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Reading German History: Maus by Art Spiegelman Posted by on Oct 26, 2015 in Culture, History, Language, Practice

It goes without saying that reading is a fantastic way to improve your German in an enjoyable way. Today I’d like to recommend a book I read recently. It was originally written in English, but there is a German translation available. Its subject matter is World War II, the Holocaust, and Nazi Germany.

Why am I recommending this book? Aside from the fact that it’s brilliantly written and presented, I believe that this book is suitable for all levels!

  • If you are advanced at German, you can read the German translation at your leisure. If you wanted, you could even read the German and the English translations, to see how they compare!
  • If you are at intermediate level and have the patience for it, you can read the German translation as a challenge to yourself. As it’s a graphic novel, the visual aspect of the photos will aid in your understanding of the story.
  • If you are a beginner, you can read the original novel in English and enjoy it as a lesson in German history. It is a true story, which makes it all the more fascinating.

The book I am referring to a graphic novel called Maus, written by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman. It is a true, dialogue-centred story based on interviews with Art’s father, Wladek Spiegelman, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust. The book is famous for its depiction of the different races and nationalities as animals: Spiegelman draws the Jews as mice, the Germans as cats, the non-Jewish Poles as pigs, the Americans as dogs, the Swedes as reindeer and the French as frogs. Despite it being an American novel, its original title is actually the German word Maus instead of the English Mouse.


The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman (German translation). Own photo.

Its cover certainly attracts attention, too. In fact, Maus was banned from Russian bookshops in April 2015 because of the swastika on its cover, following a law banning any Nazi propoganda in the country. This is despite the fact that there is no Nazi propaganda in Maus whatsoever.

Why read this book?

Although there are numerous textbooks written on this subject and this era of German history, it can make for rather heavy reading at times. Reading Maus is a great way to learn about German history in a different format to what you may be used to, and is a great way to complement your regular German lessons.

If this learning approach appeals to you, Transparent Language have developed a method of language learning called DABL – Declaratively Accelerated Blended Learning – which you may be interested in. This approach is based on the belief that, in their own words, ‘combining technology and human instruction is more powerful than either computer learning or human instruction alone.’ They liken effective language learning to exercise, wherein doing cardio (taking German lessons) is not enough. To achieve quicker results, you must do things like strength training, body conditioning and healthy eating, too (watching German TV shows, reading German books, and talking to native German speakers, amongst other things). Follow this link to read more about it!

One panel from the German translation of Art Spiegelman’s Maus. Own photo.


I hope I have inspired you to read what has fast become one of my favourite books. If you have any suggestions for books (either in German or about aspects of German history/culture), or about ways to improve language ability through reading, do leave a comment and let us all know about it!

Bis später,

Constanze x

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About the Author:Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze. I'm half English and half German. I write here because I'm passionate about my languages and my roots. I also work as a translator & group fitness instructor.


  1. Weiher:

    Where can I der the German translation? Is it available in kindle format?

  2. Weiher:

    Where can I get the German translation? Available as a kindle edition?

  3. Kim:

    I recently ordered this book after seeing your post. I’ve just read the first couple of chapters and I’m really confused by the grammar/word order. The verb is never where I’m expecting it to be and I’m not sure why?! Although it does seem to only be when Art’s father is speaking. A couple of examples from the first page:

    -Ich habe mir schon gemacht Sorgen. (I would have written: “Ich habe mir schon Sorgen gemacht.”)

    -Eine Schande, dass nicht auch gekommen ist Francoise. (I would have written: “Eine Schande, dass Francoise nicht auch gekommen ist.”)

    Hoping you can help me with this, I know it is an older post. Many thanks in advance!

    • Constanze:

      @Kim Hi, Kim!

      I’m really glad you’ve asked this question. I actually thought I’d mentioned this in the post, but it turns out I haven’t! Silly me. You’re absolutely right in saying that this German is incorrect. I was confused about it, too, when I started reading the book! Luckily there is a translator’s note at the back of the book that explains everything. To sum up, the incorrect German is representative of Wladek (Art’s father) speaking in English. So when he’s speaking Polish or Yiddish (his native languages), this is relayed in perfect German, but when he’s speaking English (eg. when he is in America, telling Art his story), this is relayed in broken German as a way of showing that his English is not perfect. According to the translator’s note, they wanted the Yiddish characteristics to come through in the broken English, and that’s what the word order etc. is based on. It’s a little difficult to read at first, but it does get easier, I promise! Check out the translator’s note at the back, as this will explain everything.

      Hope you enjoy the book!! 🙂 Any more questions, just let me know!

      Constanze x

      • matthew:

        @Constanze I just got this book for the exact reasons you state above- to improve my German. The comic format is dialogue-intense, which is just what i need. But I’m afraid the “broken German” will be counter-productive. I understand why the author chose to do this, but I need to drill my mind with correct forms so that they become familiar.