In the novel Maus II by Art Spiegelman you hear first hand from a survivor of Auschwitz the experiences of the holocaust and the horrific consequences of racism. Race is something that has developed over time and is constantly changing. Race is something that is seen differently by different people. “There is a continuous temptation to think of race as an essence, as something fixed, concrete, and objective. And there is also an opposite temptation: to imagine race as a mere illusion” (Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Identity 183). Race can be seen as something concrete or as something changing. “The effort must be made to understand race as an unstable and “decentered” complex of social meaning constantly being transformed by political struggles” (Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Identity 183). Race hasn’t been and will never be something that is set in stone and will never change. As society progresses and changes over time, so will the definition and make up of race and racism. “We should think of race as an element of social structure rather than as an irregularity within it, we should see race as a dimension of human representation rather than an illusion” (Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Identity 184). The most common definition for race (the word definition is used very lightly because race is something that is always changing) is “race is a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies” (Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Identity 183). Race is something that distinguishes “different” human beings apart from one another. Sometimes in the end result of this some humans are put “higher” or at a level of greater important than others.
One of the first encounters of race was when the “European explores reached the Western Hemisphere.” It was there that they first discovered “people who looked and acted differently. These ‘natives’ challenged their ‘discovers’ preexisting conceptions of the origins and possibilities of the human species” (Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Identity 191). This discovery would be something that challenged everything the Europeans had known and would be an impact on the future.
Race is something that has evolved over time. There was a concept developed that the “Aryan race was the master race” (Nazism and Race). The master race meaning “a race, people, or nation, whose members consider themselves superior to all others and therefore justified in conquering and ruling them” (dictionary.com). From this idea of “master race” the ideology of Nazism was developed. Hitler “defined each racial subtype according to general physical appearance and their psychological qualities including their “racial soul” – referring to their emotional traits and religious beliefs, and provided detailed information on their hair, eye, and skin colours, facial structure” (Nazism and Race). Hitler became obsessed with the belief of master race, even to the point where he would evaluate people even to the smallest detail and from that decided where they fell in society. The Nazi’s had “distinguished Aryans from Jews, and identified Jews as descending from non-European races, and particularly what he classified as the Near Asian race more commonly known as the Armenoid race, and said that such origins rendered Jews as fundamentally different and incompatible with Germans and most Europeans” (Nazism and Race). Hitler believed that the Jews purposed a threat to society. From this idea the Nazi’s created work camps (one being Auschwitz) to send the Jews and other threats to society, to be imprisoned. “They worked to maintain the purity of this race through eugenics programs” (Nazism and Race). The word eugenics means: “the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits” (dictionary.com). The Nazi’s believed “the Near Eastern race had been bred not so much for the conquest and exploitation of nature as it was for the conquest and exploitation of people” (Nazism and Race). Through out the book Maus II you see the sickening life the Jews were forced to live by the Germans while in Auschwitz and other work camps. While in the camps the prisoners were known by the numbers on their arm. Vladek, a survivor of the holocaust stated that the Nazi’s “took from us our names” (Maus II 26). To the everyday person we might take the use of our name for granted, but when you get that name taken from you (your name being the one thing that makes you a distinct individual) it is very dehumanizing. Not only were the prisoners starved, beaten, and worked to death but hundreds were killed and murdered on a daily basis. Vladek stated, “all around was a smell so terrible, I cant explain…sweetish… so like rubber burning. And fat” (Maus II 27). The Germans were getting away with not only starving and working to death the prisoners but as well as gassing them with “Zyklon B” and burning their bodies. Anne Frank stated, “If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left, when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed, will be held up as an example.” The Jews had encountered horrible racism and persecutions during the time of the war, but still even during the harsh times some Jews still had so much faith. Race and racism is something that we as human encounter everyday, some encountering it more than others. It is something that has been around for a long time and not matter how hard we try to eliminate it; it is something that always will be around. “It may be shocking to some people in this country to realized that, without meaning to do so, they hold views in common with Hitler when they preach discrimination against other religious, racial or economic groups” (Henry A. Wallace). Although it is something we cannot get rid of, there are ways to prevent so much racism. For example, “We may notice someone’s race, but we cannot act upon that awareness. We must act in a ‘color-blind’ fashion” (Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Identity 186). We must don’t define who a person is by their Race. Race doesn’t make someone of more or less important or human than anyone else. “I want to state up front, unequivocally and without doubt: I do not believe that any racial, ethnic or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge, regardless of their background or life experiences” (Sonia Sotomayor). As humans we all are born with the same rights and privileges as everyone else, regardless of race.