Even in his old age, Vladek still does his best to take care of himself as he pedals on his bike. This tendency was hard-wired into him during his time in the concentration camps: only the fit and the strong survived as they were valued over those who were weak and sick. Artie has clearly talked about chronicling Vladek’s life during the war before, and Vladek suggests he sticks to what he is good at instead, apparently reluctant to reopen old wounds.
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In the fifth panel of the page, Vladek’s prisoner number can be seen: one of the few remaining tangible reminders of the horrors he endured in the camps. It also hammers in the fact that Vladek is a survivor and that the Holocaust as it is for all survivors will always be a part of him.
Artie is Jewish; however, he is not a Holocaust survivor like his father. Vladek may be in denial or does not realize it, but Artie knows that Vladek’s experience as a survivor is a tremendous responsibility. Artie knows he is not fit to tell Vladek’s story, he has never met any of the people in Vladek’s life and does not have all of the information necessary to authentically depict the scenes Vladek describes. However, that does not change the fact that Artie’s family was almost wiped off the face of the planet during the Holocaust and he feels an obligation to preserve Vladek’s memories out of respect for the suffering he endured and ensure the atrocities of the Holocaust are never forgotten. However, it is also worth noting that Artie’s first question about his father’s past shows how little he truly knows about him and how fragmented their relationship is. He does not even know how his own parents met. This foreshadows more unrest to come in later chapters. It is also a stark contrast from Vladek’s life where familial bonds were an integral part of human life, even going so far as to sustain them and kept them alive. Artie is clearly distant from his family and very independent of them.
Vladek and Mala are not happy together, but her and Artie seem to get along reasonably well. Artie treats her with respect and ignores Vladek when he tries to speak poorly of her, suggesting that perhaps Mala is not as bad as Vladek says she is. Artie’s stories about food and the dinner table hint at deep tension and brokenness and unhappiness in his family that everyone present at the table wishes not to address.
Both Artie and Vladek’s relationships have been fractured by the ruin of the Holocaust and the trauma brought by Anja’s suicide. However, they are both selfish and neurotic, and both are too proud to address their shortcomings.
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