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In deciding to write in the graphic literature format about his father's experience in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II, author/cartoonist Art Spiegelman subtitled the first of his two-volume biography, Maus, "My Father Bleeds History." That choice of a subtitle is telling, as Spiegelman had struggled for many years to understand his often abrupt and distant father. From the book's opening pages, it is obvious that father and son had been, if not estranged, then certainly not particularly close. The father, Vladek, was a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the site of the systematic extermination of over one million of Europe's Jewish population. Vladek is a difficult man, and his first wife and fellow survivor (and mother of Art) Anja's suicide after their liberation and settlement in America provides a haunting subtext throughout Maus. That, however, does not answer the question of why Spiegelman wrote Maus. He wrote it because the process of interviewing his father, and getting additional background information from Vladek's eternally-suffering second wife, Mala, regarding Vladek's life, was both informative and cathartic. Spiegelman is, by his own admission, not even remotely religious, but he is interested in the Jewish story, including how Israel came into existence following the Holocaust. The process of interviewing Vladek, however, was cathartic because his father's story is also his own, and because his mother's 1968 suicide, when Art was 20-years-old, left a hole in the artist's conscience. Art developed a serious need to know his father's history. As his character says to Vladek in volume I, "I want to tell your story, the way it really happened." The Holocaust was an abstract concept, the numbers of dead and the scale of the German program to exterminate Europe's Jews so vast that it risked becoming a cliche. By interviewing his father, Art was able to better understand and appreciate not only that history, but the forces that shaped this father from whom the son had been so emotionally distant for so many years. Art needed to know.
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