Anja’s parents get their papers stamped and are sent to the right. Fela, Vladek’s sister, is told to go to the left with her four children. Vladek’s father joins Fela, despite being cleared to go to the right; he, Fela, and Fela’s children are never seen again.
Back in the present, Artie talks to Mala as he leaves his father’s house. She tells him that her family was also at the stadium, and they were eventually killed in Auschwitz. Artie goes to the bookshelf and looks for some diaries that his mother kept after the war, but he can’t find them. Mala tells him to put everything back exactly as it was, or else she’ll be scolded by Vladek.
Artie receives a worried call from Mala, who says that Vladek is going to try to clean the drainpipes despite his frail health. Artie initially agrees to come and help his father, but then decides he doesn’t want to. He tells Vladek to hire someone, but Vladek says he’ll get his neighbor to help him instead. When Artie visits a week later, Vladek seems upset. When Artie asks Mala whether his father is mad about the roof, she tells Artie that Vladek recently read Prisoner on the Hell Planet, a comic that Artie drew years earlier. It was published in an obscure comic book, so Artie didn’t think his father would ever see it.
Prisoner on the Hell Planet: A Case History is a comic that features people instead of animals. Artie is dressed in prison stripes throughout. One day, months after his release from a mental hospital, Artie finds a crowd of people outside his house. A doctor who lives nearby tells Artie that his mother committed suicide. Artie’s father, Vladek, is the one who found Anja’s body. At the funeral, Vladek climbs onto the coffin, wailing. When relatives express their condolences during the next week, Artie feels as though he’s being blamed for his mother’s suicide. The last time he saw her, she came into his room late at night and asked if he still loved her, to which he resentfully replied, “Sure, Ma.” In the last panels, Artie speaks from a prison cell. He accuses his mother of committing the perfect crime: murdering herself and leaving him to take the blame.
Vladek joins Artie and Mala in the kitchen, and Artie apologizes to his father for the comic. Vladek says that it brought up painful memories of Anja, but it was good that Artie found a way to release his emotions. As Artie and Vladek walk to the bank, Vladek resumes his story after the stadium selection.
In 1943, all of the remaining Jews in Sosnowiec are forced to move to Srodula, a nearby village. The Polish citizens of Srodula move into the Jews’ homes in Sosnowiec, and Srodula becomes the Jews’ permanent ghetto. In Srodula, Vladek and the other Jews are escorted by guards to work in German workshops each day; Vladek and his nephew Lolek work in a woodworking shop, and Anja and her sister Tosha work in a clothing factory. A friend’s visiting uncle, Persis, tells Vladek and Anja that in Zawiercie, where he’s been relocated, he still had some influence. He offers to take Richieu, as well as Tosha and her children, and keep them safe, and Anja’s family agrees. This is the last time that Vladek ever sees Richieu.
In the spring, the Nazis take 1,000 more people—mostly children—from Srodula to Auschwitz. The Germans arrive to transport the entire ghetto of Zawiercie to Auschwitz, and Tosha, wanting to spare them from a terrible fate at Auschwitz, poisons Richieu, herself, and all of her own children before they can be sent to the concentration camp. Vladek only learns of Richieu’s fate much later.
In the present, Vladek uses Artie’s notebook to draw a diagram of the hiding place that he made in Srodula, behind a false wall in the coal cellar. Even when the Nazis brought dogs, they couldn’t find Vladek and Anja behind the false wall. Other Jews, whose hiding places were not as good, were found and taken away.
By the end of July 1943, only 1,000 people are left in Srodula: the rest have been deported to Auschwitz. Vladek and the other remaining families live in an attic bunker and only leave to look for food. One day they help a stranger who stops in their house, and the next day, the Gestapo show up and force everyone out of their hiding place; it turns out that the stranger had been an informant. While awaiting a van that will transport them to Auschwitz, Vladek talks to his cousins Jakov and Haskel; Haskel is the chief of the Jewish police and still has some freedom and influence. Vladek gives Haskel all of his valuables, and Haskel helps Vladek, Anja, and their nephew Lolek escape. Haskel gets Vladek a job at the Braun shoe shop, and takes payment to save Anja’s parents, too. But he doesn’t help them, and they’re taken to Auschwtiz a week later. One day while Vladek is on work detail, he ends up burying the body of the informant; Haskel had arranged to have him killed.
In the present day, Vladek tells Artie that Haskel was a crook who gained favor with the Gestapo by playing cards with them and losing large amounts of money on purpose. While Vladek and Artie walk to the bank, Vladeck starts coughing and has to sit down. As he rests, he tells Artie about Pesach, another crook who worked with Haskel. Pesach baked cakes to sell to Jews, but he sometimes used laundry detergent when flour wasn’t available, and many Jews got sick.
The story shifts back to the past. In 1943, almost everyone has been taken to Auschwitz. Haskel, Pesach, and their friend Miloch still work in Srodula, but have plans to avoid being sent to a concentration camp. Miloch shows Vladek a secret bunker in the shoe workshop and tells him to be ready to come with Anja and Lolek at a moment’s notice. When Vladek tells Lolek about the hiding place, Lolek refuses to go, saying that he’s tired of hiding. He’s soon taken to Auschwitz, and Anja begins to despair. Her parents, child, and nephew have all been taken from her. Vladek tries to convince her that he still needs her.
Anja and Vladek end up hiding in the bunker with ten other people, including a baby. They leave at night to forage for food but can’t find any. Pesach comes to visit from his bunker and tells them that his group is bribing the guards to let them leave town. Vladek, Anja, and a few others decide not to go, because they don’t trust the Germans. Their fears prove justified: Pesach and those who leave with him are killed by the guards. The few who remain behind wait until the town is empty, put on nice clothes, and join the Polish citizens walking past the town to work, pretending to be Polish.
In the present, Artie and Vladek arrive at the bank, where Vladek has an extra key to his safety deposit box made for Artie. Vladek shows Artie jewelry that he recovered after World War II, including a diamond ring that he originally gave to Anja. Vladek tells Artie that Mala wants all of his money; when Vladek dies, he wants Artie to take everything in the deposit box before Mala can get it. Vladek breaks down and cries, heartbroken and missing Anja.
The next time Artie visits, Mala tells him that Vladek’s temper and tight-fistedness make her feel like she’s living in prison. Artie is uncomfortable with the conversation but agrees that his father is too concerned with money. Artie shows Mala and Vladek the progress he’s made on the comic so far, and both of them think the book will be successful and important. Artie follows Vladek to the garden to hear more of the story.
In 1944, Vladek and Anja walk back to Sosnowiec, where their Polish friends and acquaintances, including Richieu’s old governess, deny their pleas for refuge. At the local black market, Vladek trades jewelry for food and money, and hears about a nearby farm where he and Anja might be able to secure lodging. The farm is owned by a woman named Kawka, who lets them stay in her barn.
Vladek soon arranges for a more secluded hiding place, twenty kilometers outside of town. He and Anja stay with a woman named Mrs. Motonowa, but when her husband returns home from working abroad, they’re forced to hide in the cellar for ten days with little food.
After hearing about smugglers who help Jews escape to Hungary, Vladek decides to find out more. He runs into a family that he used to know, and their nephew Abraham announces that he will attempt to travel with the smugglers first, then send a letter to his family if he arrives safely.
While waiting to hear from Abraham, Vladek goes to visit his cousin Miloch, who is hiding in a trash pit. Vladek tells Miloch that he’s going to Hungary and recommends that Miloch consider Mrs. Motonowa’s home as an alternate hiding place.
Abraham sends a letter in Yiddish to his family, alerting them to his safe arrival in Hungary. Seeing this, Vladek convinces Anja to join him in leaving with the smugglers. She agrees, but the smugglers betray them, and they’re arrested by the Gestapo outside of Bielsko.
They’re taken to Auschwitz, where Vladek and Anja know that Jews are being gassed and thrown into ovens. Back in the present day, Vladek admits to Artie that he destroyed all of Anja’s notebooks because they brought back painful memories. Enraged, Artie calls his father a murderer. Vladek scolds his son for being disrespectful, but Artie leaves, still muttering “murderer” under his breath.
While Artie and his wife Françoise are staying with friends in Vermont, Artie asks her what animal he should use to represent the French. Françoise selects a rabbit, but Artie insists that a sweet, gentle rabbit doesn’t accurately reflect the French’s anti-Semitism. Françoise replies that she should be a mouse, since she converted religions to make Vladek happy.
Their hosts interrupt with the news that Artie’s father has had a heart attack. When he calls Vladek, Artie learns that he fabricated the heart attack, and is really calling because Mala withdrew money from their joint account and left. Artie decides to visit his father at his summer rental in the Catskills, and as they drive, he tells Françoise more about his childhood.
Artie recalls a photo of Richieu that he often looked at as a child, wondering if he would ever live up to all that Richieu might have been. Artie is burdened by insecurities, worrying that he won’t be able to successfully translate the enormity of the Holocaust and his father’s experience in a comic.
Artie and Françoise arrive at Vladek’s rental. Early the next morning, Vladek wakes them up, ranting about Mala stealing his money, his car. and his jewelry. He starts an argument about how many wooden matches Artie is using, so Artie goes outside. The neighbors invite Artie in and express their concern for Vladek, insisting that he’s very ill and he needs constant care. Artie tries to reassure them that his father can manage on his own, but then finds out that Vladek leaves his gas burner on throughout the day, reasoning that because gas is included in his rent, he’s conserving matches. After a frustrating attempt to look through Vladek’s bank paperwork, Artie and Vladek take a walk.
Vladek continues his story, starting with his arrival in Auschwitz. The incoming Jews are stripped of their clothing and possessions and given ill-fitting prison uniforms and shoes to wear. Their heads are shaved, and their forearms are tattooed with identification numbers. Vladek sees Abraham, who reveals that he was forced to write his earlier letter. He also sees the Polish smugglers who betrayed him and Anja; the Gestapo arrested them when they were no longer of value. Vladek is overwhelmed with grief but is heartened by a rabbi, who points out that Vladek’s tattoo contains several numbers that are significant to Judaism. Abraham’s father, Mandelbaum, is also imprisoned with Vladek, and they are assigned to share a small bed in the overcrowded barracks.
A kapo (a Polish prisoner assigned to supervise other prisoners) forces everyone in the barracks to do grueling exercises all day, and some prisoners die of exhaustion. When one of the kapos asks which of the prisoners knows both Polish and English, Vladek volunteers to give the man private English lessons. In return, the kapo tells Vladek that when the S.S. officers arrive the following day, he should stand on the far left when they’re selecting men for work detail. Vladek does as he is told and remains safe, along with Mandelbaum.
The kapo brings Vladek to room and gives him the first real food he’s had in a long time. He explains that he wants to know English in case the Allies win the war. After the lesson, the kapo lets Vladek choose better clothes and leather shoes from the storeroom, as well as a separate set of shoes, a spoon, and a belt for Mandelbaum. Eventually, Mandlebaum is chosen for work detail, and Vladek never sees him again. The kapo continues to keep Vladek safe and adds him to the crew that fixes roofs in the camp.
Back in the present, Vladek wraps his story for the time being, and leads Artie to a hotel patio, avoiding the hotel security. Vladek tells Artie that he often sneaks onto the hotel for dancing lessons or games of bingo.
This chapter begins with Artie sitting behind a drafting table; he is illustrated as a human wearing a mouse mask. He states that Vladek died of heart failure in August of 1982. He then lists many significant dates in no apparent order:
May 1987, Françoise and Artie are expecting a baby
May 16 – 24th 1944, over 100,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in Auschwitz.
September 1986, the first part of Maus was published and was extremely successful.
May 1968, Artie’s mother killed herself
The next illustration is a horrifying one: there are emaciated mouse corpses piled around Artie’s drafting table, and various reporters and businessmen wearing animal masks harass Artie with questions about Maus. He grows smaller with each panel, eventually turning into a small child. After the others leave, the child version of Artie goes to his psychiatrist, Pavel, who is a Czech Jew and an Auschwitz survivor.
Pictured as a young child, Artie sits and talks to his psychiatrist, Pavel, about Vladek. He expresses his feeling that no matter how successful he is, everything he does seems insignificant compared to surviving Auschwitz. When Artie asks if Pavel feels any guilt for surviving Auschwitz, Pavel says that he only feels sadness. Artie says he’s scared to continue working on the next section of his book, which will require him to draw Auschwitz and the tin shop at which his father worked. Pavel tells him what tools to draw in the tin shop, and Artie leaves.
In the next scene, an adult Artie sits at his drafting table and listens to a conversation he recorded with his father when they were in the Catskills. As his father rants about Mala on the tape, Artie shrinks to the child version of himself again.
The story shifts back to Vladek’s memories. He recalls the manager of the tin shop, a Russian Jew named Yidl. As a communist, Yidl dislikes Vladek and calls him a capitalist, because Vladek once owned factories. One of the other tin workers tells Vladek that Yidl likes presents, so Vladek trades clothes for food and brings it to Yidl to gain favor. Vladek notes that Yidl was greedy, always taking as much food as he could. Since there was very little food for the normal prisoners, many of them starved.
Artie asks about Anja’s time at Auschwitz, and Vladek tells him that she was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, a larger camp two miles away. While Vladek’s camp primarily housed prisoners on work detail, Vladek says that Birkenau was used to hold prisoners who were waiting to be killed.
Vladek recalls meeting Mancie, a female prisoner from Birkenau who oversaw a work crew of other women. He tells her about Anja, and Mancie later reports that while Anja is struggling mentally and physically, she is alive and is relieved to hear from Vladek.
When the S.S. orders a crew from the tin shop to fix roofs in Birkenau, Vladek volunteers to go. Vladek sees Anja several times at Birkenau, but only in passing. He tells her to keep food for herself and not share with her friends. When he is caught talking to Anja on his way to fix a roof, a guard grabs Vladek and beats him brutally.
Vladek is sent to the camp hospital, which serves only to condemn weak and injured prisoners to death. Vladek says that he was twice inspected by Dr. Mengele but was passed over for dreaded selection and returned to his barracks.
As Yidl expects constant gifts, Vladek arranges to be a shoemaker. He works in a small room, away from the main shoe shop. When asked to repair an S.S. officer’s boot, Vladek pays one of the more experienced workers to teach him to make the shoe look as good as new. The officer is so pleased that he gives Vladek a whole sausage.
Vladek discovers that new buildings are being built to house women from Birkenau. Vladek asks the kapo he knows if it would be possible to have Anja transferred, but the kapo tells him it would cost a fortune in bribes. Anja is suffering under a sadistic kapo at her barracks, but after she sends the kapo’s boots to be repaired by Vladek, she receives much better treatment.
Vladek finds out that the bribe would cost 100 cigarettes and a bottle of vodka (which is worth 200 cigarettes). Workers were given three cigarettes a day, which could be traded for one day’s ration of bread. Vladek eventually saves enough to pay the bribe, and Anja is transferred to his camp and given a work assignment in a munitions shop. While they can only see each other briefly and through an electric fence, they are relieved to be near one another. Then, Vladek’s shoe shop is closed, and he is sent back to do hard labor. As he loses more and more weight, he begins to worry that he will be chosen for the gas chamber.
Vladek is eventually reassigned to the tin shop. As the Russians begin to invade Poland, Vladek and others are ordered to dismantle the gas chambers; the Nazis hope to rebuild them in Germany and conceal what they had done in Auschwitz. While the prisoners are dismantling the gas chambers, Vladek meets a man who carries corpses from the gas chamber to the ovens, and the man tells Vladek about all of the terrible things he has seen.
Vladek’s story comes to an end for the time being, and Artie asks Vladek why more Jews didn’t fight back against the Nazis. Vladek explains that not only were all of the prisoners starving and terrified, but the Nazis would murder 100 prisoners for every rebellious one, effectively destroying their will to resist. After Vladek goes to bed, Françoise and Artie talk about whether they think Mala will return. Artie says that he hopes so, since he doesn’t want to be responsible for his father. They hear Vladek moaning in his sleep, and Artie says that when he was a kid, he thought that’s what everyone sounded like when they slept.
The next morning in the Catskills, Vladek repeatedly tries to give Artie food, but Artie isn’t hungry. Vladek says that ever since the war, he hates to waste food. Artie sarcastically tells him to keep the food in case Hitler ever comes back. After he apologizes, they drive to the grocery store, and Artie mentions that he read about a revolt in Auschwitz where prisoners who worked in the gas chamber killed three S.S. men. Vladek says that the prisoners were later hanged, along with anyone who helped them.
Vladek continues his story. The prisoners hear loud explosions when the front is within twenty-five miles of Auschwitz, but before the camp is liberated, the guards force them to march all night into Germany. Along the way, many prisoners die of exhaustion or are shot by the guards. After reaching the camp Gross-Rosen, 200 prisoners are packed into cattle cars so tightly that many suffocate, and many others starve. By the time the train stops in Dachau, only 25 of the 200 men have survived.
The narrative briefly shifts back to the present day. Artie and Françoise watch from the car as Vladek argues with the manager of the grocery store, trying to return food that has been opened. Artie feels embarrassed, but Françoise says that they should extend their stay in the Catskills, since Vladek is clearly in bad shape.
Vladek’s story begins again. In Dachau, the Nazis are consolidating all of the remaining prisoners. Conditions are horrible, and Vladek and the other prisoners are kept in lice-infested barracks. Vladek intentionally injures his hand so that he can go to the infirmary, where conditions are slightly better and there is food. Once out of the infirmary, Vladek meets a French prisoner (depicted as a frog), and the two become friends. Since the French prisoner is not Jewish, he’s allowed to receive food packages from his family, and he shares with Vladek when he’s able to. Prisoners have to be lice-free to receive soup from the guards, and there are lice everywhere. Vladek and the French prisoner trade food for extra clothes, so that they can hide their lice-ridden shirts and pass inspection to receive soup every day.
Vladek eventually contracts typhus and becomes very sick. Late at night, when he goes to the bathroom, he has to walk on top of all of the dead bodies that are piled in the lavatory. He becomes too weak to eat, but he trades his food portions for help getting to the bathroom. After Vladek recovers a little, he is chosen to be exchanged in Switzerland as a prisoner of war. With help from people in the infirmary, Vladek leaves Dachau and boards a train to Switzerland.
In the present, Françoise pulls over on the way back from the grocery store to pick up an American hitchhiker (depicted as a dog person). While driving, Vladek mutters in Polish that he cannot believe that Françoise let a Black person in the car. Once they’ve dropped off their passenger and are back on the road, Vladek tells Françoise that he had to watch the hitchhiker to make sure that he didn’t steal the groceries in the back seat. Françoise asks how Vladek can be so racist after all of his experiences, noting that Vladek’s prejudices against Black people echo those the Nazis held against Jews. Vladek insists that Black people really do steal, and Artie tells her it is hopeless to argue.
Back at Rego Park that fall, Artie visits his father. Vladek invites Artie and Françoise to live with him, but Artie declines and tells him that he should get a live-in nurse. Vladek says that Mala told him she would come back and live with him if he put $100,000 in an account under her name. Artie asks Vladek to tell him about Anja, and the story shifts into the past.
Vladek loses track of Anja when Auschwitz is evacuated, but he later learns that she was liberated by the Russians. After exiting the train in Switzerland, Vladek and the other prisoners hear that the war has ended. The Nazis put the prisoners back on the train and send it onward to the next town, telling the prisoners that they’ll find Americans there. When the prisoners arrive, they disperse, but Vladek and some of the others run into German soldiers. The soldiers corral them all together by a lake, and one of the prisoners says that the Germans plan to shoot them that night.
Vladek and Shivek (a friend from before the war that Vladek happens to run into) wait and pray. The next day, the soldiers are gone, but Vladek and Shivek are caught by a different group of soldiers and held in a barn. They hear the sounds of battle outside all night, and the next morning, the soldiers have disappeared.
Soon after, the owners of the adjoining farmhouse run away, not wanting to get caught up in the fighting. Vladek and Shivek go inside and find clothing and food, but they’re so unused to eating that they become sick afterward.
Several days later, American soldiers (depicted as dogs) arrive, and Vladek explains who he and Shivek are. The soldiers take the house for a base camp but let Vladek and Shivek stay as long as they do household chores. The American soldiers give them food, and they like that Vladek speaks English and can repair their shoes. They call Vladek “Willie.” When the Germans who owned the farmhouse return, they make Vladek and Shivek return their clothes.
In the present, Vladek gives Artie a box of photographs that he found; many are from Poland and some are from before World War II. Artie and Vladek sit on the couch, and Vladek tells him the backstory of the people in all of the photos. Many of them died during World War II; the only other member of Vladek’s family who survived was his little brother, Pinek. Suddenly Vladek feels like he might be having a heart attack, and Artie makes him lie down.
Artie and Françoise talk about Vladek, and Françoise says that they could invite him to live with them, but Artie doesn’t want his father to move in. Mala calls from Florida and says that she is back together with Vladek, but she’s very worried about his health. He has been hospitalized several times recently because he has fluid in his lungs, but he insists on going to the hospital in New York. Artie flies down to Florida to help Mala, and arranges a flight back to New York for himself and Vladek. Mala says that she got back together with Vladek after he called her from the hospital in Florida, but she is still frustrated with him.
The next morning, Vladek and Artie sit outside. Vladek describes leaving Poland for Sweden after the war and living there while waiting to get citizenship in America. (Swedes are represented as deer people.) He lives in Sweden for a few years and works in a department store.
Vladek and Artie fly back to New York. At LaGuardia Hospital, a doctor tells Artie that Vladek is improving and is healthy enough to return home. A month later, Artie visits Vladek in Rego Park. Mala tells Artie that Vladek is having memory problems and is not doing well physically, either. Artie sits with his father and asks what happened at the end of the war.
When Vladek’s story picks up, he and Shivek are sent to a refugee camp in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Vladek has a relapse of typhus and has to spend several days in the infirmary. A year later, he finds out that he is also diabetic. Shivek convinces Vladek to travel north to Hannover, Germany, where Shivek’s brother lives. Shivek and Vladek ride a freight train and pass Nuremberg and Würzburg, both of which have mostly been reduced to rubble from bombings. In Hannover, Vladek and Shivek stay with Shivek’s brother’s family. Vladek tells them that he is going back to Sosnowiec; he and Anja planned to meet there if they were separated, but he doesn’t think that she survived Auschwitz. Shivek’s wife advises Vladek to check in Belsen, where many Jewish refugees had congregated.
In Belsen, Vladek sees some people that he recognizes from before the war, and they tell him not to go back to Sosnowiec, because Polish people are still killing Jews there. Vladek also learns that Anja is still alive, and that she has returned to Sosnowiec.
In Sosnowiec, Anja checks at the Jewish Organization every day for messages from Vladek. She even visits a Gypsy fortune-teller (represented as a moth person). The fortune-teller tells her that Vladek is sick but still alive, and he will take her on a ship to a faraway place where they will have another son. Eventually, Anja receives a letter from Vladek explaining that he’s in Germany and has typhus, but that he is coming home soon. Vladek includes a photograph in the letter.
Shivek and Vladek travel to Poland but become separated. Since some of the train tracks are destroyed, Vladek has to walk part of the distance, and it takes him over three weeks. When he arrives in Sosnowiec, he is happily reunited with Anja.
In the present, Artie sits beside Vladek’s bed, recording the last of the story. Vladek says that he is tired and asks Artie to turn off the tape recorder, accidentally calling him “Richieu.” The last panel is a double headstone with these names and dates:
Vladek, Oct 11, 1906 – Aug 18, 1982
Anja, Mar 15, 1912 – May 21, 1968