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Guest Post: A Study of Holocaust Literature

Hi everyone!

I just noticed that today’s guest post is the perfect follow-up to my previous article about cultivating a love of literature in your children during quarantine! Earlier this week, my younger sister wrote a compare/contrast essay about two masterworks of Holocaust literature: The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom and Maus by Art Spiegelman. She is an incredibly passionate woman when it comes to eradicating anti-Semitism and educating others about Hitler’s most infamous scheme, so it means a great deal to her to have her work published for the first time here on Defy Augury. I hope we get to hear from her again soon!

Learning about the Holocaust has never been easy, yet nevertheless, as fellow humans to all those who suffered and died, it is our duty to remember and learn from it. The ultimate method for learning about the Holocaust is to read the stories of those who experienced it for themselves. Such stories are found in the books The Hiding Place and Maus. Given that they are written from drastically different perspectives, a comparison between the two would benefit anyone. The most striking difference between the two is the differing worldviews, which are expressed frequently throughout both books in instances of familial love, memory, and reactions to hardship.

Of course, the concentration camps played an enormous role in the Holocaust, and characters from both books survived through their experiences in death camps. In The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom, the main character and the narrator, survived both a prison and then Ravensbruck, a womens’ camp. Her main motivation for getting through the horrible life of camp was to aid her ill sister Betsie, as seen when she faces the possibility of separation from her sister (210). Unlike Corrie, Vladek Spiegelman, the father of the author and illustrator of Maus, is a Jew, which means he had to suffer through great persecution before he was sent to Auschwitz, the most infamous concentration camp of all. Similar to Corrie, Vladek cares as much as he can for his family when he sends his young son, Richieu, away to hide (Spiegelman 107-108) and the great pains he takes to provide for his wife, Anja, when his son passes away (Spiegelman 122, 136, 138-139, 147).

Memory is kept alive in both books, yet in very different manners. Betsie ten Boom dies, and Corrie eventually leaves the concentration camp. As a Christian, Betsie’s faith in Jesus and love that is no longer present in Corrie’s life causes her to bring her sister’s dream of a convalescent home for war victims on both sides to life, and joy and healing was brought from that decision (239). In Maus, Vladek and Anja lose Richieu, devastating both of them. When Vladek speaks about Richieu, he is always sad and lamenting the loss (109). Vladek also suffered when his beloved Anja took her own life, and his constant arguing with his new wife, Mala, strains him (11). Mala says he “keeps photos of her all around his desk—like a shrine!” she finishes angrily (104). Whereas Corrie keeps memory alive by helping others, Vladek is lost in bitter despair from his losses.

Again, characters in both books differ in their responses to their lives’ obstacles. Art Spiegelman experiences bitterness after learning that his father Vladek burned Anja’s diaries out of hopelessness, lashing out and calling him a “murderer” (159). In contrast, when a former Nazi guard at Ravensbruck comes to faith, he offers Corrie his hand to shake. Corrie recalls the inhumane camp and cannot forgive him on her own. With the help of the Holy Spirit, she takes his hand and forgives him, despite the pain Corrie experienced at his hands (238). Yet, they are also similar. Both Vladek and Corrie run into instances where they must lie to stay safe. Vladek says that his experience “cost him a lot of hairs” (149) and, when first having to lie, Corrie is disturbed by how “dreadfully easy” it was to do (66).

Worldviews effect one’s behavior, and it is very obvious in both Maus and The Hiding Place. Corrie ten Boom and her family are not Jewish but devout Christians. Vladek and the rest of the Spiegelmans are Jewish in both religion and culture. Love for others, faith in Jesus, and morality appropriately describe the ten Boom family. Bitterness, fear, confusion, and hopelessness characterize the Spiegelmans. The willingness to survive and care for family and different approaches to memory and obstacles are in both stories, but while the Spiegelmans rely on human cunning, the ten Booms rely on God. Both stories give accurate events of the pernicious Holocaust, but while one story holds brokenness and despair, the other holds hope and strength.

~Sarah (and her sister) Merly

April 19, 2020

Isaiah 53