In Spiegelman's Maus, why does Vladek keep a 14 karat gold cigarette case and a lady's powder case from Srodula, Poland? 

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In chapter five, "Mouse Holes," Vladek tells his son Artie about surviving in the ghetto with Anja, giving their son away, and hiding the 14 karat gold cigarette case and lady's powder case in Srodula. While Vladek is telling the story, he and his son are walking to the bank where he has a safety deposit box. He asks the banker to give his son a key for the box so that he will have it when he dies. Then, Vladek takes Artie to the box to show him what he has stored inside. There in the box are the gold cigarette case and the lady's powder case! Vladek explains that when the Gestapo came for them while they were hiding in the chandelier bunker, he quickly stored these items in the chimney. Vladek then explains that after the war, he went back for them.

"I sneaked back to Srodula and--at night, while the people inside slept--I digged these things out from the bottom of the chimney" (128).

It's a wonder that Vladek would go through all that trouble to save a couple of items that he could have sold for food after the war. Vladek proves that he values saving things for the future. He learns to become resourceful and not to spend anything if he doesn't need to. For example, on the way to the bank with Artie, he sees a piece of telephone wire on the ground and keeps it. Artie is flabbergasted as to why his father would keep something that is garbage.

What Artie doesn't understand is that the war demoralized people to the point that they learned to live in survival mode. During the war, many people, but mostly Jews, were constantly starving and fearful they would lose their lives. They used anything of value that they could find to trade for food. Habits like these, which are formed during traumatic events, are not easily broken. After the war, Vladek found work which supplied him with income, so he didn't need to sell the cigarette and powder cases. The cases were then kept as memorable items from the war. In fact, the cases could be survival symbols. It's as if these cases are symbolic for both Vladek and Anja surviving the Holocaust. Therefore, Vladek couldn't sell them because they represented every struggle for survival kept him alive and Anja alive.


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