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Of all the Holocaust movies that exist, one in particular stands out. directed by Roberto Benigni in 1997, and often described as the slightly “happy” Holocaust movie, Life is Beautiful tells the story of an Italian man named Guido, leading up to and during the World War II and Nazi rise to power. Despite telling a Holocaust story, this film has a very light mood because of Guido’s happy-go-lucky nature and his enthusiasm, but is also very emotional and sad at times because of Guido’s dedication to protecting his son from the horrors of the labor camps.
Maus on the other hand; a visual novel written and drawn by Art Spiegelman concerning the Holocaust, is a lot darker and heavier in terms of its themes, similar to most other Holocaust media. This visual novel follows a character named Vladek Spiegelman in World War II Poland, and his experiences leading up to and following the Nazi occupation of Poland. When compared as Holocaust stories, Maus and Life is Beautiful show many differences in their treatment of Jewish people along with presenting very distinct amounts of Nazi influence and presence.
The Nazi invasion in Maus is presented as a very gradual process that later picks up more heat. Following Germany’s success at the beginning of World War II, the increasing amount of Nazi presence in Poland is depicted through the many Nazi flags and German soldiers put on the streets.As the Nazi influence increases, Jewish people are slowly stripped of every right they have as a citizen of Poland, and as human beings.
With the introduction of Jewish starts and documents along with the German Police, the streets of Poland start to become regulated by the Gestapo who beat and rob the Jewish people without repercussion. In contrast to the large amount of Nazi presence in Maus, Life is Beautiful does not display anywhere near as much Nazi presence as Maus does. In the beginning stages of the film, before Guido is sent to the labor camps, there are no German forces occupying the Italian city Arezzo in which Guido and his uncle reside.
Seemingly at first, the only Nazi influences present are Italian citizens inspired by Hitler and the Nazi vision, though later on in the movie it is apparent that the German forces do invade Arezzo, even if not explicitly shown. The German soldiers occupying Arezzo in Life is Beautiful are implied to be few in numbers, as they are not walking on the streets in abundance and because Italy is allied with Germany, and instead of Nazi flags there are hate statements against the Jewish on walls on the street and gates of stores. The large amount of Nazi presence occupying the rest of Italy is depicted through the labor camps that are built in the country by Germans in order to forcefully work and execute Italian Jewish people without deporting them out of the country. Overall, the depiction of Nazi presence in these two stories is very different because of the dissimilar relationships Italy and Poland had with Germany.
The treatment of Jewish people in Maus included a large amount of physical abuse, along with the removal of their basic rights and freedoms. Mainly inflicted onto the Jews by the Gestapo, the physical abuse includes harsh beatings, destruction and theft of property, and forceful eviction of some Jews to labor camps. As the Nazi presence in Poland grows stronger, Jewish people lose freedoms such as the ability to own a business or to purchase goods without ration cards and eventually lose the right to own and choose a home when Jewish ghettos are introduced. At this point, physical harm done to the Jewish people of Poland is at an all time high. The Gestapo freely execute people on will with mass beatings occurring very often openly on the streets. Those that disobey the law or the police, such as dealing goods without ration cards, are hung on the streets for all the other Jewish people to see and fear (Maus 83). On top of this, Jewish ghettoes offer subpar living conditions and residents are evicted every day to be taken to concentration camps.
The Jewish people of Arezzo in Life is Beautiful, in comparison to the various cities of Poland that Maus takes place in such as Sosnowiec, must endure much less in terms of abuse and oppression. Most of the physical abuse in Maus can be accredited to the Gestapo, and because the German police does not occupy Arezzo, The Italian Jews little to no physical abuse in the city, with the little amount being vandalism; often coupled with verbal abuse. The source of these attacks on Jews in Life is Beautiful is other Italian citizens that support Nazi views and share their resentment for the Jewish people. Once in the labor camps, the treatment of Jews get much worse. The children and the elderly are led into gas chambers to be killed following shortly after arrival and the men and women are at all times separated and perform various kinds of physical labor, such as in the men’s case; transporting ammunition and building war equipment like tanks.
Those who are deemed useful of keeping alive are served a loaf of bread per day and often have to endure very physically demanding conditions like carrying 60 kg bombs under smoldering heat. The punishments for failure or disobedience in the labor camps of Life is Beautiful include death, physical punishment, and verbal abuse, seemingly determined by the guard responsible. Altogether, the treatment of Jews in the cities of Maus and Life is Beautiful is very different and much more negative in the former, with mainly the German police forcing the Polish Jews to endure much worse experiences compared to the Italian Jews.
The stories of Maus and Life is Beautiful offer two different perspectives to the Holocaust with the two stories taking place in an allied and an enemy country to Germany. Overall, Maus and Life is Beautiful as visual Holocaust stories differ from each other in terms of their treatment of Jews and their presentations of Nazi rise to power.
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