What can Vladek Teach Us?

Vladek
Vladek Speigelman

I was extremely moved by Art Spiegelman’s description of his father’s life in Jewish ghettos and eventually concentration camps during World War II. It was amazing to me what desperation can make people do, and what lengths individuals will go to for the safety of themselves and their family. Reading about his experiences made me all too aware of how lucky I am to never to have known the kind of fear that Vladek and many others experienced under the Nazi regime. I found myself trying to wrap my mind around how something like this could happen, why people didn’t do more to stop it, wondering what I would have done if I had been born 70 years earlier? That was when it became clear that the experiences described in Maus were not wholly singular, sadly in many ways similar realities exist today.

Because it represents the very darkest possibilities of contemporary society, the Holocaust is commonly used as an obvious illustration in moral arguments, often making inappropriate comparisons to people or political causes. In class we discussed how this has a tendency to trivialize the nature of such a terrible event. That does not mean, however, that we should not use the lessons from the Holocaust, and from experiences like Vladek’s to understand the world that we live in today.

darfur-genocide1
Image from the genocide in Darfur [1].
If we could go back in time, what would we do differently? Would we demand action sooner? Withhold support from cooperative governments and corporations? Make human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy? In hindsight, it’s easy to say what we would have done. But it’s also important to remember that cruelty and violence continue to threaten ethnic groups around the world.

Muas personalized the plight of individuals who suffered during the Holocaust, but stories like Vladek’s are still being written. Today we are witness to continuing atrocities in Sudan, 11 million displaced civilians due to ongoing conflicts in Syria, and Islamophobia on our own soil leading some politicians to call for a national registry for Muslim citizens [2]. Action can be difficult when one feels removed from a problem. However, considering what we have learned, how should we respond to the inequity that still exists across the globe?

 

[1] Image credit http://www.endgenocide.org

[2] Andras Meyer, An Eyewitness Account: The Refugee Crisis. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). https://www.ushmm.org/information/the-world-today/eyewitness/refugee-crisis

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