Maus Chapter 2: Communists and Nazis, who do we fear?

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SWBAT analyze a cultural experience by examining the rise of the Nazis in Maus.

Big Idea

Students investigate 1930s Polish politics: who is the greater threat? Communists or Nazis?

Let's Get Started: Summary of Past Events

10 minutes

Today's class is designed for whole group discussion.  To establish a clear foundation, the class begins with students writing a brief summary of chapter one (RL.9-10.2).  Chapter one establishes why Art Spiegelman writes the book and what life is like for Vladek and Anja Spiegelman in Poland before the WWII.  

After students write their summaries, I explain to them that the second chapter addresses the two perceived threats to Poland: the spread of Communism from the east and the spread of the Nazis in the west. I then explain to my students that this lesson focuses on the students analyzing Vladek and Anja's experiences with these two threats. Vladek and Anja are business owning Jews in pre-WWII Poland.  The  potential rise of communism, at first, appears to be a greater threat than the Nazis. Over the course of the chapter that perspective changes.  Student have to identify how and why that shift occurs from the point of view of a upper middle class Jewish factory owner and his family (RL.9-10.6).

Building Knowledge: What's Wrong with Communism?

30 minutes

Next, we begin our analysis of the second chapter. The beginning of the second chapter reveals that Anja is involved with the Polish Communists.  She is afraid that she will be arrested.  So, I begin by asking: "What's wrong with being a communist?"  Answers will always vary, however, most students know more about Communist China than about the former Soviet Union or the Cold War.  So, I show a brief youtube video on the Russian Revolution and Communism.  I tell the students to pay close attention to:

•Role of the worker?

•What happened to factories?  What would that mean for their owners?

 After we watch the video and discuss how Communism gives more power to the worker and takes away the property of the factory owners, I pose the question, "Why did Anja and Miss Stephanska have to hide their communist connections?" The students should respond by explaining that the early 1930s the spread of Communism is a pressing fear among business owners.  They do not want to loose their factories and social status to a government that favors the workers. 


Building Knowledge: Rumors -- Are Nazis Really Evil?

30 minutes

As a class, we then move to discussing the next section of the chapter which transitions from the threat of Communism to the rise of the Nazis.  Vladek and Anja's first encounter with Nazis are rumors they hear on a train ride to Czechoslovakia and end with the passengers witnessing the beginning of the Nazi invasion of Poland. Slides five through eight on the PowerPoint for Chapter 2 focus on taking the students on the journey with Vladek and Anja.

First the students answer the following questions in writing:

1) žWhy do Valdek and Anja go to Czechoslovakia?

ž2) “Here was the frist time I saw, with my own eyes, the swastika” (32). What inference can you make from this statement?
I call on different students to answer the questions such as this example: contrast in Maus
Next, we move onto how rumors foreshadow what is to come and I ask the students, "žWhat are the rumors about the Nazis?" I also ask students to explain how you can tell the difference between gossip/rumors and what really happened to Vladek on page 33?
Now, we move from rumors to how the information impacts the characters.  Students compare and contrast Vladek's behavior in the two narratives.  Specifically, I ask them to explain how Vladek reacts to the rumors about the Nazis.  How do the rumors impact his family and his business. I call on various students to report their answers to the class.
The last slide in this section asks students to ždescribe Vladek and Anja’s experience in Czechoslovakia.
Then, I ask students to answer, "žHow is life different in Bielsko (37)?" Here is one student's response: Nazi and Jews relationship
Finally, I ask, "žWhat happens on August 24, 1939? How does it change the Spiegelman family?"
These questions bring the discussion full circle, the students can trace the transition from the fear of Communism to the arrival of the Nazis from the point of view of Vladek and cultural experiences of the Jews in Poland (RL.9-10.6). 

Closing: Adding to the Timelines

15 minutes

To wrap up the discussion the students need to accomplish two activities.  


First they complete a five-minute quick write responding to the question:  What are the challenges that face a Jews that own businesses in 1930s Poland? 

The second activity is the on-going timeline of events in the two narratives in Maus. I ask for volunteers to add the information to the timelines on the board.  This timeline is an activity that the students will work on as they move through the book in order to trace the development of characters over the course of a text (RL.9-10.3)